Honda Aircraft extends range and performance with its latest model.
The HondaJet, certified in December 2015, has undergone its first upgrade – referred to as the Elite. After selling 92 of the first model, Honda Aircraft, under the leadership of CEO and President Michimasa Fujino, has released this new version with increased performance, additional range, upgraded avionics and significant interior upgrades. In my conversations with Fujino, Honda began work on the Elite immediately following the certification of their first model.
In the October, 2017 issue of Twin & Turbine, Dianne White wrote a thorough review of the original HondaJet. So, for this article, I sought to explore the Elite-specific modifications during a recent test flight in Phoenix. I was joined by Peter Kriegler (director of sales at HondaJet), Michelle Hoover (sales manager at HondaJet Southwest) and her colleague Genaro Sanchez (director of marketing) on the flight to explore the company’s new model.
While conducting a preflight of the HondaJet Elite, you notice some differences in comparison with other jets in its class. Of course, one of the most obvious differences is the engines mounted on pylons above the wing, which Honda terms Over-The-Wing Engine Mounts (OTWEM). In addition to a reduction in aerodynamic drag, this patented design allows Honda to offer a larger cabin and aft baggage compartment. Moving to the left wing, I noticed some subtle aerodynamic differences. Honda has removed the mid aileron fence and small triangle vortex generators from the winglet as part of the aerodynamic upgrade. Looking under the fuselage, Honda incorporated a much smaller skid plate with later serial numbers. The Elite also has a slightly larger center fuel tank capable of 90 pounds of additional fuel.
Progressing to the GE Honda HF120 engines, Honda engineers have changed the engine inlet with the incorporation of a perforated honeycomb index structure ahead of the fan blades. This perforation, according to Fujino, acts as an acoustic baffle to absorb higher frequency sounds that would typically be heard by the passengers, especially at high power settings and below 10,000 feet. While you might think this is a trivial change, it lowers the noise level to 80 dB in the cabin – significant enough for passengers to notice the difference between the models.
On the tail, Honda has removed the vortex generators and aft T-strip on the elevator. They also increased the width of the elevator by approximately 7 inches. These changes, along with the other aerodynamic improvements, have reduced the takeoff distance by 443 feet at sea level (more at higher elevations) and provides improved second segment climb performance – which can be important under hot and high altitude departures.
On the lower aft section, you notice the optional speed brakes are stowed. This option, which most owners select, is also certified for 6.5-degree steep approaches which are required for several airports in congested areas including London City where the required glide path is “only” 5.5 degrees. Moving to the right aft section, I checked the optional external toilet service door and noticed a change in Honda’s single point gravity-feed fueling port on the right empennage. To reduce the chance of line personnel filling the tank too quickly and splashing fuel, they have incorporated a lighted panel adjacent to the filler. When the fuel level approaches full, the panel will advise the fueler to slow the flow rate – a simple but ingenious idea.
The nose section of the plane drops dramatically from the cockpit window which offers pilots a great forward view. In conjunction with the aft baggage area, the nose baggage brings the total exterior storage volume to 66 cubic feet, which is substantially larger than the Embraer Phenom 100EV or the Cessna Citation M2. However, the M2 continues to offer the highest external baggage weight limit despite Honda increasing the forward baggage weight limit to 200 pounds. While most operators run out of baggage space before reaching a weight limit, it is still a consideration for some operations.
The side windows have a more pronounced curve than some other jets. I asked Fujino about this design, and he offered some interesting observations, many of which I had never considered. The slight curve, along with the shape, offers pilots the ability to have a vertical view that approaches that of a much larger window while reducing the glare that is inevitable flying at high altitudes above the clouds. This glare reduction not only reduces eye strain but also improves the readability of the displays – an important factor in aircraft with extensive use of full glass panels.
The HondaJet Elite used for the flight, N420EX, was equipped with virtually all available options including the refreshment center, complete with a coffee maker. In addition to the engine inlet change, Honda further reduced interior noise by optimizing insulation and quieting the air conditioner and avionics cooling noise in the cockpit.
This particular Elite also offered a unique sound system from Bonjiovi Acoustics, which features 24 transducers mounted to the interior panels to offer immersive sound not previously available in any aircraft. I tested it in flight while sitting in the cabin with Michelle and found it very impressive, especially with the quieter interior. Progressing to the rear of the cabin, you find the lavatory, now with a belted seat option to offer another legal passenger seat for takeoff and landing. This is not just your typical light jet toilet as it offers not one, but two small skylights, and an optional sink with running water activated by a motion sensor. Fujino informed me they wanted to ensure the lavatory provided an inviting environment, rather than a dark, closed area for passengers.
I counted 23 interior furnishing options available, ranging in price from $5,600 for leather crew seats to $44,500 for the lavatory sink to $167,900 for Gogo Talk & Text. As with any option, each choice reduces the useful load.
On to the Flight
The HondaJet Elite offers the latest version of the Garmin G3000 avionics suite. This version incorporates improved displays, upgraded processors and higher resolution which enables a number of new capabilities. Some of these new features can be installed on the existing fleet with a software update including the use of visual approaches with vertical advisory guidance, AOA indicator on the PFD, plain language TAFs, altitude constraints on the MFD and others.
The Elite’s G3000 also features two innovative features, Advanced Integrated Takeoff and Landing (TOLD) and predictive performance – Active Performance Planning. The new TOLD feature, in addition to the typical Vspeed calculations and field length requirements, displays the net climb and descent gradients. The inclusion of the climb gradients is extremely useful when determining whether your plane can meet the departure procedure requirements.
Many aircraft can provide pilots with simplified performance data including range, fuel at destination, time en route. The estimates use ground speed at a single point in time which may change along the flight. The Elite’s Active Performance Planning incorporates data from all phases of flight as well as forecasts winds aloft to determine accurate data. The G3000 can integrate winds aloft information directly from the Sirius XM weather data stream to provide the pilot with significant precision. And in case remote weather data isn’t available, pilots can enter average winds for use in the calculations.
The updated avionics suite also includes an optional Enhanced Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) Stability and Protection and Electronic Coupled Go-Around with Underspeed Protection (USP). Pilots now can use the autopilot for the entire approach, including a missed procedure if required. The Underspeed Protection reduces the chance of inadvertent stalls while under autopilot control by reducing pitch to a safe level, which has been available in other platforms.
Starting the plane is simple. Power up the avionics, run your checks using the electronic checklists (which have also been expanded with the Elite) and push the Start button. The Honda GE FADEC does the rest. This automation is also extended to other functions such as the deicing system and activating lighting at appropriate phases of flight.
Taxiing from the Cutter Aviation ramp for departure was easy with electrically assisted steering. A firm push on the right rudder pedal and I made a quick 180-degree turn in almost no space – a great feature for tight ramps. It takes just a short time to adjust to the electric steering’s sensitivity then you appreciate its usefulness. After takeoff, Phoenix Departure Control was very helpful with our test flight request, and I quickly flew the jet up to FL370 toward Tucson, reviewing several of the systems on our climb. Hand flying the plane was enjoyable, with it exhibiting stable handling even at the higher flight levels.
Peter informed me about a nice feature with the HondaJet Elite called Cruise Speed Control (CSC). CSC could be described as a simple autothrottle except it uses the FADEC. Once engaged at speed, the FADEC will make slight adjustments to control speed within a narrow range. While not useful for major changes in pitch, I found it useful to accommodate the small speed changes with high altitude wave conditions or speed restrictions. With a max altitude of FL430, a top speed of 422 KTAS, a fuel burn of 1090 PPH at FL310, the Elite is the fastest in its class. Often in the real world, pilots fly much higher and at FL410, and mid-weight, I calculated the speed at 403 KTAS/0.70M burning 724 PPH. This is a few knots faster than the original model and faster than the M2 or Phenom 100EV.
After descending below FL180, I continued to explore the flight envelope with stalls and steep turns. I was also able to test one of the new stability enhancements integrated into the Elite’s G3000 system by purposefully banking more than 45 degrees. You can feel the subtle resistance to remind you to reduce bank. It isn’t strong enough to prevent you from banking further, but it is a useful reminder when hand flying. The stall recoveries were simple and so smooth that even our passengers didn’t notice.
The flight went by quickly, and it was soon time to return to Sky Harbor. We were assigned the PINGG 1 arrival. The descent planning was easy, and I used some of the new features including the useful profile view on the MFD that also displays altitude restrictions. The TOLD data capability for landing was easy to use with all of the required information readily accessible. I also tried the sectional chart MFD overlay which had amazing clarity. I flew the visual to runway 25L, finding the airplane to be very responsive at the lower speeds and landed smoothly. A testament to the great design produced by Fujino’s team.
Due to the various aerodynamic changes, the HondaJet Elite operator will see a slight increase in cruise performance, 200 nm additional range, reduced runway requirements and improved climb performance. The runway and climb performance improvements are especially significant. In calculating the impact of the upgrade for a departure at Aspen, Colorado (KASE), we looked at two scenarios, one at 19C and the other at 27C. At 19C, both models can depart at their MTOW, however, the Elite will use nearly 1,100 feet less runway. At 27C, the difference is even more dramatic. The Elite can depart with over 1,000 lbs more weight and still use 600 feet less runway. With a total fuel capacity of 2,900 lbs, the performance increase and increased runway safety have a dramatic impact on capabilities.
Honda Aircraft is offering its existing 92 HondaJet owners the Advanced Performance Modification Group (APMG) upgrade which offers many (but not all) of the upgrades in the Elite. For $250,000, owners will receive the aerodynamic improvements on the tail, aileron, and winglets as well as the MTOW increase of 100 lbs, higher Zero Fuel Weight, and some of the software updates to the G3000 avionics suite. Since the Elite has the latest generation of G1000 displays and autopilot, capabilities such as enroute and sectional chart overlays, enhanced stability and underspeed protection (USP) are not available.
The upgrade also does not include the engine inlet acoustic improvement or the 90 pounds of extra fuel. However, a HondaJet owner opting for the upgrade will still see their range increase by approximately 100 nautical miles at max range cruise and improved performance. The expense may be worth it for the improved performance in certain situations.
In summary, the HondaJet Elite offers the owner-pilot several enticing features not currently available in many business jets. With a list price of $5.5 million (includes most popular options), it is priced above its direct competitors. As with all aircraft decisions, the total cost of ownership and mission applicability including range can be the determining factors.