GRR

Review: HondaJet HA-420

09th May 2017
Colin Goodwin

I wonder if Soichiro Honda is looking down on us. He died in 1991, too early to see his dream of a Honda-designed and built aircraft take to the skies. He’d be very proud of the HondaJet HA-420. Not just because it is a thing of beauty and has class leading performance, but because it is an aircraft that has been designed and built with Honda philosophy.

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If you’ve owned, driven or ridden an Honda NSX or Fireblade, you’ll know that both, despite having hugely impressive performance, are easy to drive and ride, easy to live with and straightforward to own. It is the same with the new NSX. It is advanced, very capable and fast, but simple to use. And that’s how it is with the HondaJet.

The first thing that strikes you about the HondaJet is its engines. Instead of sitting either side of the rear fuselage like on conventional business jets they sit on top of the wings. The main reason for mounting them on the wings is that it removes the need for a complex mounting structure that would take up space in the fuselage, which instead is used for luggage storage and the loo. There are aerodynamic advantages too, and there’s a lot less vibration when they’re mounted this way.

The HondaJet is certified for single-pilot operation, with the idea that the owner will actually fly the aircraft. Which means that it needs to be uncomplicated to operate. HondaJet demonstration pilot Mike Finbow sits on the left, I’m on the right. In front of us are three large 14.1in Garmin G3000 screens. Virtually every function of the jet can be controlled or checked through these screens via a pair of identical touchpads. Different information can be shown on the screens or the pilot's and co-pilot's screens can be synchronised with the middle screen showing different information. 

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Once the master switch is on you simply press a button labelled START for the left-hand engine and another identical one for the right-hand engine. The starting procedure is automatic with the engines warming themselves up and settling down to an idle that you can’t even hear with noise-cancelling headsets in place. Finbow calls up a check list on his screen and scrolls through it, ticking off items via a toggle switch on his control column. No bulky manuals or multipage lists. 

All systems checked and everything running sweetly, we taxi out to Hawarden’s runway. Hawarden, in Cheshire, is the Airbus factory where A380 wings are made. We’re taking a relatively short hop from here to Stansted airport and from there to Birmingham International. Finbow is doing the takeoff but I’m following through on the controls. The twin throttles are nudged forward to the take-off power setting and Finbow releases the brakes. Now we can hear some engine noise. The acceleration is impressive and at around 110kts we’re off the deck. ‘She’s yours,’ says Finbow, ‘climb us to 4,000ft.’ 

The piston-engined propellor aeroplane that I fly is fast and climbs at over 2,000ft a minute but the HondaJet is a real hot rod. At the maximum climb rate of 4,000ft per minute, the climb takes just a fraction more than a minute. The HondaJet’s ceiling is 43,000ft which puts it above airliners and above most weather. Since our flight will take no more than half an hour air traffic control tells us to climb to only 17,000ft. 

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There is virtually no sensation of speed; only clouds rushing past under the wings give a clue to the fact that we’re moving through the air very quickly. The engines in cruise power are virtually silent and there’s no vibration. The 420 bit of the jet’s HA-420 name refers to its top speed of 420kts. That puts it into the top-performance level of light jets. It’s economical, too, and with four passengers and their luggage, the Honda has a range of 1,400 miles. 

Autopilot set, we can sit back and enjoy the view. Finbow entered our route and all the information that we need to land at Stansted into the Garmin G3000s. The radio frequencies for the tower at the airport, diagrams of the layout of taxiways; everything is just a press of a finger away. The HondaJet is slippery so there’s an airbrake that helps slow the aircraft down to a speed at which the flaps and undercarriage can be deployed. The computers have already worked out our approach speed from our passenger and fuel load. At around 110kts the jet touches down onto Stansted’s runway. The brakes are carbon fibre and pull the aircraft down to a taxiing speed within seconds. Another tap on the iPad-like controller and a map showing the ground layout of Stansted pops up. 

The experienced private pilot could get to grips with the HondaJet pretty quickly. Excellent, all I need to do now is add a twin rating to my pilot’s licence and find around four and a half million dollars. 

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