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Is it a boat? Is it a plane? A look at the ICON A5

Is it a boat? Is it a plane? A look at the ICON A5


The ICON A5 is a next-generation aircraft that can perform as both a seaplane and an aeroplane. Described as a sports car with wings that manoeuvres like a jet ski, ICON CEO Kirk Hawkins says of the light sport aircraft: “It’s about getting you out there and interacting with your world”. An amphibious airplane that's as comfortable on water as it is on land or in the air, the aircraft has folding wings and can be transported by trailer to wherever you’d like to fly or store it.

Making flying fun and easy

Icon A5 light sport seaplane
Icon A5 light sport seaplane

The ICON A5 isn’t meant to go far (its range of 491 miles would get you from Las Vegas to Alburqueque on a full 20-gallon tank) and it isn’t built for speed (109mph is as racy as it gets). But what it lacks in distance and speed, it more than makes up for in innovation.

Its cockpit controls were designed by BMW designers and have been likened to those of a sports car, while the exterior was designed by Nissan designer Randy Rodriguez. The light sport aircraft also has a feature that keeps it flying and controllable even when the pilot has inadvertently stalled the aircraft. Hawkins explains that most aircraft held in a stall, even at full power, go into a rapid descent that can degrade into a loss of control or a spin; but the ICON A5 can float in midair indefinitely, providing the engine doesn’t overheat.

There isn’t one specific feature that makes the A5’s carbon-fiber frame spin-resistant. It’s a combination of design elements; such as the outsized, foldable wings, which feature stall-resistant wing cuffs, a slight twist in the contour and differently designed airfoils. The bigger wings called for a larger tail, which in turn required a stronger tail boom, resulting in a larger and heavier airframe with a maximum gross weight (fully loaded with passengers and equipment) of 1,510lbs. The maximum gross weight of other amphibious light sport aircraft is 1,430lbs, so a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) weight exemption that was required to nail the spin-resistant design.

The ICON A5’s design is so intuitive that the company claims a novice can learn to handle the ready-to-fly aircraft in under 30 hours. The recreational plane can be flown by anyone holding a sport pilot license, since ICON positions the amphibious aircraft with other recreational powersports vehicles like ATVs, motorcycles, watercraft and snowmobiles.

ICON has clocked up some prestigious awards for the A5, including:

  • 2008 Popular Science 100 Best Innovations of the Year
  • 2009 I.D. Annual Design Review
  • 2009 International Design Excellence Awards Gold in Automotive & Transportation
  • 2009 International Design Excellence Awards People's Choice Award
  • 2009 Gold Spark Design Award
  • 2010 Wallpaper "Life-enhancer of the Year" Judges Award
  • 2010 Red Dot Product Design Winner
  • 2015 Flying Editors' Choice Award

Innovation timeline: from fledgling to full flight

An A5 prototype made its first test flight on 16 July 2008. By January 2009, ICON had completed the first phase (which included 27 flights) of a three-phase testing programme, including water handling. In February 2009, the prototype began the second phase of testing to refine its aerodynamic and handling qualities.

From 2011 to February 2012, the updated spin-resistant wing was flight tested and the design met FAR Part 23 type certified requirements, thanks to its cuffed wing with multiple proprietary airfoils that alter along the wing's span. Designworks developed an automotive style interior and helped with the development of lightweight component manufacturing.

By 27 July 2014, the first ICON A5 was unveiled at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. It had been constructed between January and June 2014 at the company headquarters in Tehachapi, California, and flown for the first time on 7 July. Following an FAA audit in 2015, serial production began in July 2017. A total of 15 aircraft were delivered to customers in 2017, followed by 200 in 2018.

The Model Year 18 versions of the A5 include an improved nose gear design, more legible and better night illuminated instruments, a simpler and lighter oil cooler with better cooling airflow, an improved rudder pedal design, upgraded landing-gear actuators, an enhanced canopy design with no airspeed limit for flight with windows removed, and improved wing and fuselage access panels.

ICON A5 specifications

Icon A5 in the water
Icon A5 in the water

Crew: 1

Capacity: 1 passenger

Length: 23ft

Wingspan: 34.8ft

Height: 8.1ft

Empty weight: 1,080lbs

Gross weight: 1,510lbs

Fuel capacity: 20 US gal

Powerplant: 1 x Rotax 912 iS fuel-injected, air and liquid cooled four cylinder aircraft engine, 100 hp

Propellers: 3-bladed composite

Cost of the ICON A5

The aviation innovations achieved by the ICON A5 have resulted in significant interest in the aircraft from outside the aviation community. ICON reports that 35% of its customers are not pilots. Tempted to give the ICON A5 a go? A fully-equipped 2018 model will set you back around £296,000.

If you long to get out there and interact with your world but can’t afford the price tag of an A5, then private jet charter is a good option for you. Speak to our team, who can take you through the various options available to you, such as our private jet leasing solutions and the world’s most flexible jet card.

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