ICON A5 – Something New Under the Sun
ICON A5, a small two seat amphibious aircraft was among the unquestioned stars at this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh. While still less known internationally, ICON Aircraft, the Vacaville, California-based manufacturer claims to have 1,500 secured or so-called firm commitments, a highly astonishing sales figure in today’s General Aviation.
By Carl Williams
On a first glance the A5 seems as familiar as any other seaplane, but – if you take a second look – it hides an historic revolution: “I’m incredibly proud of our engineering and fabrication team. While creating a full-envelope spin-resistant airplane was extraordinarily difficult and took longer than we expected, it was absolutely the right thing to do for safety and is a game-changing innovation. Delivering an aircraft that provides excellent control throughout the stall while being resistant to entering a spin dramatically raises the bar for light aircraft safety by decreasing the likelihood of inadvertent stall/spin loss of control by the pilot. This is especially important at low altitude where the majority of sport flying will occur.” Kirk Hawkins, CEO and founder of ICON Aircraft, set the bar very high, when he addressed the members of his team in 2012. Three years later, the first A5 built at production specs – designated ESN-1- rolled off the assembly line at the original ICON plant in Tehachapi, California, and was proudly presented in Oshkosh 2014. A year later at EAA 2015, ICON took 150 selected buyers and media representatives on what can only be called “joy rides.” The reaction was incredible.
The first aircraft built with production tooling and using actual production methods and materials was followed by two additional aircraft used to verify performance data and to accomplish FAA approval. The first production aircraft (ASN-1) was delivered to the customer on July 20, 2015.
Being first publicly unveiled in Oshkosh, the ICON A5 stopped the show at EAA AirVenture 2014 and was identified as among one of the most beautiful aircraft displayed. But a pretty face and a cockpit that is the envy of most high-priced sports cars, is hardly the entire story. In the case of the A5, good looks go much further than skin deep. Casual observers may not realize that they are looking at an aircraft with unique and historic technology beneath its outstanding exterior.
Stall and Spin Resistance
The ICON A5 is the first Light Sports Aircraft (LSA) to fully meet the FAA’s stall/spin resistance standards of Part 23. What it took to accomplish this is a story in itself – a story of a safety conscious team of engineers, technicians and pilots who refused to proceed with the aircraft’s development until this exceptionally difficult standard had been surmounted. Besides sophisticated aerodynamics and a spin-resistant design of the airframe, “the Angle of Attack is likely the single most important parameter that helps a pilot fly safely at all times, and yet this information has not been made readily available in small planes,” said Kirk Hawkins. Therefore an Angle of Attack (AoA) system is standard on the company’s A5 Light Sport Aircraft. The A5’s AoA gauge delivers an intuitive graphical indication of the plane’s stall margin based on wing performance. The gauge is positioned at the top of the instrument cluster, keeping it as close to the pilot’s line of sight as possible, and incorporates green, yellow, and red sectors to quickly convey how the wing and airframe are performing in real time.
The FAA has acknowledged the importance of observing the Angle of Attack to small aircraft safety. An FAA Advisory Circular published in August 2012 suggests that a reduction in the AoA is the single most important response in the event of an imminent stall. Traditionally, pilots must evaluate an airplane’s proximity to stalling by observing the airspeed indicator; however, stall speed varies in relation to wing loading or for example, rain water accumulations on the aircraft’s wings — something that an air speed indicator does not account for. Pilots flying by airspeed are therefore forced to compensate for factors such as weight, g-load, aircraft center of gravity, and wind gusts. On the other hand the AoA is a single, easily understood metric that provides the pilot instantaneous information about how much lift the wing and airframe can deliver before it stalls. AoA gauges are common in high performance planes such as military fighter aircraft and cost and complexity have historically prevented their widespread use in General Aviation airplanes. Improving safety took time, effort and innovation but in the end, ICON aircraft promises the A5 to be one of the safest and most forgiving aircraft of its kind ever flown.
Carbon Fiber Airframe
As an amphibious aircraft the A5 flies off land and water. The high-strength, lightweight carbon fiber airframe offers a retractable landing gear, which can be deleted entirely to make a pure seaplane. A sophisticated wing, a boat-like shaped lower fuselage and an engine position high above the water’s surface make the A5 a perfect tool for air and water sports. So-called ‘Seawings’ on both sides of the lower fuselage support operations on water and work as platforms for easy access and docking. Among the most important design features are folding wings. Packed on a trailer (Length: 23ft / 7.07m; Width: 8.1 ft / 2.50 m), the A5 may fit easily into a hangar or even a larger garage.
The sports car-like cockpit features a width of 46 in. (116.8 cm), a high-visibility, wrap-around canopy, a Garmin Aera 796 GPS (moving map), VHF Communication Radio and Intercom system, Mode S Transponder and multiple storage compartments. Side windows are removable.
The base price of the A5 is currently set at $197,000 (subject to CPI inflation). Due to ICON’s exemption to the US’s LSA weight limit, FAA requires that all N-Registered A5s in the U.S. be equipped with a parachute that raises the price to around $212,000 – a great $15,000 investment in safety.
Earlier this year ICON Aircraft has announced that it will relocate all activities to the City of Vacaville in Northern California, located approximately fifty miles northeast of San Francisco, next to Vacaville’s Nut Tree Airport. That move is virtually complete. Local hiring is at a vigorous pace. Production will kick into high gear in September. Vacaville is a great home for ICON. The San Francisco Bay Area represents a strong cultural fit: ICON was founded in Silicon Valley, and the company culture draws heavily on the entrepreneurial drive and technically trained workforce found in the region.
The company intends to consolidate all aircraft manufacturing, sales, training, service, and corporate headquarters at the new location. This plant, staffed with a total of 100+ employees, is expected to turn out 100 A5s by the end of 2016. Production is expected to rise dramatically in subsequent years.
ICON has yet to turn its full attention to Europe and Asia as it has been heavily focused on certification from the FAA. The company indicated that now that U.S. certification is completed, it is currently working actively on international certification. As production and market conditions warrant, ICON will turn more of its attention to international markets. Sales of the aircraft within the U.S. will be closely held by the company and sales representatives in Europe and Asia have yet to be identified.
|Engine||Rotax 912 iS|
|Powerplant Rating||100 hp / 75 kW|
|Wingspan||34 ft / 10.36 m|
|Aircraft Length||23 ft / 7.01 m|
|Aircraft Height||7.1 ft / 2.16 m|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight||1,510 lbs / 686.4 kg|
|Useful Load (option dependent)||430 – 550 lbs / 195 – 249 kg|
|Max. Baggage||60 lbs / 27.2 kg|
|Max. Fuel (91 Octane Auto Gas or 100LL Av Gas):||20 gal / 75.7 L|
|Range*(45 min. reserve)||427 nm / 791 Km|
|Takeoff Distance (Runway)||710 ft / 218 m|
|Landing Distance (Runway)||530 ft / 163 m|
|Takeoff Distance (Water)||920 ft / 283 m|
|Landing Distance (Water)||840 ft / 259 m|
|Maximum Speed (Vh)||95 KCAS / 109 mph / 175kph|