The hyperbole that accompanies new aircraft announcements has so seldom been matched by reality that we can be forgiven for becoming jaded.
In the history of general aviation, skepticism has, more often than not, been proven correct.
The years-long drumroll that has preceded Icon Aircraft's first delivery of its A5 light sport amphibian has had all the hallmarks of another disappointment in the making. The company has been showing off a sleek concept for a folding-wing amphibian since 2008 and collected 1,250 deposits for future aircraft—but so far it has produced mostly polished promotional videos and Facebook likes.
But after flying the first fully conforming Icon A5 on June 17 in California's Napa Valley and landing on both water and a hard-surface runway, I can tell you that this airplane more than lives up to its high expectations. It's extremely graceful on the water and in the air, offers exceptional control harmony and visibility, is a joy to fly—and would not stall and spin no matter how much I provoked it.
"We had very specific design goals going into this project—but we think you'll agree that we achieved them," said Icon President Kirk Hawkins. "It's taken longer than we wanted. Much longer, in fact. But we thought it was important to get it right."
My first flight was at Lake Berryessa with Hawkins in the right seat.
After starting the 100-horsepower Rotax 912 iS engine and pointing toward the middle of the lake, he advanced the throttle, neutralized the elevator, and let the airplane rise up on the step and accelerate to 42 knots in about 14 seconds with his hands in his lap. Slight back pressure on the stick after covering about 900 feet convinced the airplane to fly, and after raising the flaps, it smoothly accelerated to 90 knots.
With two aboard and 10 gallons of fuel (half tanks), the airplane climbed 800 fpm to 1,000 feet where Hawkins demonstrated a seemingly suicidal series of maneuvers in which he provoked the airplane to stall and spin—but it simply refused. Steep turns with full back stick caused the wing to buffet and shake, yet the outboard wing panels with a lower angle of incidence kept flying, and the ailerons remained effective.
When he added full rudder, the airplane's nose moved in that direction. But even full cross controls couldn't get it to depart controlled flight. With full power, the airplane began a slow climb, even though most of the wing was stalled and providing no lift.
Water landings were smooth and consistent using an angle of attack display of Icon's own design. The pilot simply sets 30 degrees of flaps, descends at maximum lift over drag until the airplane settles into ground effect, then raises the nose slightly and lets the V-shaped hull settle into the waves.
Getting out of the water at a boat ramp required lowering the electro-mechanical, tricycle landing gear and taxiing up the incline. A 180-degree turn at the top of the ramp brought us back down, and the A5 slid back into the water like a duckling.
Hard-surface landings were non-events, and the A5's free castering nosewheel allows impossibly tight turns on the ramp.
In cruise with the landing gear retracted, the A5 indicates about 85 knots at 5,000 engine rpm. That number seems slow given the airframe's sleek appearance. But the propeller is pitched for climb, and Icon engineers are willing to give up some speed for other considerations. The A5 has a 9:1 glide ratio, and simulated engine-out water landings resulted in highly manageable approaches with descent rates of about 900 fpm.
Look for a full pilot report on the Icon A5 in the August issue of AOPA Pilot magazine and in an upcoming episode of AOPA Live This Week.