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The Amphibious Aircraft

Tue, 10/11/2011 - 12:27pm
Meaghan Ziemba, Associate Editor, PD&D

A rule change by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back in 2004 has created a new category of aircraft called the Light Sport Aircraft Category, and a new kind of pilot license called the Sport Pilot License. The FAA intended for these two changes to help make recreational flying more accessible and safer for consumers passionate about flying.

In response to the rule changes, ICON Aircraft (Los Angeles, CA) has instantly taken over the lead in the market with its ICON A5 design, which not only makes recreational flying more accessible and safer, but also inspires consumers the way great sports cars do by communicating beauty, performance, and fun.

"Aviation is the most amazing recreational activity one can pursue, so why is it that the look and feel of the industry doesn’t reflect that?” asks Steen Strand, COO of ICON Aircraft. “All the other recreational categories, such as motorcycles, boats and jet skis, or snowmobiles, are really exciting and have really cool products and brands; and for a variety of reasons, aviation hasn’t kept pace with them, so we thought it was time to bring that energy and excitement back to aviation."

A New Look
Strand explains that the ICON A5 not only contributes a new look to the design and development of airplanes, but it has completely changed the brand.

"Our emphasis is really about the experience of flying and making it as fun as possible,” says Strand. “We’re not trying to make a transportation device. We’re trying to make something that is super fun to fly.”

ICON not only wants consumers to be excited about owning an A5, they want them to feel good about themselves when flying it. Strand also points out the controversy the company faced when first starting out.

"We’re bucking against a lot of ingrained tradition in the industry. If you look at a traditional airplane cockpit, there is a certain layout and style that is very technical looking, which can be hard to decipher if you’re not already a pilot."

ICON's new take on the cockpit includes user-friendly controls, smart ergonomics, and intuitive features that allow pilots to relax more and enjoy the flying experience.

Making an Aesthetic Statement
ICON gathered inspiration from a number of different sources, including the motorcycle and car industries to make an aesthetic statement of their own for the aviation industry. Strand knew he wanted to satisfy a range of users, and it was important to communicate performance. The company’s main focus was leaning forward by being more modern and more current, while at the same time making something really cool and compelling.

"The success of ICON is achieved through bridging amazing airplane engineers with world class industrial designers from the transportation industry," explains Strand. "From an aesthetic point of view, we initially leveraged Nissan’s advanced design studio in San Diego. On the technical side, we kept the engineering in-house with a team led by Matthew Gionta from Scale Composites."

Founded in 1982 by Burt Rutan, Mojave, CA-based Scaled Composites (SC) has broad experience in air vehicle design, tooling and manufacturing, specialty composite structure design, analysis and fabrication, and developmental flight tests of air and space vehicles. SC is also responsible for the design of SpaceShipTwo, the prototype for Virgin Galactic's first commercial manned spaceship that is destined to pave the way for private space transportation.

ICON’s combined team of industrial and aerospace engineers has helped produce the stunning and sophisticated design that has already won the A5 some of the world’s most prestigious design awards.

Amphibious Airplane
To extend the functional characteristics of the A5, ICON equipped it with retractable landing gear and an innovational hull so it can land on waterways as well as runways. The Seawings platforms also provide exceptional maneuverability and safety, transforming the A5 into an amphibious airplane that can cruise the waterways providing a lot of recreational options and potential destinations.

Strand claims the A5 has the best water performance compared to any other sea plane on the market. He cites the A5’s high maneuverability and ability to bank turns on the water, and its smooth takeoff and landing performance. Strand also notes that ICON consulted with numerous hull design experts during the A5’s development.

Outside the Airport
"As part of our philosophy for recreation, we also designed the plane with folding wings," says Strand. "We want people to be able to take the airplane outside the airport."

The folding wings allow consumers to transport the A5 on a trailer, and store it at their home if they prefer. It lessens the need for a local runway, and increases the recreational options and the versatility of the plane.

Because the plane can be fueled by aviation fuel or high-octane auto gas, consumers can fill it up at airports, or if it is hooked on their trailers, they can also fill it up at regular gas stations or at boat marinas.

Unique Features
The cockpit of the A5 is stripped down compared to traditional designs. All the complexities seen in other aircraft are eliminated so pilots can concentrate on the information that is needed to fly for recreation.

"If you climb into our cockpit, it’s not going to look intimidating and it’s going to feel familiar," says Strand. "The information that you use is going to be in the place that you look for it. The result is that people, whether they are experienced pilots or people who have never even flown before, feel more comfortable than they would in other cockpits, which means their focus will be concentrated on how to fly and flying more safely."

The A5 also features a 100 horsepower Rotax 912 ULS engine, which is the most common engine used for this category of airplane. With a low stall speed and spin resistant design, the A5 is even equipped with a GPS navigational system, and optional parachute to provide that extra security for consumers. 

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