oped; Indeed see : http://sharlaslabyrinth.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-best-sport-light-aircraft-lsa-icon.html
About 20 minutes into my test flight aboard the Icon A5, the cockpit alarm started blaring. The angle-of-attack (AoA) display in front of me, an ingeniously designed gauge that seemed so delightful moments ago, was signaling doom. We were in the red. We had no lift. We were about to stall, the point at which an airplane ceases to be an airplane and simply becomes a massive chunk of dead weight ready to drop out of the sky.
We were at full throttle, and pilot Craig “Bowser” Bowers, Icon’s VP of sales and a former Marine F/A-18 Hornet pilot, had the stick held at its full aft position. If I could have seen anything below me at that point, I would have admired our view about 1,000 feet above the Hudson River. I would have taken a look at Fort Tryon to my right and the Ross Dock picnic area to my left, one last look for all of eternity. I’d likely see those things soon enough, spiraling around me as we hurtled toward the water.
But right now, I could not see the ground, even though my window was wide open. All I could see was the sky, and all I can remember is the high-pitched whine of that alarm.
And then the strangest thing happened: nothing. We didn’t go into a spin. Instead, the plane just kind of floated, nose up, in midair. An airborne Wile E. Coyote, refusing to look down, just hovering. It only lasted a few seconds, even if it felt like forever. But there was no spinning, no free-fall toward the ground. In fact, Bowers even turned the plane left and right, and we actually gained a bit of altitude during the stall—the opposite of what happens to every other airplane on the planet.
“The purpose of the demo is not to encourage this kind of flying, but to demonstrate that the A5 has a remarkable safety feature that helps keep the aircraft flying and controllable even when the pilot has made the mistake of inadvertently stalling the aircraft,” says Icon Aircraft CEO and Founder Kirk Hawkins. “Most aircraft when held in a stall, even at full power, will enter into a rapid descent which can degrade into a loss of control or a spin under certain conditions.”
According to Icon, that floating-in-midair trick could have continued indefinitely—just as long as the plane’s engine didn’t overheat. Rotax, which manufactures the A5’s 100-horsepower engine—which drives the plane’s three-blade pusher propeller at a top speed of about 120mph—advises against using full power for extended periods.
The Icon A5 may react very differently to a stall, but recovering from one is standard operating procedure. Bowers eased up on the stick, causing the nose of the plane to dip, the aircraft to pick up airspeed, and we were back on our way up the Hudson instead of shit creek.
What makes the A5’s carbon-fiber frame spin-resistant isn’t any one thing, but a combination of design elements that have been in development for the better part of a decade. According to Icon, the A5 required an FAA weight exemption for the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) class to nail the spin-resistant design.
They needed bigger wings with several unique elements—stall-resistant wing cuffs, a bit of a twist in the contour of the wing, and differently designed airfoils on different parts of the wing—and that required a larger tail. That, in turn, required a stronger tail boom. All that added up to a larger and heavier airframe, one that clocks in with a maximum gross weight (that is, fully loaded with passengers and equipment) of 1,510 pounds rather than the 1,430-pound maximum gross weight of other amphibious LSAs.
“I wish I could give you one magic bullet or a simple, easy to understand list of elements,” Hawkins says. “It’s a very complex and highly integrated problem requiring the entire aircraft to be designed with this goal in mind. There is no band aid or simple add-on to make an airplane spin resistant. It’s far more of a careful recipe, unique to each airplane, that uses many common tools… airfoil design, wing shape, wing devices, tail shape, fuselage factors, control surfaces.”
There are a lot of exceptional things about the Icon A5 beyond the light sport aircraft’s spin-resistant frame. The other wonderful things have been said so much that they are now cliches. In terms of size and operation, the small plane is as close as we’ve come to an honest-to-goodness, on-the-market flying car. The propellor is behind you, which means you have a beautiful, unobstructed, wide-angle view in front of you. Think about all the money you’ll save on baggage fees. You can even open the side windows. That means you can do that thing where you stick your hand out the window and feel the lift on it like an airplane wing—this time in a real airplane.
But the A5 is also like a flying speedboat; the amphibious craft doesn’t just take off and land on water, but it also handles like a jetski in the drink. On the water, you can carve corners with ease.
The A5 is 23 feet long, which is about the size of a ski boat, according to Hawkins. It has wings that fold back so you can hitch it to your trailer for a trip to the lake. Those folding wings are also handy for storage; when it’s folded up, the plane is about eight feet tall, so if your garage is really long, it’ll probably fit in there. You can fill the A5’s 20-gallon tank with high-octane automotive gas as well as aviation fuel. Its instrument panel has been stripped down and streamlined, simplified from the ground up to accommodate casual and novice pilots.
According to Icon, it also handles a bit differently than other aircrafts. During our short test flight in the A5, I was allowed to steer the plane for a bit as we sailed above the Hudson. I hadn’t flown before, and I was amazed at how little effort it took to turn the plane left and right. It wasn’t finicky, and there was plenty of feedback on the stick; you just didn’t have to muscle the controls to steer the plane. Bowers instructed me to grip the stick with three fingers of pressure and gently steer the plane; gripping the controls like a joystick with a clenched fist would have produced stronger, jerkier movements.
“There’s a fair amount of variability among aircraft,” says Hawkins. “Some require high control force inputs, while at the other end of the spectrum, others may be hyper-sensitive, even ‘twitchy,’ which can be unsettling to a pilot. The A5 was designed to have appropriate control force input and responsiveness to give user confidence when flying it.” According to Icon, the A5 is designed to feel smooth and responsive down to its cables, pulleys, bell cranks, and pushrods that connect its controls, as well as the materials used in the bearings of those systems.
Although the plane has a range of more than 300 miles on a full tank, the two-seater isn’t really built for hopping from New York to Boston or Cincinnati to Cleveland for that afternoon business meeting. In the same way a convertible sports car isn’t made for running groceries or family road trips, this is a plane made for the sheer enjoyment of flying around.
According to Hawkins, the A5 is also built with the “democratization of flying” in mind. That concept goes beyond the Icon A5’s safety mechanisms and car-like instrument dashboard; it also has to do with the license you need to fly the A5. In order to pilot Icon’s little plane—or any of the 130 or so light sport aircraft available—you need a Sport Pilot License. Qualifying for that type of license requires about half the flight time you need to get a private pilot license—a minimum of 20 hours of flight time as opposed to 40 hours—but it also comes with more restrictions. For example, you can only fly during the day, you can only fly two-seaters, you can only fly in nice weather with at least three miles of visibility, and you’re limited to flights up to 10,000 above mean sea level or 2,000 feet above ground level.
With a Sport Pilot license, you’re only allowed to fly in Class E or G airspace, and you need permission from a foreign aviation authority to fly outside of the United States. Dan Johnson, a longtime recreational airplane reviewer who now concentrates on Light Sport Aircraft reviews, says that if you follow the book, the sky is your oyster.
“Using a Light Sport Aircraft is truly not that much different than taking out your motorcycle for a ride,” says Johnson. “If you stay out of high air traffic areas, particularly major airline airports (in B airspace) an A5 pilot will enjoy great freedom… If you follow the [FAA rules], you can largely just go fly. If you wish to increase your allowed functions, you get with an approved instructor, take additional training, get him/her to sign your logbook, and you can do the added things. It’s really a pretty free system but with some constraints.”
The FAA doesn’t seem too concerned at the prospect of hundreds of newbie pilots flying these vehicles around willy-nilly. “It is the responsibility of the aircraft owner to maintain the aircraft in an airworthiness condition for safe flight,” the FAA public affairs office told WIRED. Otherwise, some stiff penalties may apply.
“A $1,000 fine per violation is possible, and in more severe cases a suspension or loss of certificate,” says Johnson. “Very few pilots are ever charged with such violations. Greater determining factors are peer pressure plus insurance and tort liability.”
So even if you’re a responsible and licensed Sport Pilot, have somewhere between $189,000 to $250,000 to spend on an A5, and have a huge garage, your dreams of flying your own amphibious toy may need to wait a bit longer. According to Icon, the production facility in Vacaville will start production slowly, as the company wants to solve any unforeseen problems before producing the plane at high volume. They hope to have 100 airplanes shipped by the end of 2016 and around 550 A5s in the land, sea, and air by the end of 2017.
Icon also has more than 1,500 preorders to fulfill. If you order an A5 today, you’ll likely have to wait till 2018 to get it. Think of it as a holding pattern. Or a mid-air hover.