A Honda business jet being built in a secret hangar at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro? Nonsense, said the spokesman for Honda Americas Inc. "Purely experimental. We have no plans to take it to market."
That was in summer 2004, just weeks after a Business North Carolina reporter accidentally stumbled onto dozens of engineers hovering over an airplane in unmarked, windowless Hangar 6423-B. It was an unusual aircraft, with small jet engines atop its wings like crab eyes on their stalks. Sources, such as the pilot of a film chase plane that had trailed it on its first 40-minute flight about nine months earlier, described how Japanese engineers had worked for years in Greensboro and Mississippi to develop a small, affordable and efficient jet.
Honda now confirms that it began working on the plane in the late 1990s, moved operations to Greensboro in 2000 and created an aircraft division in 2006. Still, in 2004, noted Virginia aerospace consultant Richard Aboulafia gave "less than a 40% chance" the plane would reach production.
Today, the company is selling the jet for $4.85 million. Honda Aircraft employs more than 1,700 people in four buildings totaling more than 680,000 square feet, fronting Piedmont Triad International's three runways. It has invested more than $160 million in its Greensboro world headquarters, which includes research and development, administration, manufacturing, assembly and customer service.
Additionally, the plane's engines are built in Burlington at Honda Aero Inc., a joint venture with a division of GE Aviation, based near Cincinnati. In August, Honda Aero broke ground on a 50,000-square-foot, $21 million expansion that will boost its Burlington manufacturing space to more than 3 acres and add 30 workers, increasing...