All this has been enough to make many pilots roll their eyes and dismiss the project: “we’ve seen this act before (, , ), and we know how it ends.” As a lifelong cynic, it’s hard to disagree: I put a lot more stock in the number of airplanes that have been delivered to customers than in grand promises or famous investors.
But now that ICON has finally delivered the first A5, it’s worth revisiting the project with an open mind. I see reasons for both hope and skepticism, but maybe more of the former. That could be good news for pilots everywhere.
First, we should consider the radically simple mission of the A5. It’s one of the few airplanes – some might argue it’s the only one – designed for purely recreational purposes. True, an Ercoupe or a Cub is a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon in the air, and no one buys such airplanes to fly long cross-countries in bad weather. But the ICON goes further, since you don’t even have to fly it to your playground – just load it on your trailer and drive it there. Who cares what the weather is between your house and the lake?
That’s a small difference, but it has huge implications. The old line about “getting there is half the fun” no longer applies, and many ICON owners will probably treat it exactly like a high-end boat. If the weather looks good, they’ll take it out for 20 minutes. No airspace to consider, no communications required. Many of the basic tenets of pre-flight planning change in this scenario. To take one example, crosswinds will be a rare event for some A5 pilots, since larger lakes almost always allow for landing into the wind. If this means pilots fly their airplanes more, that’s a good thing.
In fact, it’s likely that some ICONs will never see an airport. That may worry some long-time pilots, but it also has the potential to change the way the general public views small airplanes. They might become a little less frumpy and a little more lust-worthy. Could a flight school be located at a marina instead of an airport?
The airplane’s positioning, as a fun toy with little transportation value, explains some of the tradeoffs the ICON engineers have made. At about 85 knots, the A5 is pretty slow for an airplane – but it’s extremely fast for a boat. If your average flight is less than 100 miles and purely for fun, “faster than the boats” is all that counts.
One reason the airplane isn’t faster is its nearly stall-proof wing. Early suggest the A5 is quite forgiving of low-and-slow shenanigans, which is a smart tradeoff. A design that prevents low altitude stall/spin accidents is worth 5 or 10 knots.