After almost a decade of anticipation, research and development, rigorous test flights, and $100 million in costs, Icon Aircraft, a consumer plane manufacturer based in Vacaville, California, has sold its first aircraft, the A5. Icon already has brought in $400 million from 1,500 pre-orders, and now is ramping up production in an effort to fill them over the next three years.
This week, Icon, which was ranked as one of Inc.’s 25 Most Audacious Companies in 2014, brought Inc. on a demo flight of the amphibious sports aircraft along the Hudson River in New York City. At the controls was Kirk Hawkins, a former Air Force F-16 pilot who co-founded Icon with skateboard designer Steen Strand in 2006. Seemingly as soon as he pulls back on the airplane’s stick, the tiny, two-seater shoots 1,000 feet above the George Washington Bridge and flies south above the river at 100 miles per hour.
“At our core, we are an authentic aviation company. We are what aviation was meant to be–whether you are a fighter pilot or commercial pilot or a sport pilot, this kind of flying is what inspired every pilot as a kid,” Hawkins says following a loop around the Statue of Liberty and a smooth-as-silk landing back on the Hudson.
Weighing 1,000 pounds and sporting a 34-foot wingspan, the A5 is a mix between a sports car, a speedboat, and an airplane. Its stripped-down control panel, which more closely resembles that of a car than a conventional plane’s, is easy to read and control for the 40 percent of Icon customers who aren’t pilots. The aircraft doesn’t require an airport and can be folded to fit in a trailer, effectively opening the airways to anyone. (Anyone, that is, who has a sports pilot license and can afford the $197,000 price tag.)
It’s also the first and only airplane to be spin-resistant-certified by the FAA. The technology was proved by NASA in the 1980s, but no company has met the Federal Aviation Administration’s standards before now.
“We asked ourselves, why are planes still dealing with spin? Instead of needing perfect pilots who can recover from emergency situations, why don’t we make an airplane that doesn’t spin,” Hawkins says. “What that means is that the plane is very forgiving if the pilot makes a mistake. The plane will give you all the warning signs, but if you stay in trouble the plane will not lose control and will not drop out of the sky. She’ll just keep complaining and keep flying.”
The other pivotal piece of technology that makes the plane safer and easier to fly is the Angle of Attack gauge, which will tell you if you are in danger of stalling. The instrument is the first of its kind for the aviation industry.
The era of personal flight is on the horizon, Hawkins says. While he declined to give any details about Icon’s product road map, he says the A5 will be only the company’s first product.
“The next 20 years will bring a future for aviation vastly different than today,” Hawkins says, explaining that world-changing innovation only requires motivated people. “The Wright brothers–two bicyclists–cracked the code of aviation. All it took was two entrepreneurs who were passionate about flight.”