It’s not unusual for designers to shape innovative, new aircraft using concepts forged at NASA’s Langley Research Center.
The center in Hampton, Virginia, has been generating waves of aeronautics understanding for nearly 100 years.
It is more unusual, at least in recent history, for a brand-new aircraft whose design was tested in one of Langley’s wind tunnels to make a visit to the center once it’s hit the marketplace.
That’s what happened Tuesday, July 12, when HondaJet — a new advanced light jet —touched down and taxied into NASA Langley’s historic hangar.
In 2004 and 2005, the Honda engineers paid to use a NASA Langley wind tunnel called the National Transonic Facility, or NTF, to refine HondaJet’s design. Employing a 1/9th scale model, they tested high-speed flight performance of the jet’s unique over-the-wing engine mount design.
So, in a sense, the HondaJet was making a return to the center.
“I have good memories of working with NASA people,” said Honda Aircraft President and CEO Michimasa Fujino, who visited Tuesday along with an example of the airplane he first envisioned in 1997. “We proved our concept by testing here at the NTF.”
At the hangar on Tuesday, hundreds of employees flocked to take a close look at the business aircraft, which is classified as a light jet, one designed to carry four to seven passengers and use very small airports.
Maria Moreno, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering intern from Georgia Tech, relished the chance to examine a HondaJet. On a visit to the hangar the previous week, she had learned about composite materials and how they improve aerodynamics by eliminating seams and rivets. The HondaJet’s fuselage is constructed of composites.
“To learn that and then see it applied so soon is pretty full circle and really cool,” Moreno said.
Aleasha Vuncannon, who manages corporate communications and marketing for Honda Aircraft Company, said 13 HondaJets have been delivered for use in the United States, Europe and Mexico. The company, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, has received orders for more than 100 more.
Richard Wahls, strategic technical advisor for NASA’s Advanced Air Vehicles Program,
recalled the HondaJet tests at the National Transonic Facility. “They were making use of the unique capabilities of the tunnel while it was still an experimental airplane,” Wahls said. Honda’s engineers made subtle changes to the design because of that testing, he said.
Still, it doesn’t take an aviation expert to see NASA Langley’s impact on the airplane’s shape.
HondaJet sports upturned winglets at the tips of its wings, an efficiency innovation that comes courtesy of the late aviation pioneer Richard Whitcomb, who worked at NASA Langley for decades.
“I think every one of us does feel a link to this aircraft,” Wahls said. “There’s heritage you can see.”
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense