Icon A5

Despite a general ambivalence toward the Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) category, I do appreciate that it may in part represent the salvation of general aviation.  It is no secret that the number of GA pilots has been shrinking, slowly but surely, and that fewer and fewer people are willing to devote the time, effort and dollars toward attaining certification.  Reversing this trend will be no easy thing, but if general aviation is to survive as an industry, it quite simply needs to attract more people to flying.  Icon Aircraft is trying to do so by adding an ambitious new amphibian to the mostly land-bound LSA stable:  the Icon A5.

icon-a5An unusual collaboration between IDEO, Art Center, Nissan Design America, Troy Lee Designs, Scaled Composites, and L.A.-based Icon Aircraft has yielded the Icon A5 amphibious sport plane, a vehicle that is actually going into production. The 22-foot-long craft makes extensive use of carbon-fiber-reinforced epoxy composites, yielding a lightweight but strong frame, and the wings fold inwards, reducing the 34-foot wingspan to a mere 8.5 feet so that it can fit on the back of a trailer.

— hipstomp.  “Super design collaboration yields “Jet ski for the skies.”Core77 magazine, 12 August 2009.

Hard not to like an aircraft as pretty, functional and flexible as that one, isn’t it?  The list price is $139,000 USD, and there are already 400 pre-orders—over one-third of the $5,000 deposits are from non-pilots, amazingly enough.  Part of this is likely explained by the fact that most LSAs feature instrumentation that looks like a stripped-down aircraft instrument panel, while the A5 has intentionally tried to emulate the familiar look and feel of a car’s dashboard.  While I have in the past come down hard against any blurring of the operating and certification lines between cars and aircraft, I don’t see anything inherently irresponsible in making an aircraft (that still looks and behaves like an aircraft) easier to comprehend for the casual VFR flier.  The A5, after all, is not going to be driving along the freeway, it’ll be pulled in a trailer.  And making it easier to move and store (potentially even storing it at home in a large enough garage, instead of having to pay for hangar space) is a bonus.  You can watch the A5 retract and extend its wings (embedding disabled, unfortunately).

Here’s the manufacturer’s video of the A5 being put through its paces in initial flight testing:

I hope the rest of the flight testing goes well; especially since my notional win-the-lottery GA aircraft is the similarly-styled Seawind 300C.  Let’s see more flying boats and amphibians; the world has enough Cessna 172s.

UPDATE: According to Icon, a minor hiccup in financing (i.e. the credit crisis we’ve all been reading about) has delayed initial production from 2010 to 2011.  The aircraft has completed airworthiness testing and is now in the refinement phase (i.e. minor changes to equipment and structure to finesse the production model).

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