HONDA JOINS THE JET SET
By Alex Taylor III

(FORTUNE Magazine) – What would you expect from an airplane that flies like a Honda? Well, it would probably be compact, fuel efficient, highly maneuverable—and a little quirky. Until now that question was hypothetical because Honda was thoroughly earthbound. But after two decades of work, Honda has unveiled its first-ever airplane—a two-engine jet designed for short hops at high speeds. Called—what else?—HondaJet, the compact runabout is designed for use as a corporate jet, air taxi, or personal transport. Guided by a pilot and copilot, it can take off on a short runway and cruise at 420 knots as high as 41,000 feet with a range of 1,180 miles (perfect for a trip from New York to Florida or Chicago to Vail).

Honda, which takes its green reputation seriously, constructed the fuselage from composites instead of aluminum to reduce weight, claiming 30% to 35% better fuel economy than competitors. It didn't scrimp on the quirks, mounting two turbine engines on pedestals atop the wings instead of fastening them alongside the fuselage. Honda claims the unique design cuts drag and eliminates interior supports, thus creating more room for passengers. Still, you might feel a little cramped: The cabin ceiling is 4 feet 11 inches, and the tiny lavatory is comfortable—if you're a contortionist.

Unlike an Accord, which you can drive off the lot, the HondaJet is undergoing federal certification, and it won't go on sale until 2010. Production was originally set at 70 planes a year, but Honda is rethinking that, given the surge in orders (over 100 so far). The question is, with the plane's price set at $3.65 million (more than twice some competitors'), should it be called the AcuraJet instead?