New LSA: It's ambitious and amphibious

June 12, 2008

The newest light sport aircraft to make its debut, the ICON A5, is amphibious and eager to please.

The airplane was designed and developed to “put the fun back into flying,” said Kirk Hawkins, CEO of ICON Aircraft, as he spoke to a large crowd at the airplane’s official unveiling in Los Angeles on May 11.

The crowd went wild when the tarp was pulled back, unveiling a futuristic-looking T-tail airplane, painted gray with red accents. They really went wild when Hawkins pushed a button and activated a wing folding mechanism. The wings pivoted 90 degrees, then folded back alongside the fuselage. No need for a hangar, the airplane can be towed home behind a car on a trailer like a powerboat.

The A5’s airframe is constructed of carbon fiber and it is powered by a 100-hp Rotax 912S that can operate on either auto gas or avgas. It will come with an emergency airframe parachute.

“We set out to design an airplane that invokes a visceral response,” said Hawkins. He compared the view from the cockpit to “sitting in your own personal IMAX theater.”

Large “seawings” project outward from the lower aft part of the fuselage on both sides. The devices aid in powered water handling and double as platforms for swimming or diving. They are also helpful when docking the airplane.

The flight controls are conventional with sticks for both the pilot and passenger who will sit side by side. The cockpit and instrument panel were designed with input from BMW Design Works to provide an intuitive sports-car-like feel. Each airplane will be equipped with modern glass panel avionics and angle-of-attack indicators.

The projected performance figures fall within LSA standards. A 500-foot run is required for both takeoff and landing; the projected figures for range, useful load, and baggage are 300 miles, 450 pounds, and 100 pounds, respectively. Normal cruise speed will be 100 mph and the initial climb rate is expected to be 1,000 fpm.

A full-scale prototype airplane is scheduled to start flight testing this summer under the guidance of the Matthew Giota, vice president of engineering, and a staff of ICON engineers. Giotta previously spent 13 years at Scaled Composites and was project engineer for numerous projects, including the Williams V-Jet, the predecessor to the Eclipse 500 very light jet. (Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn sits on ICON’s board of advisors.)

The estimated price for the ICON A5 standard model is $139,000. Orders are now being accepted with a refundable $5,000 deposit. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in late 2010 or early 2011.