Not since the 1930s has airplane innovation been impacted as much as it was yesterday when ICON unveiled their hotly anticipated A5 amphibious aircraft to the public through a handful of pilot journalists. It was the first time any pilot outside of the factory test team has been allowed to experience this amazing aircraft.
For almost a decade since the A5 was nothing but a crudely-drawn sketch on a napkin, tongues have been wagging and volumes of words have been written about the innovation and intense design going into this elusive aircraft. Fans began putting deposits on the A5 after a mere announcement and a mockup static model. Since then ICON has embarked on what might be the greatest design challenge in aviation history.
Yesterday, it became clear that the company succeeded. The list of milestones and firsts is long and merits an article in itself, but the bottom line is that the ICON A5 will change the general aviation world. An airplane that has met and superseded any expectation, my guess is that a lot of aviation know-it-alls will be eating their share of humble pie in the coming months. Why all the hyperbole? Because the A5 is that good.
The A5 was designed around the idea that flying is fun. Period. That small statement has driven tens of thousands of hours of intense design and engineering by the greatest minds in the industry today. Every fastener was thought out; every curve considered for its function and for how it makes a pilot feel. In the cockpit, every nuance of control was designed, re-designed, and re-designed again until every control movement put a smile on a pilot's face. The result is unprecedented.
The biggest story, though – and there is not enough space here to tell it all – is that ICON has succeeded where no other airplane manufacturer has: they have designed a truly spin-resistant wing. Imagine pulling the stick back in your favorite GA airplane until the airframe shudders like a bronco with the wrong size bit in its mouth. Now imagine at the moment when the airplane stops flying, shoving a boot-full of rudder with the stick held against your gut. Now imagine that same airplane, shuddering a bit more but flying in a controlled fashion and even banking to the right or left. While slightly climbing. That's the ICON A5.
A few words can't describe the feeling; the hesitation that a pilot reared in convention GA feels when stomping on a rudder pedal at 800 feet AGL at the top of a deep stall. The trust it takes to believe that a world-changing wing design will keep you alive while performing the one thing a pilot should never do. And consider the intense joy felt when the result is as unremarkable as a passing breeze. What ICON has done here is special, and the aviation world should and must take notice.
The A5 has been engineered with a control feel that approaches criminal in its sensuousness. The feeling of putting the A5 into a bank is like the smooth cabernets and sauvignons of the Napa Valley where our flight tests are taking place. The control harmony reminds me of a DeHavilland Chipmunk or a T-38. Think it and the airplane obeys.
From power-off glides to water landings to takeoffs to hard-surface runways, the A5 is a special aircraft. Marketed mostly to non-pilots, I feel the A5 will change how we look at everything from flight training to instrument panels. In fact, another huge story in the ICON saga is the introduction of the angle-of-attack (AOA) indicator. In the A5 it is the primary instrument, and using it was transformative, fun, and educational to every degree. Though ICON didn't invent the idea (the military has been flying the "alpha" for decades), their success with the A5 will prove to general aviation once and for all that AOA indicators make sense and should be required in every aircraft, but that's a fight for another day.
For now, I can report that ICON has a winner here. An amphibious aircraft that brings together the best of water and sky, it puts passion back in aviating. It is an experience as pleasant as a furry puppy, as intense as a passionate kiss, as rewarding as sun, sky, and water can be, and as fun as anything your pilot's mind can think of. And if pragmatic success comes from this airplane, our industry will be changed forever.