Planes for the People: The Icon A5 Makes Amateur Aviation a Reality
“We’re not anywhere near the Jetsons just yet, but to ever get there, this is the first step.” That’s Kirk Hawkins speaking about the Icon A5, a brand new aircraft looking to make owning and operating private aircraft a reality for the world. As Hawkins puts it, he wants to “[democratize] flight”.
It can sometimes be difficult to sniff out the difference between genuine innovation and gimmicks in the world of aviation, with the latter often coming at the expense of pragmatism. Considering the fact that the team openly tried to create a vehicle with the lowest price point possible, it would be a reasonable assumption that this came at the expense of extensive safety measures. Reasonable, but very inaccurate.
Not only is the Icon A5 arguably one of the safest aircraft in existence, it has also achieved something that has never been accomplished before. The A5 employs an anti-spin feature which actually stops the aircraft from spinning out of control should it stall in mid-flight.
If this sounds too good to be true, Kirk Hawkins would happily point to the footage of their test run where an Icon A5 flew alongside a Cessna C-150 with the pilots both manually stalling the plane. After a few moments the C-150 begins to twist and before long falls out of shot, spiraling uncontrollably towards the ground at high velocity. Despite having executed identical commands to the other plane, the A5 continues to glide along with no signs of wavering.
Considering that 41% of all pilot-related fatalities come about as a result of stalls or spinning, this is a remarkable achievement. Hawkins explains the stall/spin issue and the struggles behind tackling it:
“A spin occurs when an aircraft slows down to the point where it stops flying. It can enter a descending, spiraling turn that is effectively out of control. The danger is when the stall/spin occurs at low altitude, like take-off or landing, when the pilot can get slow, misfly the airplane, and inadvertently enter a stall/spin when there’s not enough altitude to recover.”
“It wasn’t easy,” says Hawkins on halting production to focus on spin resistance. “It was tough to go ‘Let’s stop the development. Let’s put eight months more in that. Let’s go spend the time, and the money, and all the effort to go do something we’re not even sure we can do because no one’s ever done it.’ ”
Despite these difficulties, the team succeeded. The demonstration of the Icon A5 stalling proved that it had achieved its aim of being resistant to spins. It remained controllable during a stall with a slow rate of descent, and this massively increases the safety of pilots and passengers during what is normally a very high-risk situation.
It’s all very well and good creating an aircraft aimed at amateur pilots, but will they actually be allowed to fly in around the country? In short, the answer is yes.
The Icon A5 is classed as a sea light-sport aircraft (SLSA) which is a type of aircraft that can be flown by pilots with limited licenses. During daylight hours in good weather, pilots are able to fly SLSAs under 10,000ft to small airports, airfields, lakes and similar areas. For those that want more freedom with their A5, an IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) rating will allow pilots to fly in more adverse conditions, but the process of achieving an IFR rating takes roughly double the time.
The reduced hours required to achieve this basic license is one huge victory in targeting the amateur pilot market, but how many areas actually fall under the applicable categories? According to Hawkins, around 98% of the US meets the specifications required. In other words, you can more or less fly your A5 anywhere within US boundaries.
Transportable on a Trailer Behind Your Vehicle
Transporting the vehicle by means other than flying isn’t difficult, either. Customers purchasing the A5 can upgrade to receive a fully equipped trailer which will help pioneering pilots zip the aircraft around the country on the back of their road vehicle. What’s more, the carbon fiber plane’s wings have been designed with compact transportation in mind. They fold inward which minimizes the total width and makes cruising around with an aircraft behind you a much more realistic proposition.
Not only is the A5 awesome in the air, it also beggars belief with its aquatic acrobatics. The overall design strongly promotes the opportunity to take off and land on water; a shrewd move which makes use of natural resources to create a plethora of huge landing pads all over the world. But it’s not just that. When on water the A5 glides quickly and effortlessly and is even capable of spinning around in circles without being thrown off kilter. The team behind the A5 appear to have accounted for every likelihood that first-time pilots might encounter, and created built-in solutions for a seamless experience.
An Ideal Aircraft For First Time and Amateur Pilots
And when it comes to first-time pilots, a great many will be making their debuts in the A5. Of those who have already slapped down a preorder for Icon’s revolutionary aircraft, around half have no pilot’s license. That’s a lot of ambitious amateurs. But Icon are confident this will not be a problem, and in fact have stressed the importance they will place on training first timers up – at a cost of $9,500 – before they’re let loose.
The A5 certainly has legs, but will it take off? Judging by the number of preorders, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Icon has already amassed a hugely impressive 2,000 orders for A5s – a backlog that will take them three years to clear. With each customer coughing up $250,000 for their own two-seater vehicle, the total currently weighs in at around $500 million. To put that into perspective, Research and Markets recently predicted that the Ultralight Aircraft market would be worth $389.26 million by 2020. In 2016, Icon have already eclipsed that with preorders to the tune of half a billion dollars.
Icon’s A5 may very well be the future of aviation.