We both lifted the earcups on our headsets to hear the pulsating sounds of the Foo Fighters’ Learn to Fly. Photographer David Tulis had discovered the Bongiovi Digital Power Station sound system. The optional system uses 24 transducers attached to the interior cabin wall panels to provide “concert-quality sound.”
I had been told about the system earlier but did not expect it to be, well, that “concert-quality.” A total sound immersion, it was in fact remarkably clear and engaging as Tulis streamed the aviation playlist from his phone to the onboard system via Bluetooth. The optional system is controlled through the also-optional Enhanced Cabin Management System, which uses two touchscreen controllers to manage multiple functions in the cabin, including the LED cabin lights and window shades. In addition to music, the Bongiovi system brings the same quality of sound to movies and other entertainment shown in the cabin. Many of those functions can also be managed through a phone app.
Meanwhile, on the flight deck, Gould and I went back to work putting the HondaJet Elite through its paces. The Elite, which is now the standard model off the Greensboro, North Carolina, production line, includes some improvements over the original HondaJet, which was certificated in late 2015. We last reported on it in the August 2016 edition of AOPA Pilot (“A Matter of Speed”). To date, the company has delivered just more than 140 units around the world—including, most recently, to China.
Flying the Elite, I was impressed again at how well engineered the cockpit is for single-pilot operations.As is typical after an airframe manufacturer struggles through development, the follow-on model includes enhancements identified along the road to production that would have derailed the certification process. However, with certification complete and initial production underway, the manufacturer then can begin to focus resources on improvements. And, of course, early customers are never bashful about suggesting enhancements based on their field experience, which the Elite also includes.
The model includes a 100-pound increase in maximum ramp weight, which can be used for more fuel; combined with a decrease in empty weight and improvements in aerodynamics, this increased range by about 250 nautical miles to 1,437 nm. The cabin is quieter thanks to an innovative solution: perforated engine inlets. Tiny holes drilled inside the inlet change the frequency of the engine noise in the cabin, helping to further quiet what was already a quiet cabin. Part of the quietness comes from the fact that the engines are not attached to the fuselage. Instead they are mounted on pylons on top of the aluminum wings, helping to give the HondaJet a distinctive look, as well as reducing drag and cabin noise, and allowing for a constant-contour composite fuselage. As a result, space inside the fuselage is freed up to accommodate a larger cabin, including standard aft lavatory—possible since there is no need for supporting structure for what would otherwise be fuselage-mounted engines.
The fuselage configuration allows for a generously sized aft baggage compartment. In the Elite, the nose baggage compartment can carry 200 pounds, double the earlier model. Also on the outside, additional flight tests showed that vortex generators along the leading edges of the winglets and the midspan fence on the wing could be removed, slightly reducing drag and improving handling. Removing the VGs from the tail surfaces allowed for a more significant improvement—a rotation speed about five knots slower than the original model, which decreases takeoff distance by as much as 500 feet. In addition, the change increased pitch sensitivity, which I found noticeable on our flight.
The HondaJet has an unusual single fuel filler port on the aft right side of the fuselage, as opposed to more typical over-the-wing fuel ports on light jets. As part of the change to the Elite, the port was moved higher on the fuselage, allowing line staff to fuel more aggressively without fear of getting fuel splashed on them. A light next to the port alerts the fuelers when to slow the flow rate as the tank fills.
The clamshell speed brake system on the tail cone remains an option, but Gould said it is the rare Elite that goes out the door without it. As noted, the internally serviced lavatory is standard, but an externally serviced system is optional—as is a sink with running water.
Throughout there are numerous other changes, such as the addition of USB ports in the cabin and cockpit for powering all sorts of devices.
In the cockpit, the Elite benefits from many of the G3000 upgrades Garmin has implemented in the years since the HondaJet was certificated, including higher-resolution displays and faster processors. The system now automatically calculates and displays V speeds, for example. The on-screen checklists include Abnormal and Emergency checklists—something missing from the earlier model. On-screen weight and balance information dynamically shows the aircraft’s center of gravity. The latest version of the G3000 also include a dizzying array of VNAV functions, an HSI map insert on the primary flight display, visual approaches to hundreds of runways, IFR and VFR digital charts, and Flightstream 510 for sharing information between the panel and handheld devices in the cockpit.
Predictive planning takes advantage of look-up tables stored in the flight management system and incorporates real-time datalink weather to improve the accuracy of onboard flight and fuel planning.
A third independent standby air data system provides more redundancy than ever. The display of that information can be ported to the PFD, should the primary air data systems fail.
Flying the Elite, I was impressed again—as I was with the original model—at how well engineered the cockpit is for single-pilot operations. The automation is amazing—release the parking brake and the taxi light comes on. Nav lights turn on and off at the correct local time wherever you are in the world. Add thrust on the runway and the pitot heat and strobe lights come on. Ice detectors automatically turn on the wing anti-ice system. Time and time again, the system performs simple tasks to help the pilot concentrate on more important duties.
Throughout my flight on the Elite, I noticed small tweaks and adjustments. The electrically controlled and hydraulically actuated nosegear steering system has been damped a bit to make it less jerky and easier to manage. The brakes with anti-skid have also been softened. On takeoff I noticed the airplane seemed more sensitive in pitch than I recalled, probably a result of those VGs coming off. With its natural laminar flow wings and cockpit area, the airplane is extremely low drag and climbs at a breathtaking deck angle, providing up to 4,000 fpm into the teens if you need it to. On the descent you will appreciate the speed brakes. They can be deployed at any speed and don’t provide passenger-startling rumble like the wing-mounted speed brakes do on the Cessna Citation M2, for example.
As we climbed away from Frederick, Maryland, ATC leveled us at Flight Level 320, where the airplane on this day with four on board showed a maximum of 415 KTAS or Mach 0.72 while burning 980 total pounds of fuel. Had we been able to stop a couple of thousand feet lower, we would have seen the high-speed cruise of 422 KTAS. At a more normal cruise altitude of FL430, the efficiencies really shine. There, the Hondajet at a long-range cruise setting will make around 360 KTAS on about 543 pounds per hour total.
Later we descended into the teens for maneuvers. There, I had the chance to play with the cruise speed control, which acts somewhat like an autothrottle system. Using the autopilot mode control selector, I dialed in an airspeed and the system modulated the N1 engine setting to hold the airspeed—another helpful single-pilot aid when operating in busy terminal airspace.
Back at Frederick, we flew an approach to Runway 23 with a coupled go-around. At minimums with no runway in sight and the autopilot still engaged, simply hit the Takeoff/Go-Around button on the thrust lever, advance the thrust levers, and clean up the airplane—and the flight control system will take care of the rest, flying the missed approach procedure and leveling off where appropriate.
After that we did a visual approach for a full-stop landing. As I recall from my previous HondaJet flights, I was impressed by the trailing link landing gear system, which makes the pilot feel good about every touchdown.
It should be no surprise that a company known for producing well-engineered cars would produce such a well-mannered and thoughtful airplane. The Elite takes the already impressive HondaJet to a new level.
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