I have no prior experience in flying a plane.
Actually, I have never even thought about trying it.
However, on a beautiful November morning, while flying over Tampa Bay in Florida, I eagerly assume control of the ICON A5. This two-seater amphibious plane resembles a sports car, handles like a jet ski, and is designed to be so intuitive that even a beginner can become proficient in flying it in under 30 hours.
This aircraft is referred to as a sea light-sport aircraft and measures 23 feet in length and weighs 1,510 pounds.
Crafted to assist in directing your attention towards the exhilaration of flying, without concerns of the aircraft’s unpredictable responsiveness, there is no other product comparable to it available.
After gaining control, my entire body becomes tense for at least five minutes. Am I truly prepared to operate this sleek new machine on my own? I am uncertain.
I find solace in knowing that the A5 was specifically constructed for individuals like myself, with a focus on creating a driving experience similar to that of a car.
Furthermore, the presence of Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, beside me in the cockpit is an added bonus. He has the ability to assume control of the aircraft at any given moment.
Things have been going well up to this point.
We effortlessly soar through the sky at approximately 1,000 feet, and I am at ease enough to enjoy the scenery. The beautiful Fort De Soto Park lives up to its reputation.
Personal airplane revolution
The dreamy white dunes are adorned with squiggles and are enclosed by water that resembles the Caribbean.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is just as remarkable, with its multiple long cables spanning across.
My heart is still pumping with adrenaline. And like any surreal experience, it only gets more amazing.
To begin with, there is another ICON A5 on my left, which is very exciting. We are flying side by side, and my task is to imitate its actions. One might expect this to be daunting, but it is not.
It’s simply enjoyable.
That is pleasing to Hawkins. He is the mastermind behind this innovative aircraft, a concept that has been in development for 10 years.
He has dedicated a significant portion of his adult years to making sport flying accessible to the general public, drawing from his experience as a former F-16 pilot in the Air Force and his education from Stanford Business School.
“Our goal was to design an aircraft that would allow the average person to explore the world without needing to become a trained pilot,” he explains.
Therefore, it is logical that the dashboard resembles what is typically seen in a car. There are a few gauges that are unfamiliar to me.
He explains, “This is how Apple does things. They make it more relatable and user-friendly, while still maintaining a stylish appeal.”
He is very sure that people will be interested in flying and purchasing his airplanes, which is why he recently launched a flight-training center at Peter O. Knight Airport.
On Davis Island, just a short five-minute drive from downtown Tampa, you’ll find a picturesque location filled with stunning sailboats.
ICON’s headquarters is located in Vacaville, California, which is also home to their second training facility.
Large pupils and unobstructed openings
At 9 a.m., a short break is needed for water landing.
Hawkins assumes control. I have been preoccupied with learning to fly in formation (a rare opportunity for non-pilots) and speaking with Hawkins, leaving little time to consider mastering a water landing on my own. According to Hawkins, it is a skill that most individuals can acquire in approximately 30 minutes.
After experiencing some downward force and completing full rotations, the flight becomes an enjoyable roller-coaster ride in the air. Additionally, since it is an open-air flight, I sometimes extend my arms out for fun.
From a height of a few hundred feet over the water, it is effortless to see a boater greeting us, a group of pelicans, and even stingrays.
“He says, ‘Let’s pull over here and stop for a moment to get out.'”
Is he joking? However, once he lands the plane in the water and removes his seatbelt, it becomes clear that he is serious.
The world of aviation is witnessing a new revolution as light aircrafts soar into the skies.
After a few moments, he opens the roof and we climb onto the wings, which could also serve as diving boards. Suddenly, the experience feels more like relaxing on a boat than flying in a plane.
The surroundings are bathed in a captivating golden color. I can envision enjoying a picnic on the nearby beach, or jetting off to a remote location for a weekend of camping.
Due to its maximum range of approximately 430 miles per tank, this plane is ideal for quick trips.
He states that the main purpose of this is to motivate individuals. Once you acquire the skill of flying, your perspective will forever be altered. Your views on the sky and the world will be transformed.
Created to simplify the process of flying.
Hawkins explains to me that the fundamental motor abilities needed to operate a plane are relatively simple. He mentions that individuals are able to land the plane on their own with the guidance of an instructor within 30 minutes on their first day.
However, they have dedicated effort to carefully crafting it with safety in mind. The purpose of the spin-resistant airframe is to prevent loss of control in case of pilot error.
For added protection, there is a fully functioning airplane parachute available as a backup option.
Chris Dupin, a flight instructor and US Air Force officer, explains that the spin resistance feature is groundbreaking because it is the first airplane to be considered spin-resistant by the FAA. He also notes that many general aviation deaths result from loss of control during a spin that is not recovered while turning from the base to final approach.
Additionally, the aircraft features an angle of attack indicator, which is not commonly found in light aircraft. This indicator displays the wing’s optimal position (in the green) or the potential for stalling (in the red).
The pilot’s duty is to maintain the wing within the designated green or yellow area on the gauge. This contributes to the simplicity of learning water takeoffs and landings.
Becoming a barnstormer
According to Christine Negroni, an experienced aviation journalist and author of “The Crash Detectives,” Kirk Hawkins has a highly original and inventive concept for pilot training. This approach focuses on developing a sense of flight before delving into the technical aspects, similar to how individuals learn to drive.
“With the current shortage of pilots, there is a need for innovative teaching methods that can accommodate different learning styles. This could potentially increase the number of candidates for pilot training.”
Regarding this, approximately 40% of those who have made deposits for the ICON A5 are not licensed pilots, indicating that this aircraft is attracting individuals new to aviation.
After ninety minutes of flight, Hawkins safely brings us to the airport runway, a skill that can be achieved after mastering multiple water landings. This maneuver is more challenging as it requires greater accuracy and understanding of crosswinds.
If I were the owner of this aircraft, I would attach it to a trailer, fold the wings, transport it home, and store it in the garage.
Spend some time outside
If you’re interested in owning your own ICON A5, you’ll have to join the queue. Over 1,800 customers have already made deposits.
For individuals who are not willing to spend $207,000 to purchase one, they have the choice to visit ICON’s training center in Tampa or the facility in Vacaville, California, to fly for a day.
The introductory class for Sport Flying is 1.5 hours long and costs $595. To obtain a Sport Pilot License, you must complete more than 20 hours of training, with pricing that may vary.
Sarah Sekula is a travel writer and video host from Orlando. Keep up with her travels by following her on @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.