Technology · June 19, 2022

Flying a sports car with wings

Tampa, Fla. (CNN) – When it comes to piloting an airplane, I have zero experience.

In fact, I never thought of trying it.

As we fly over Florida’s Tampa Bay on a beautiful November morning, I thrilledly take the helm of the ICON A5, a two-seat amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski, and is so intuitive the company says even a novice can fly can learn in less than 30 hours.

Measuring 23 feet in length and weighing 1,510 pounds, it is known as a light sport aircraft for the sea.

Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying about the aircraft reacting unpredictably, there is nothing else on the market like it.

Now that I’m in control, my whole body tenses for a good five minutes. Am I really ready to pilot this shiny new machine all by myself? I am not really sure.

However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 was built specifically for people like me and designed to drive like a car.

It also doesn’t hurt that Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, is sitting next to me in the cockpit. He can take control at any time.

So far, so good.

We’re gently gliding through the air at about 1,000 feet and I’m comfortable enough to take in the sights. The beautiful Fort De Soto Park does not disappoint.

Squiggles of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it’s meant to be in the Caribbean.

Equally impressive is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge with its long cables.

The adrenaline is still racing. And like most surreal experiences, it just keeps getting better.

For starters, there’s another ICON A5 to my left, which is exciting in its own right. We fly in formation and my job is to imitate his movements. You’d think that would be intimidating, but it’s not.

It’s just fun.

This is music to Hawkins ears. He’s the brains behind this newfangled airplane, an idea that was 10 years in the making.

A former Air Force F-16 pilot and Stanford Business School graduate, he has devoted most of his adult life to bringing sport flying to the masses.

“Our idea was to build an airplane that the average person could get out in and experience the world without the burden of becoming a commercial pilot,” he says.

So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like what you see in your car. There are just a few gauges that I’m not familiar with.

“It’s Apple’s way of doing things,” he says. “You humanize it and make it intuitive, simple and cool.”

He’s so confident that people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he’s just opened a flight training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.

Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it is a place where both beauty and sailboats abound.

The company’s other training center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.

Big eyes and open windows

At 9:00 a.m. it is time for a short pit stop with a water landing.

Hawkins takes control. I’ve been too busy learning to fly in formation (which non-pilots often have to try) and interviewing Hawkins to even consider learning to water land myself. It’s something Hawkins tells me most people can master in about 30 minutes.

A few negative Gs and 360 degree spins later, it turns into a fun rollercoaster ride in the sky. Also, it’s an open-air flight, so I occasionally stretch out my arms. Just because I can.

A few hundred feet above the water it’s easy to spot a boater waving at us, a school of pelicans and even stingrays.

“We’re going to stop here and stop for a moment and get out,” he says.

He must be joking, right? But after landing the plane on the water, he unbuckles his seat belt and I realize it’s not him.

Seconds later, he opens the roof and we climb onto the wings, which could easily serve as springboards. Suddenly it feels less like a flight trip and more like sunbathing on a boat.

Everything is bathed in an intriguing golden hue. I can imagine having a picnic on the beach nearby. Or fly somewhere for a remote weekend camping trip.

Because the plane has a range of about 430 miles on a full tank, it’s made for short trips.

“This whole thing is about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you will never be the same. You will look at the sky differently, you will look at the planet differently.”

Engineered to make flying easy

“The primary motor skills for flying an airplane are pretty simple,” says Hawkins. “We have people who land on their own with an instructor within 30 minutes on day one.”

That means they carefully took the time to design it for safety. The goal of the Spin Resistant Airframe feature is that the plane doesn’t lose control if the pilot makes mistakes.

There is a full aircraft parachute as a backup.

“The anti-rotation feature is a big deal because it’s the first aircraft the FAA has classified as anti-rotation,” said Chris Dupin, US Air Force flight instructor and officer. “A significant number of general aviation fatalities are attributed to loss-of-control accidents involving an unrecovered base-to-last-turn spin.”

There’s also the angle of attack indicator, which you don’t typically see on a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is satisfied (in the green) or where it might stall (in the red).

The pilot’s job is to keep the wing within the green or yellow area of ​​the gauge. This is part of what makes learning how to take off and land on the water so easy.

become a barn stormer

“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive; first convey the feeling of flight and later the principles and structures, similar to how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author of “The Crash Detectives.”

“The world is facing a shortage of pilots, so the idea of ​​teaching differently to accommodate different learning styles could very well expand the pool of pilot candidates.”

With that in mind, about 40% of the people who made deposits for the ICON A5 aren’t pilots, which means this plane attracts newcomers to flying.

After an hour and a half of flight, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver you can tackle after mastering several water landings. It’s a bit trickier as it requires more precision and knowledge of crosswinds.

At this point, if I owned this plane, I would attach it to a trailer, fold up the wings, drive home and park in the garage.

Get some airtime

If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1,800 customers have deposited.

For those not willing to shell out $207,000 to purchase an aircraft, there is an option to drop by the ICON training facility in Tampa or the facility in Vacaville, California to fly for a day.

The introductory sport flying course lasts 1.5 hours and costs $595. To get your sport pilot license you need to put in more than 20 hours and prices vary.

Sarah Sekula is an Orlando-based travel writer and video host. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.