Sometimes a guy just needs his own plane to get where he wants to go. In 2004, the FAA created Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), a personal aircraft category that opened the doors to recreational sport flying. One of the latest LSAs to the market is the Icon A5, a sporty amphibious plane that lets adrenaline junkies veer along mountain ranges and speed over crystal clear lakes. Despite having zero flight know-how, we recently test-flew the intuitive two-seater aircraft around Lake Berryessa in Napa’s wine country. It turned out to be easier than expected.
A former commercial and Air Force pilot, Icon founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins drew inspiration from fighter planes when coming up with the A5 design. The ergonomics of the stick grip was influenced by the F-16 stick, as was the angle-of-attack (AoA). “All fighter jets fly angle-of-attack. They don’t fly airspeed,” he says, pointing to a sleek green-yellow-red AoA indicator. Pushed to the brim at full throttle, the gauge will move from the safe green zone to the red marker, causing the plane to stall. And it did during our test flight. While most stalled planes will spiral out of control at this point, the A5’s spin-resistant airframe kept the plane airborne. A built-in parachute provides extra precaution.
The A5’s streamlined cockpit — dials and knobs are kept to a minimum — is designed with novice pilots in mind. Removable side windows and a lowered dashboard mean the pilot can navigate visually, rather than having to depend on complicated electronic flight instruments. A simple Garmin 796 GPS moving map provides assurance that you’re on the right track.
“An A5 gives you a front-row seat view like at an IMAX, and it allows you to interact and see planet Earth in a visceral way,” Hawkins says. The responsive plane makes it effortless to hover above narrow rivers and soar over the oak woodlands and dense brush-covered canyons around Lake Berryessa. To qualify to fly the plane on your own, you’ll have to get a sport pilot license, which involves 20 hours of training with former military pilots — half the commitment of a private pilot license.
Icon’s design team is led by Klaus Tritschler, an award-winning motorcycle, yacht, and private plane designer who spent more than 15 years at BMW Group Designworks. The curves and angles of the white-and-red carbon fiber seaplane exude the refinement of a luxury sports vehicle. On the lake, you can sit on the Seawings platform and dangle your feet in the water or rest on the wings and take in the vistas. The versatile aircraft has foldable wings to give owners the option of parking it in the driveway or docking it in water. At 1,510 pounds, the lightweight A5 can be towed by a regular SUV. The 100 horsepower Rotax 912 iS engine delivers a maximum speed of 109 mph and up to 15,000 feet in the air. A5 takes auto or aviation gas and has a range of 427 nautical miles.
Hawkins’ hope to democratize aviation is creating a buzz, leading 2,000-plus flight-happy customers to place a $2,000 deposit for a seaplane they’ve never even seen in person. That’s because after a decade of research and fine-tuning, Icon is finally in production; there’s currently a three-year wait list. Those who want to check off flying a plane on their bucket list without the commitment of buying one can sign up for a one-day introductory course to sport flying for $500.
[Base: $207,000; $257,000 as tested (with all options); Deposit: $2,000; Icon Sport Pilot Training: New pilots: $9,500 (14 to 16 days); existing pilots: $1,250 to $2,500 (1 to 5 days); iconaircraft.com]
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