Tampa, Florida (CNN) – When it comes to flying planes, I have no experience.
In fact, I never even thought of trying it.
However, as we swooped over Florida’s Tampa Bay on a beautiful November morning, I enthusiastically took over the controls of the ICON A5, a two-seat amphibian that looks like a sports car. It works like a jet ski and is so intuitive, the company says that even a novice can learn to ride it in less than 30 hours.
23 feet long and 1,510 pounds, it is known as a light sport aircraft at sea.
Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying if the aircraft will react unpredictably, there’s nothing else on the market.
Now that I was in control, my whole body tensed for five minutes. Am I really ready to drive this shiny new machine myself? I’m not entirely sure.
However, I feel comfortable because the A5 is built specifically for people like me, and it is designed to drive like a car.
Plus, it didn’t matter if Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, was next to me in the cockpit. He can take control at any time.
As far as possible.
We were gliding through the air at about 1,000 feet, and I was comfortable enough to enjoy the view. The lovely Fort De Soto Park does not disappoint.
Dreamy white sand dunes surrounded by water look like in the Caribbean.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge with a series of extension cables is equally impressive.
Adrenaline is still racing. And as most surreal experiences pass, it keeps getting better.
For starters, there is another ICON A5 to my left, which is interesting in itself. We were flying in formation, and my job was to mimic its movements. You would think this would be scary, but it’s not.
It is simply fun.
It was music to Hawkins’ ears. He’s the brains behind this newly shaped plane, an idea that’s been 10 years in the making.
As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and Stanford Business School graduate, he has focused most of his adult life on bringing the sport of flying into public service. .
“The idea for us was to create an airplane where the average person could go out and experience the world without the burden of being a professional pilot,” he said.
So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like what you see on your car. There are just some gauges that I don’t recognize.
“It’s Apple’s approach to everything,” he said. “You humanize it and make it intuitive, easy, and fun.”
He’s so confident that people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he just opened a flight training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, this is a place full of beauty and sailing.
The company’s other training center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Open your eyes wide and open the window
By 9 a.m., it was time for a short landing on the water.
Hawkins took control. I was too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots are often tried) and interviewing Hawkins to even think about teaching myself how to land on the water. It’s something Hawkins told me most people can master in about 30 minutes.
Then a few minus-G and 360-degree turns and it turns into a fun roller coaster ride through the sky. Plus, it’s an outdoor flight, so I stretch out my arms from time to time. Just because I can.
At a few hundred meters above the water, you can easily spot a glider waving to us, a swarm of pelicans and even stingrays.
“We’ll pull over here, stop and get out in a second,” he said.
Surely he’s joking, right? But after landing the plane in the water, he unbuckled his seat belt, and I realized he wasn’t.
Seconds later, he pops the roof and we climb onto the wings, which can easily double as diving boards. Suddenly, it didn’t feel like a plane going out and like I was on a sunbathing boat.
Everything is bathed in an enchanting golden color. I can imagine having a picnic on the nearby beach. Or take a plane somewhere for a weekend camping trip away.
Since the plane has a range of about 430 miles on a full tank of gas, it is built for short trips.
“This whole thing is about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you’ll never be the same. You’ll look at the sky differently, you’ll see the planet differently.”
Designed to make flying simple
“The basic motor skills to operate an airplane are pretty easy,” Hawkins told me. “We have people who land themselves with an instructor on their first day, within 30 minutes.”
That said, they took the time to design it safely. The goal of the anti-spin airframe feature is that if the pilot makes a mistake, the plane won’t lose control.
As a backup, have a complete plane parachute.
“The anti-spin feature is a big deal because this is the first aircraft the FAA considers to be anti-spin,” said Chris Dupin, a flight instructor and US Air Force officer. “A significant number of general aviation deaths are due to loss of control accidents involving an unprotected turn on a final turn basis.”
Plus, there’s an angle of attack indicator, something you don’t usually see in light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is happy (green) or where it can stop (red).
It is the pilot’s job to keep the wing within the green or yellow portion of the gauge. This is part of the reason that taking off and landing on water is so easy to learn.
Become a barnstormer
Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author of “Crash Detectives.”
“The world is facing a shortage of pilots, so the idea of teaching differently, to be able to adopt different learning styles can greatly expand pilot applicants.”
On that note, about 40% of those who have deposited for the ICON A5 are not pilots, which means the plane is attracting newcomers in the aviation industry.
After an hour and a half of flying, Hawkins landed us on the airport runway, a maneuver you can do after you’ve mastered a number of water landings. It is a bit more complicated as it requires more precision and knowledge about the coils.
At this point, if I owned this plane, I would hook it up to a trailer, fold the wings in half, drive it home, and park it in the garage.
Get a bit of airtime
If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1,800 customers have deposited.
For those who aren’t quite ready to shell out $207,000 for one, there’s the option of stopping at ICON’s training facility in Tampa, or the facility in Vacaville, California, for a day’s flight.
Flight Sports Introductory Class is 1.5 hours for $595. To obtain a Sports Pilot License you will need to spend more than 20 hours and prices will vary.
Sarah Sekula is a travel writer and video presenter based in Orlando. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.
https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/sports-car-with-wings-icon-a5/index.html Flying a sports car with wings