November 2018

Just Plane Awesome: The most exciting thing to hit aviation since in-flight beverage service has just landed.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Even standing still on the tarmac at Hilton Head Island Airport, the Icon A5 looked like it was flying. Seemingly pulled straight out of a James Bond movie, this next-generation seaplane isn’t so much an aircraft as a six-figure sports car with wings. It turns out that was kind of the idea.

“They wanted to design this to make it feel more like a Lamborghini than an airplane,” said product specialist Gary-James Knight.

To say they pulled it off is an understatement. Inside the cockpit, the usual dizzying cluster of gauges, switches, knobs and yokes has been pared down to an instrument panel that wouldn’t look out place on the dashboard of a Ferrari. There are several technical innovations that allowed for this simplicity of design, notably the “angle of attack” gauge that gives all the information a pilot needs for takeoff and landing in one elegant design.

“On any other aircraft, you might be scanning four different gauges at a time,” Knight said. “The workload is drastically reduced.”

That simplicity speaks to one of the biggest factors that separates the Icon A5 from any of the light aircraft that circle the skies over Hilton Head Island: it’s overriding philosophy to democratize personal air travel. It’s not quite the flying car we’ve been promised, but it’s a huge leap in the right direction.

Start with the wings, which fold down with the flip of a switch and tuck back along the fuselage, allowing the entire craft to fit into a standard (albeit large) garage.

Pop off the ends of the horizontal stabilizer and the whole thing can be towed on a specialized trailer. Add to that the aquatic takeoff and landing capabilities, plus the fact that it can run on premium from the gas station, and you have a flying experience you can enjoy without ever going near an airport.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to get into aviation, and you happen to be the kind of person who can part with $389,000, this is your cue. And it won’t even take that long to get licensed for it.

“With it being certified a light sport plane, the requirement is around 20 hours of training,” Knight said.

Brilliance in design
“Believe it or not, nothing on this is for looks,” Knight said. “As much as it looks like a sports car that goes on water, everything has a purpose. Everything goes toward function or the experience of flying. That’s really what this aircraft is designed around.”

The A5 is truly a marvel of engineering. Start with the carbon fiber body, a material chosen for several purposes. For one, it’s incredibly light (after removing the end of the horizontal stabilizer, Knight let me hold it and a stiff breeze almost pulled it out of my hand). Second, it doesn’t corrode in salt water, which is pretty important for a seaplane.

A noticeable change in the airfoil halfway down the wing not only adds to the plane’s fierce appearance, it also creates a spin-resistant wing, the first ever certified by the FAA. “It allows one part of the wing to stall before the other, so if you do stall, you’ll feel it in the controls and can correct it,” Knight explained.

And if you do somehow manage to stall out or suffer some catastrophic failure, the A5 packs a ballistic parachute just above the starboard wing in the event of an emergency, letting the whole plane glide gently to safety. But with the craft being so cutting edge and simple to operate, you’ll likely never need it.

“Our thought here was, let’s simplify this down in the safest way possible that lets you enjoy the experience of flying,” Knight said.

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