By: Matt Swee
I think I just had probably the most fun I have ever had in an airplane…or a boat!
After earning my private pilot license in high school by working the line at a small FBO, purchasing my first airplane in college (an amazing 1959 Piper Tri-Pacer) and then flying for the Air Force in the mighty KC-135 for 12 years and finally earning a seaplane rating in a Cub on floats; I thought I had experienced a lot that aviation had to offer. Then today happened! I was honored to be offered a flight in the new ICON A5. ICON Aircraft is a well publicized California start-up that was the dream of Kirk Hawkins (a prior USAF Viper driver and American Airlines pilot…not a TPN members but we are working on it!) that has managed to create what I now consider to be one of the most fun airplanes I have ever flown.
Craig Bowers was my host for the day at ICON’s Tampa-based east coast training facility. Craig introduced me to the A5 and after the short preflight checklists, we were taxiing out for departure. Cloud decks were 2,500’ish feet, but it didn’t really matter. We weren’t planning on getting above 500 feet AGL anyways. He told me to think of this little amphibious airplane as a cross between a jet ski and a fighter jet, and I would get the idea. After setting full power, rotating at 50 KIAS, and climbing out at 60-70 KIAS we headed south towards “Beer Can Island” at 300 feet. Once we were “feet wet” Craig announced that the gear was up and would not be coming down while we were over the water, and as long as we stayed 500 feet from any person, vessel or structure Tampa Bay was our playground. After a brief side-slip to 5 feet off the water, he handed the controls back to me. This was where the ICON A5 was truly something different. It was a true powersports machine at that point. It was no longer just an airplane, and definitely not a boat. I couldn’t believe how precise (yet forgiving) the center-stick controls were in the 1-10 foot AGL range. It was a thrilling 5 minute landing attitude demo, turned sight seeing tour of Tampa Bay islands. But better than any boat or jet ski, I could be at 500’ AGL as easily as I could be at 5 feet. We were just two pilots having a great time. We climbed up, did some slow flight and some steep turns to explore the envelop, then some water landings. After that Craig vectored me back towards Beer Can Island where we were going to do a low-level before heading back to the airfield for a landing. The A5 was a cross between jet ski and an airplane in the best way.
I can honestly say that this little airplane was so much fun to fly. Granted, it is basically a toy for a pilot, and for a toy it ain’t cheap. But if you love airplanes, the water, and powersports…and have lived a life of financial responsibility that allows for something awesome…well, I think I found it for you. You have got to check this thing out!