Honda is world famous for their efficient automobiles, but now they have set sights on replicating that success with the aircraft. The Japanese carmaker has just unveiled a new, lightweight jet prototype that uses 20% less fuel than comparable planes. Thanks to a design that uses advanced composite materials, not only is it more fuel efficient, but it’s also quieter and faster than other aircrafts in its class.

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The Honda plane, dubbed the HondaJet,  is designed from composite materials that use a combination of carbon fiber and resins, reducing the airplane’s overall weight.  These materials are generally not used in plane manufacturing, but have become more popular in small, home-built plane kits. However, large jet makers such as Airbus and Boeing are beginning to see the benefits of such materials, particularly as they bid to reduce fuel consumption.

The composite material not only makes the plane lighter, but gives it a unique shape that reduces drag. Honda, who are well-known for their innovative designs, have also devised an innovative idea of mounting the plane’s engines on the top of its wings, rather than underneath them.  This, according to Michimasa Fujino, the president and CEO of Honda Aircraft Company, helps decrease drag at high speeds.

The plane’s fuselage shape also allows air to move smoothly over the exterior. This flow is called “natural laminar flow” and is usually limited to small parts of the surface on a business jet. However, with the prototype jet, Honda sought to improve how far the laminar flow can extend along the fuselage and the wing.

Fujino said that the subtle bulges on the nose of the plane and on the wings create “a very complex pressure distribution.” As air moves over these bulges, it changes speed creating areas of high and low pressure. These pressure changes essentially “suck the laminar flow toward the end of the wing.”

The plane’s engines are also innovative. Designed by GE, the engines have an unusually high air compression ratio. The high-tech fluid dynamics software optimizes airflow within the compact engine and maximizes the plane’s performance.

The HondaJet, which seats five to six passengers, made its maiden flight last month and is expected to be available for sale later this year.

+ HondaJet

via Technology Review