ICON A5 Flight in Tampa
My Re-Education of ICON’s A5
Soon after the plane left the runway, ICON Aircraft Company pilot Sean Stamps said, “I am going to show you what it’s like when I stall it.”
As a non-pilot, I would have preferred the ground to look a lot farther away before attempting this maneuver. (We had just passed 500 feet!)
Stamps reduced the power, raised the nose, and purposefully kept some back pressure on the A5’s fighter-like stick. I braced my hands to the side of the aircraft, planted my feet on the floor, and…the wings stayed level. There were soft vibrations that I thought was gentle turbulence. If Stamps hadn’t told me we were losing altitude, I would have missed the stalling demonstration.
This was the beginning of my re-education of ICON’s A5 amphibious airplane.
I have a unique relationship with the A5. As part of the educational team with the Virginia Department of Aviation (DOAV), I travel the Commonwealth with an ICON A5 to teach residents – mostly students – about aviation. Our A5 was purchased by the DOAV from the Virginia Small Aircraft Transportations Systems Lab Inc. for the price of $1. What’s the catch? Well, we had to keep it as an educational tool for the people of the Commonwealth. To keep that promise, our A5 is not airworthy.
The A5 is perfect for aviation education, however. With its folding wings and the ability to be moved on a trailer, we can transport the airplane to anywhere in Virginia where there are paved roads. The questions that we are asked range from the common, “How fast does it go?” (109 mph), to the strangely curious, “How much does the gas tank hold?” (20 gallons). When we gas up the van on our ICON trips, we always get offers to, “Drive it to my house!”
When I pulled into the ICON Flight Center at Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, Fl., I thought I knew what to expect, and yet, almost immediately, I started to have some strange experiences. An A5 that looks exactly like the DOAV’s – white with red highlights – had its engine running. Why was this weird? Well, I’d never heard a Rotax engine before, and I didn’t imagine it sounding like my lawnmower. But, especially, it felt like I was watching a statue coming to life.
Knight Airport is perfectly situated to demonstrate the A5’s capabilities. The general aviation airport is on an island that enables the ICON to exhibit the plane’s sea legs. ICON designed the amphibious aircraft as a seaplane, which means that when it lands on water it is landing on its hull. This puts the occupants closer to the water than when they are in a boat. On our first water landing (my first ever) I was expecting it to feel like when a roller coaster ends – a jolt of some sort – but it was as gentle as riding in a canoe. Better yet, ICON flies this demonstrator aircraft with its side windows off and not a drop of water came in.
Another misconception I had was with the A5’s nautical talents. While I often reference an ICON brochure that has a man fishing off the sponson (not winglets as I had often called them), I was always skeptical about how the plane acted when it was a “boat”.
While in the water, Stamps asked me to flip a black switch that lowered the water rudder. He told me to put my feet on the silver and red, anodized, rudder pedals. The throttle was pushed forward part of the way.
“Watch out for the guy fishing,” he added.
With that, the speed picked up, and I was steering the plane with my feet, making shallow S-turns to the right and left just like a jet ski. Zipping past the guy in his fishing boat I could see that he was filming us on his cell phone. While I couldn’t hear him “whoo-hooing” through the propellor and the water noise, his face and pumped fist gave it away.
We leapt off the water and back into the air. Stamps asked me to imagine that we were flying in a canyon and had me cordon it off in my mind using an industrial plant, a hill, and a small island nearby. Increasing the throttle, he then proceeded to put the A5 into a tight bank and climbed in a spiral out of the “canyon.”
“Do you want to try a water landing?” Stamps asked.
My stammering response was, “Uh, well, you know… like… me?”
“Yeah!” Stamps replied.
While I have “become a pilot” somewhere on a bucket list, my flight experience consists of 10 hours in a Cessna around 20 years ago. The last time I “flew” an airplane I was in the back of a van in a simulator that accompanies our ICON to schools. To say I was nervous was an understatement. But, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get the chance to land an ICON A5, in water of all places, ever again.
“Alright,” I replied cautiously.
Stamps told me to bring the throttle back to 3,000 RPM and watch the AOA (Angle of Attack) indicator. My water landing site was calm and vast. While I tell the story to friends like I was a Naval aviator trying to land on a pitching aircraft carrier deck, all it took was a little back pressure to keep the AOA on the white line and the A5 landed smoothly. Stamps offered to let me land back at the airport, but I decided not to test my meddle any further. My re-education was complete.
I always like being surprised. Examining my pictures afterward, I noticed that we were flying in our ICON’s big sister, serial number 5. The hour-long flight has improved my perspective and has made talking to pilots, non-pilots, and soon-to-be pilots more engaging and informative. But, my final comment about ICON’s A5 is that if I had nearly $400,000 in a bank account, I would quickly cut a check and gladly deal with the consequences later.