The ICON A5: America’s New Favorite Aircraft
December 15, 2015
By Sallie W. Boyles
Have you spotted an ICON in the sky?
At any given time, radar shows thousands of planes in flight around the globe. If you don’t see any in the sky above, look online. You’ll find maps of all kinds, covered in miniature airplane icons to indicate the positions of most commercial and many of the other assorted aircraft in flight. Among them all, we at VIE have been tracking the ICON A5, an amphibious two-seater aircraft, first featured in the January/February 2014 issue.
Despite hovering in constant design tweaks and testing modes over the past eight years, the ingenious little pleasure plane, classified by the FAA as a Light Sport Aircraft (or LSA), has never flown under the radar—or so to speak. Reaching its top altitude at 10,000 feet and a maximum speed of 110 mph, the A5 grants bird’s-eye views and a true sense of flying, especially when the windows are open. The experience is exhilarating, liberating, and also peaceful for a range of pilots, from novice to seasoned. Intuitive controls and safety mechanisms that go above-and-beyond (many experts go as far as saying foolproof) also make the aircraft incredibly easy to operate without the danger of spiraling out of control—a primary cause of small plane crashes. It even comes with an optional parachute attachment for those who desire every precaution.
As a result, numerous industry experts, as well as just plainly fascinated journalists, have exalted the ICON A5 in various media reports. Popular Mechanics, for one, recently referred to the recreational flying machine as “the Tesla of Airplanes.” Lotus engineers, nonetheless, influenced the plane’s structural and cosmetic features, which combine the luxury of a sports coupe, the nimbleness of a fighter jet, and the versatility and portability of WaveRunners. With the ability to takeoff from land or water and to run on either aviation or automotive grade fuel, the A5 (when outfitted with optional collapsible wings) compares with other recreational vehicles that are conveniently stored and transported to any chosen point of departure, such as a beach.
Winning numerous design awards, ICON’s technical achievements reflect the unwavering determination of its cofounders, CEO Kirk Hawkins and Chief Brand Officer Steen Strand, to develop a LSA for a broad demographic—longtime pilots as well as people who never would have considered purchasing an aircraft, much less learn to fly one. If you’re at least seventeen years old and hold a Sport Pilot License, which can be obtained with a minimal of twenty hours of flight training, you can take the controls. Of course, there’s the cost of the plane: an estimated base price of $189,000. After making a down payment of around $5,000, however, you might have enough time to save for the balance.
Multiple modifications, mostly related to safety, have delayed production. The parachute, for instance, adds weight, necessitating an FAA allowance that permits the A5 to maintain its LSA designation. In the meantime, upwards of 1,800 “delivery positions” have been assigned based upon orders, so today’s standard buyer—or one who doesn’t pay a premium deposit to advance in the queue—won’t take possession before the third quarter of 2019. Thankfully, the company has recently opened a full-scale production facility in Vacaville, California. Two 140,000-square-foot buildings have the capacity to build thirty-seven planes per month plus room to double that volume in the near future.
It’ll take some time before ICON A5 sightings become common, but some were made this past June in New York City, when Icon team members took several position holders on a spin around the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. As the video clip shows, passengers also enjoyed takeoffs and landings on the Hudson River.
“This is what I always wanted flying to be,” says one lucky guy, conveying what the grownup toy airplane is all about.