By Thomas Shambler
Aircraft startup Icon has begun selling the A5, an amphibious sports plane eight-years in the making
With almost US$100 million in development costs and a decade or research, Icon Aircraft has delivered the A5. The consumer plane manufacturer based in California has sold its first A5 aircraft, and is now ramping up production. Icon made US$400 million from over 1,500 in pre-orders, so it's going to have to work fast to deliver more planes over the next three year period. And from the looks of the A5 itself, those customers won't want to wait much longer.
Weighing a smidge over 450-kilograms and sporting a 10-metre wingspan, the A5 is part sports car, part speedboat and part airplane. The amphibious A5 first starting making waves in 2006, when a former Air Force F-16 pilot and a skateboard designer decided to build a better plane. Kirk Hawkins and Steen Strand wanted to reinvent a better plane, and produce an aircraft that handled more like a Ferrari, and was as easy to drive, too. "Making any airplane is hard, but making an airplane like this is exponentially harder." says Hawkins at the unveiling of the A5. "What got even harder still, was to take that airplane and productionize it."
The interior alone is more akin to a Maclaren than the button/switch dials you'd imagine in a conventional plane. "We have everything you need on the display. The speed and the altitude. Underneath that we have all the engine instrumentation. All the dials are uniform, the same colours, the same needles everything looks the same" says Klaus Tritschler, Vice President of Design. Even the seats are supercar-worthy, "they are of carbon fibre construction, and ergonomically contoured so it's incredibly comfortable." Attention was even paid to the headlights (or taxi/takeoff lights, as it were) "the headlights are not only completely flush to the airplane, but follow the shape of the nose cone. We reduced the size of them by using high-powered LEDs". While design elements like this not only impact the A5's striking looks, it also reduces drag making it faster and more fun to fly.
Outside the cabin, there are intricate design details built to make the A5 incredibly responsive. "The canopy is probably one of the most sophisticated assemblies on the entire airplane" says Matthew Gionta, Icon's Vice President of Engineering. "It's just a canopy, which doesn't sound that complicated. But it's a real design challenge to add such a large door on to the side of the airplane."
The A5 boasts a 180-degree field of vision, great when it comes to admiring the view, but came with its own unique challenges. "The bigger glass means there is a lot of solar heat gain possible. So we put some coatings on it to filter out infrared light and the UV spectrum". Possibly the A5's most striking feature are its folding wings. Built to easily extend by hand, it not only makes is easier to store but safe to drive (via trailer) on roads. The aircraft doesn't require an airport, and opens the airways to just about anyone (anyone, who has a sports pilot license and can afford the US$200,000 pricetag).
"This thing is amazing. An incredible fusion of world class design with outstanding engineering. It's the best I have ever seen in my life," says Hawkins. "The goal is to have a customer fly the A5 for the first time, to take it up in its element, and when they come back they say, 'oh my, this is amazing. This has changed my life'. That's what success is for us". The era of personal flight is on the horizon for sure, and it just might convince the next generation of petrol-heads to trade in their Lamborghini, and take to the skies.