The new HondaJet stands as a stellar example of an aircraft development that defies the norm. The company we know began in 1946 when Soichiro Honda started manufacturing engines for motorized bicycles. From there the company added motorcycles, then automobiles – and garden equipment, generators to its portfolio. By the 1980s Honda began to focus on aircraft – and aircraft engines.
The HondaJet configuration came in 1998, the year before the company's new engine, the HF 118, had its first run. Today production HondaJets and the GE-Honda HF 120 engines fly on a provisional type certificate the FAA issued in March. Such lengthy R&D cycles rarely succeed… but then, Honda has always marched to its own rhythm!
Closer to the norm is an approval that came this past week for the Cessna Citation Latitude. Cessna - as those familiar with General Aviation know - is something of a Research and Development machine that is unmatched in aviation. The Latitude, launched in 2011, is the fifth Citation certificated in the last 18 months. Other models include: the Citation M2; the CJ3+; the Citation Sovereign+; and the Citation X+. In addition, the mid-size Longitude was launched in 2012 and is due in 2017.
For all the recent successes, however, the aviation developmental program landscape is littered with the carcasses of failed or suspended programs. A misreading of the post-recession market prompted cancellation of Cessna's first large-cabin jet, the Columbus. Bombardier “paused” the Learjet 85, an all-composite design that would have been the largest Learjet yet, and a couple of single-engine jets tried and came up short in the past decade, stumbling at a developmental barrier that some say can never be cleared.
But Cirrus looks set to clear that barrier with the promising Cirrus SF50 Vision, a single-engine jet that first flew in 2008.
Development hit the skids as the company worked through two new owners and sought to get back to financial stability in 2012, but today production models are on the assembly line and 2015 is the target year to begin deliveries.
Certificating the SF50 will mark the second time Cirrus defied critics by achieving what they said would never be done. First came the composite, parachute-equipped SR20 and SR22 piston airplanes; this time, the ‘impossible’ is a composite, parachute-equipped single-engine jet.
If there’s one thing to learn from aircraft development – particularly those like Honda’s and Cirrus’, it’s to never say never… Not in aviation!
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