Honda Gets Its Wings
By Stuart F. Brown

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Will business travelers soon be flying on Hondas?

Last December the secretive Japanese manufacturer began testing the six-seat HondaJet. The plane made its first flight in Greensboro, N.C., and is scheduled to undergo about 200 hours of test flights that will explore its performance, which aims to achieve a 40% improvement in fuel efficiency over existing bizjets. The engines are mounted in an unusual spot--on pylons atop the wings--which engineers say reduces drag and permits the cabin to be extra wide and roomy.

There's no way to overstate the expense and complexity of making your own jet engines rather than licensing a design. But Honda has long used such experimental projects to attract and train bright young engineers. (Witness its Asimo humanoid robot.)

So, do players in the crowded business-jet market have something new to worry about? "Right now this airplane is a one-off research and development project, and we don't have any plans to enter the commercial market," says Honda's Jeffrey Smith. Perhaps, but it wasn't so far back that Honda, originally a motorcycle company, couldn't envision making cars either. --Stuart F. Brown