Exploring the Factory Where Honda Builds the Private Jet of the Future

Frank
July 16, 2018
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From the outside, HondaJet reveals two few key innovations. Its engines sit on pylons above the wings, rather than being attached to the fuselage. This cuts drag and frees up space in the cabin—since the engine mounts don’t intrude. It also reduces noise and vibration, which dissipate through the wings rather than heading for the passenger compartment. And to maximize laminar airflow, in which the air clings tightly to the aircraft surface for a cleaner passage, the designers dropped the nose down slightly and created a wing surface absent any extrusions. Even the rivets are milled flush against the surface.

Honda designed and manufactures the jet’s dual HF-120 engines, with support from GE. Doing the work itself (a rare move in the aviation biz) lets Honda push on innovation: The computer-controlled engines are maximized for high efficiency and low noise, producing 2,000 pounds of thrust each. They can push the relatively light plane to a speedy 423 mph cruise at 43,000 feet, or 480 mph at 30,000 feet. The 133-acre Greensboro campus includes the subsidiary’s corporate headquarters, R&D center, customer service center, and the actual production assembly line.

Assembly begins with the arrival of carbon-fiber fuselages, which are manufactured at a contractor facility in South Carolina and delivered via truck. Carbon fiber reduces weight, improves strength, and allows for the aerodynamically-optimized nose and fuselage shaping. (Carbon fiber requires fewer turbulence-causing fasteners and can be molded more precisely and at lower cost than aluminum.) The strategy also minimizes fuselage joints, allowing for greater interior space.

The HondaJet’s wings are milled from single pieces of aluminum, with integrated skins that minimize the need for turbulence-inducing fasteners. After wings are attached and engines mounted, technicians begin to install the airplanes wiring and electronics, as well as the flight hardware, including cables, cockpit framing, and control surfaces. As each airplane nears completion, technicians install the remaining doors and the cockpit avionics, and prepare the airplane for painting and the installation of cabin interiors, including seats, the lavatory, carpet, and cabinetry.

The HondaJet’s interior fit-and-finish rivals that of far pricier jets, with hideaway tables that glide effortlessly into their storage compartments and seats that can be easily repositioned on multi-axis mounts. In flight, the cabin is quiet enough to chat in a normal speaking voice. Electrochromatic windows can be dimmed at the press of a button, and the cabin temperature, lighting, and audio systems can be controlled through a smartphone app. Wi-Fi is also available as an option.

FlightSafety International, which provides certifies pilots for manufacturers around the world, has a facility on the Honda Aircraft Company campus, complete with simulators and instructors. Pilots begin with classroom training and advance through two types of desk simulators before advancing to a full-sized motion simulator.

From the outside, HondaJet reveals two few key innovations. Its engines sit on pylons above the wings, rather than being attached to the fuselage. This cuts drag and frees up space in the cabin—since the engine mounts don’t intrude. It also reduces noise and vibration, which dissipate through the wings rather than heading for the passenger compartment. And to maximize laminar airflow, in which the air clings tightly to the aircraft surface for a cleaner passage, the designers dropped the nose down slightly and created a wing surface absent any extrusions. Even the rivets are milled flush against the surface.

Honda designed and manufactures the jet’s dual HF-120 engines, with support from GE. Doing the work itself (a rare move in the aviation biz) lets Honda push on innovation: The computer-controlled engines are maximized for high efficiency and low noise, producing 2,000 pounds of thrust each. They can push the relatively light plane to a speedy 423 mph cruise at 43,000 feet, or 480 mph at 30,000 feet. The 133-acre Greensboro campus includes the subsidiary’s corporate headquarters, R&D center, customer service center, and the actual production assembly line.

Assembly begins with the arrival of carbon-fiber fuselages, which are manufactured at a contractor facility in South Carolina and delivered via truck. Carbon fiber reduces weight, improves strength, and allows for the aerodynamically-optimized nose and fuselage shaping. (Carbon fiber requires fewer turbulence-causing fasteners and can be molded more precisely and at lower cost than aluminum.) The strategy also minimizes fuselage joints, allowing for greater interior space.

The HondaJet’s wings are milled from single pieces of aluminum, with integrated skins that minimize the need for turbulence-inducing fasteners. After wings are attached and engines mounted, technicians begin to install the airplanes wiring and electronics, as well as the flight hardware, including cables, cockpit framing, and control surfaces. As each airplane nears completion, technicians install the remaining doors and the cockpit avionics, and prepare the airplane for painting and the installation of cabin interiors, including seats, the lavatory, carpet, and cabinetry.

The HondaJet’s interior fit-and-finish rivals that of far pricier jets, with hideaway tables that glide effortlessly into their storage compartments and seats that can be easily repositioned on multi-axis mounts. In flight, the cabin is quiet enough to chat in a normal speaking voice. Electrochromatic windows can be dimmed at the press of a button, and the cabin temperature, lighting, and audio systems can be controlled through a smartphone app. Wi-Fi is also available as an option.

FlightSafety International, which provides certifies pilots for manufacturers around the world, has a facility on the Honda Aircraft Company campus, complete with simulators and instructors. Pilots begin with classroom training and advance through two types of desk simulators before advancing to a full-sized motion simulator.

Honda has built a reputation by keeping its feet on the ground. Even when it ventures into the water to add outboard motors to its collection of cars, trucks, lawn mowers, and motorcycles, Honda’s known for efficient, economical, and reliable machines.

But the company is reaching into the stratosphere (or something near it) with the the $4.9 million HondaJet. The business jet (basically a less lavish private plane) entered service in earnest this year after two decades of fastidious, often-delayed development. Honda’s pristine new assembly line in Greensboro, North Carolina is steadily approaching full capacity, when it will build up to eight jets a month.

A business jet might seem outside the scope of Honda’s core mission, but the challenge of cracking a competitive market with an innovative new product is nothing new for the company. So far, the HondaJet seems to pack enough classic Honda practical engineering prowess to impress the general aviation community.

Efficient aerodynamics, high speed (nearly 500 mph), a novel engine configuration, and relative low cost tend to do that. The HondaJet is the second cheapest business jet on the market, after the Cirrus Vision Jet, and for many it’s a right-sized option for transporting six or seven people without relying on commercial airlines. Furthermore, it has proven easy and fun to fly thanks to its compact size and its agility, rare qualities in non-fighter jets.

For a better look at how Honda builds the jet, we explored the Greensboro factory, and even took a joyride in a finished product. Click through the gallery above to see how it’s done, and how it feels.

CNMN Collection

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Frank’s source: https://www.wired.com/story/hondajet-factory-assembly/

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