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When speed rules, it’s good to be king

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There are many ways to cruise in style. You can cruise at sea level in a motor yacht with 12 of your closest friends and three times as many support staff. You can cruise at street level on two wheels or four. Or you can cruise in the flight levels, above the hustle and hassle of weather, traffic and speed limits (and local police). And that’s exactly what the crew of Top Gear recently demonstrated.

When Chris Harris and Matt LeBlanc, the new presenters on BBCs popular Top Gear reached out to the Honda Aircraft Company and asked, “So just how fast is that aircraft of yours?,” we knew something big was about to unfold.

It seems that a debate had been raging, the gauntlet had been thrown down and the challenge was issued. Who could get from the Dubai Marina to the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort in Oman the fastest? The Top Gear race would include a unique array of top shelf transportation—a superbike, a supercar and even a private jet and a motor yacht.

On two wheels, the Italian-sculpted Ducati 1299 Superleggera with its distinctive exhaust note emanating from the Akrapovič tunes pipes to create a most magnificent symphony of mechanical design.

On three wheels, the HondaJet, a marvel of aerospace engineering with its natural laminar flow contours and revolutionary over-the-wing engine mount that allows this bird to slip the surly bonds of earth faster than any other light jet.

Also read: HondaJet adds post-ABACE events

And on four wheels, the Bugatti Chiron with its heart-pounding, 16 cylinder, 4-turbo, 488 cubic inch mill, pumping 200 gallons of coolant per minute to keep from melting into a red-hot mess.

But before you think it sounds like an open and shut case and place your bets, here are the specs on the contenders.

DUCATI 1299 SUPPERLEGGERA

  • Specs
    • HP: 215
    • WT: 364
    • W/P: 1.69:1
  • Speed: 186 mph
  • Price: $90.000
  • Price per MPH: $483/1 MPH
  • Powerplant: 16 value DOHC 1,285cc

BUGATTI CHIRON

  • Specs
    • HP: 1,500
    • WT: 4,400
    • W/P: 2.93:1
  • Speed: 261 mph
  • Price: $2.7 million
  • Price per MPH: $10,345/1 MPH
  • Powerplant: 16 cylinder, 4 turbo 7993 cc

HA-420 HONDAJET

  • Specs
    • HP: 4,100
    • WT: 7,203
    • W/P: 1.75:1
  • Speed: 486 mph
  • Price: $4.9 million
  • Price per MPH: $10,082/1 MPH
  • Powerplant: twin 2,050 lbf axial flow turbofans
HP=advertised horsepower  |  WT=#empty weight  |  W/P=weight to power ratio  |  LBF=pounds of thrust

What is interesting to note is that on paper, the HondaJet wins almost every category between the real contenders from highest speed, to sticker price, to passenger comfort. Only in one significant category, power to weight ratio, does one of the wheeled wonders ever-so-slightly edge the aircraft to briefly sit atop the leader board. The Ducati only has to move 1.69 pounds for every horsepower its powerplant churns out. The Bugatti on the other hand, with its 16 cylinder, 1,500 horsepower engine has to roll nearly three pounds per horsepower. The HondaJet weight to power ratio is comparable to the Ducati and pushes a scant 1.75 pounds per every pound of thrust—and oh yeah, it carries all 3.5 tons of it eight miles up in the air and rifles it forward at 483 mph (mic drop here).

It’s on

As for the race itself, the clock started when the would-be speed demons left their half-eaten baklava on the table at the Dubai Marina and hastily departed for their respective rides. Harris strapped into the Chiron while LeBlanc boarded a motor yacht bound for another marina to catch a limo headed for the HondaJet at the Dubai International Airport. And while a pedestrian ride in a limo to the airport may seem to put LeBlanc at a slight disadvantage, remember two things.

First, nothing the Stig does behind the wheel—even in a Rolls-Royce limo—is “pedestrian.” And second, there are no speed limits and no radar traps—and no goats to impede progress—once the HondaJet has tucked its three wheels stealthy into their wells.

The shortest distance

Since the fastest route between two points is a straight line, and because aircraft never get a flat tire en route, it should come as no surprise that when a 483 mile per hour private jet is involved in a race with a car, the jet wins every day and twice on Sunday. That is as long as the finish line isn’t too far from the airport.

In the Top Gear scenario, the race was from point A, Dubai Marina to point B, Anantara Hotel in Muscat, Oman—neither of which is located at an airport. As is often the case for jet travelers, the longest part of the journey can be the time spent traveling via surface streets to and from the airport. But with a cruise speed of 483 mph, the HondaJet more than compensates for lost surface travel time. It also helps that private jet travelers like LeBlanc can save time at the aerodrome by avoiding security and keeping one’s shoes and belt on.

Better late than never

Eventually, Chris Harris managed to arrive after playing dual roles of race car driver and pit crew member having changed three flat tires en route. And no, the Chiron doesn’t come with three spare tires or a pit crew for that matter so plan accordingly. Piloting such extreme and powerful thoroughbreds it’s difficult to say who had more fun during the race—LeBlanc in the HondaJet (after abandoning the yacht) and later on the Ducati. Or Harris in the Bugatti on four wheels (well seven actually if we’re counting spares).

We do know this, when it comes to traveling in style and if money is no object, these were all excellent choices. Still nothing tops the spacious HondaJet for its blend of creature comforts like fully-private lavatory so you can powder your nose before the paparazzi arrives, and the thrust-you-back-into-the-seat raw power. Ah yes, when speed rules, it’s good to be king.

A common thread

Curious sorts may wonder what, if anything, these three banshees have in common. And there actually is a common thread—literally. One ingredient helps these speedsters each achieve bragging rights as the world’s fastest products in their respective classes—carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber is a space age composite material that can easily be shaped into sleek aerodynamic shapes that would be nearly impossible and impractical to achieve by shaping metal. True enough, craftsmen have been pounding metal into submission for centuries with wheels, hammers, dollies, presses and breaks. But working with carbon fiber has many significant advantages.

Of course the speed, precision and repeatability of making uniform complex contours cannot be understated. But even more importantly, carbon fiber is 45% lighter and 12 times stronger than aluminum. And in the case of large structures like an aircraft fuselage, manufacturing with carbon fiber results in a seamless product without all of the speed robbing rivets needed to hold many smaller pieces together to form one large super structure.

Composite is a generic term that describes anything made of two or more components of dissimilar properties combined to form a new material with completely different characteristics than the base materials. Modern carbon fiber is essentially a unidirectional or tightly woven fabric impregnated with resin. Once cured by heat, the resin melts into the fabric to form an incredibly rigid, lightweight and durable material. And since carbon fiber is a lightweight fabric, it can be laid into molds of complex contours to create seamless aerodynamic shapes that reduce drag and weight and increase speed.

While carbon fiber is nothing new in marine and automobile production (think Chevrolet Corvette dating back to 1953), Honda is the first company to ever use it successfully in a certified light business jet to reduce aerodynamic forces externally while containing cabin pressurization forces internally. Interestingly, the first composite aircraft was the de Havilland Mosquito in 1941, although it was a wood/glue composite, not fiber/resin.

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