If you traveled to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2013, you got to see a lot of airplanes and other aviation gear. EAA reported a very substantial crowd of more than 500,000 attended. As this might translate to 150-200,000 pilots, the big figure nonetheless means that more than 400,000 American pilots did not go to AirVenture. That majority of flying enthusiasts missed a lot but recently Icon Aircraft sent out news about their X-Ray View of their Light-Sport entry. This impressive display was shown in their big tent and many examined the details. If you missed AirVenture 2013, we’re happy to show you a little of what you missed. Icon circulated photos of what the company informally terms its “three-dimensional CAD drawing” of the company’s A5 amphibious Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). “The full-scale 3D model employs automotive vinyl wrap technology,” explained Icon, “printed with an adapted projection of the Computer Aided Design (CAD) virtual model depicting the location and layout of key structures and systems of the aircraft, which provides an unprecedented level of technical detail about the production A5.” If you’ve been wondering what’s under the skin of the handsome LSA amphib, the special graphics were very helpful.
Icon Aircraft A5
Phone: (424) 201-3500Los Angeles, CA 90066 - USA
Opening day at AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 and the very first announcement before exhibit spaces even opened was a press conference from Icon Aircraft. To a media-only group of perhaps 30 or 40 media personalities, CEO Kirk Hawkins began, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t know what this about?” No one responded; everyone knew what the rumor mill had begun spewing. Icon is in good company. Even premiere new product secret-keeper, Apple Inc., has trouble announcing something that no one expected. Yet a few comments from the top gun at Icon were of special interest. One other observation first: it was a media event, but if even a single FAA person was in attendance, they were under cover. No FAA shirts or badges could be spotted. Thus Icon made their announcement without any active FAA participation. Icon received Grant of Exemption No. 10829 for a weight increase with FAA stating,”The combined features and SRA (Spin Resistant Airframe) incorporated into the Icon A5 design … are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements.” FAA also referenced that the agency felt an exemption was “in the public’s interest.” Kirk Hawkins added that his engineers “put safety ahead of arbitrary weight limits” and forged ahead with enhancements to include a more crashworthy cockpit, the airframe parachute (about which they’d already talked but with which the weight increase became more possible), and of course, the wing cuffs, “a synthesis of several known ideas put together in a way that finally worked” to provide a Part 23-worthy stall resistant airframe.
Dynon gathers little moss it appears. The SkyView builder has been upgrading software, releasing new products and now, the Woodinville, Washington company has acquired Advanced Flight Systems (AFS). Dynon said they did the acquisition, “… to use Dynon’s financial strength to keep AFS strong and vibrant in the experimental community.” It appears to be a pure financial move as the two companies will continue to operate with full autonomy, according to a Dynon FAQ series. • Another reason to buy a former “friendly competitor” is to get more deeply involved with Angle of Attack (AoA) indicators, which are causing a significant buzz. “AFS holds patents on Angle of Attack (AoA) technology and has long been a leader with AoA products,” reported Dynon. As you’ll read below, Icon is pushing the instrument and others are singing the praises of AoA, yet fighter aircraft and airliners have had the technology for years.
Fact #1: EAA ArVenture Oshkosh is coming in mere days. Fact #2: In the world of politics (and for that matter in corporate communications), you announce good news to big crowds or at the beginning of the week and you bury bad news on a Friday afternoon when maybe no one is listening hoping they’ll forget before a new week begins. So, if FAA may finally respond to Icon Aircraft‘s request for a 250-pound weight increase for their A5 LSA seaplane, Oshkosh would be a great place for FAA to announce it. The million-dollar question: Will FAA do this? And, what would it mean if the agency did announce it? My journalist friend, Al Marsh, over at AOPA just published a blog on this subject titled, “Why Icon will get its LSA weight exemption.” If you have any problem finding Al’s article go to AOPA’s blog website and click the “Reporting Points” heading, then scroll down as needed.
First Icon Aircraft wowed aviation enthusiasts with its sleek and uniquely featured amphibious A5 LSA seaplane. Over the years the company reported collecting around 1,000 orders, a success story that even beats Cessna’s Skycatcher. However, several years passed and the company did not enter production, although they reported a deal with Cirrus Aircraft to handle some fabrication duties. Perhaps all that changed now. The Southern California company announced that it raised its fourth and final round of funding totaling over $60 million. They’ll use the funds to “complete production preparations, demonstrate regulatory compliance, [and] ramp up full-scale aircraft production.” CEO and Founder of Icon Kirk Hawkins said, “For the first time in Icon’s history, the company’s future is no longer reliant on the whims of the capital markets, which have been highly unstable over the last five years.” He identified that the new financing effort was led by a “multibillion-dollar conglomerate” strategic investor from China.
Several aviation sources recently carried news about Icon Aircraft and their A5 LSA seaplane development. Icon Aircraft has been waiting — surely with increasing impatience — for FAA to answer their formal request for exemption to the Light-Sport Aircraft gross weight parameter. FAA normally replies in 120 days, however, more than a year passed and all that arrived was a request for more detail. One can imagine the cries of angst at Icon. Many have wondered when (or if) this handsome aircraft will go to market but if you were part of their leadership, what would you go into production with … a 1,430-pound seaplane or one at the new requested weight of 1,680 pounds? Either way, what if FAA later changed their mind about an exemption they might grant. Recent news about the IRS makes us all aware government agencies don’t always operate as we expect. What a vexing situation for Team Icon.
What’s going on out in the marketplace? More than any time since the launch of Light-Sport Aircraft in 2004, I have not observed such a frenzy of activity for a particular niche, this time for LSA seaplanes. Next season, in 2013, we could see no less than nine entries; three brand new and that count does not include any LSA equipped with floats, possibly adding several more. Yet some major potholes appear in the runway… or perhaps that should be waves sloshing over the bow. One entry is a return of a LSA seaplane previously seen in the USA as the Freedom S100 (SLSA List #44) yet can it reenter the market without a full FAA audit? See Update at end. A new agency directive with the catchy name 8130.2G CHG 1 may require a FAA visit to Spain but who knows when that might occur, given the likelihood of an FAA budget cut through the political process known as sequestration, part of the so-called “fiscal cliff” the mainstream media drones on about endlessly.
I have several targets on my radar for follow-up at the big show that starts July 23rd. Here’s a beforehand review; details will follow. |||| *** LSA seaplanes will generate plenty of interest, I think, with Icon‘s latest announcements and the dreamy new Lisa Akoya (photo). Both are superslick but not to be outdone by the SeaRey, which already has nearly 600 flying. SeaRey builder Progressive Aerodyne is hard at work on SLSA status. Adding the SeaMax into the mix, LSA seaplane enthusiasts have lots of great choices… and then come the floats for other planes. Lotus is back and Zenith is a trusted supplier of many years. You’ll be able to see both sets of floats in the LSA Mall. While you’re in the LSA Mall, you can check out AMT’s air conditioning for LSA plus the Belgium D Motor.
Since AirVenture 2012, I’ve been part of several discussions about the way — and reasons why — aircraft become certified. Sound boring? Yes and no. One way this might get your interest is to consider if Icon could join Cessna in going Primary Category instead of LSA. Disclaimer: I have no info about any such decision from Icon; this is merely a discussion. Perhaps even more to the point is the price of airplanes based on their certification cost. *** COST Some informed estimates from knowledgeable persons suggests the cost of taking a fully designed, tested, and otherwise ready LSA through the full process of ASTM approval including the manufacturing process may be the cost of one airplane at retail. In other words, it might cost $125-150,000 to “certificate” a new LSA, after all design work and testing has been done. A weight shift trike might cost $80,000 as ASTM standards are somewhat simpler for those aircraft types.
Icon Aircraft and Cirrus Aircraft announced a deal for the general aviation composite aircraft producer to build parts of the Icon A5 and the news introduced dates for the A5 to come to market. *** Several years ago I traveled to Cirrus’ Duluth, Minnesota plant in the company of the Icon top leaders, including CEO Kirk Hawkins. In those days, Cirrus was seeking info to make decisions about their since-dropped LSA project called the SRS (photo). The Icon fellows were obviously impressed and the trip subsequently paid off. *** “Cirrus has a global reputation for producing truly outstanding composite aircraft structures,” said Hawkins. “Their extensive experience, specifically in composite sandwich-production techniques, makes them an ideal production partner for Icon.” Cirrus has built more than 4,000 of its SR models. Returning the admiration, Cirrus CEO Dale Klapmeier said, “The Icon A5 is certainly the most innovative LSA on the market.” He added, “We believe that Light-Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilots are critically important to the growth and future of aviation.” *** Like most airframe makers these days, Cirrus may not be using all its capacity.
On Memorial Day I had a chance to visit Icon Aircraft and spend some time with CEO Kirk Hawkins. We met seven years ago — just after the SP/LSA rule was released — near the beginning of his ambitions to create an entirely clean-sheet LSA amphibian. *** Recently, Icon released the video appearing below to tout their spin resistant airframe (or SRA). Aviation and mainstream media jumped on this story and you may see other reports. I reported work toward this earlier and it’s been some time coming. Why the wait? From my first-hand experience with Cirrus Design and the development of their SR20, I have a bit of inside knowledge on this subject. *** Cirrus also tried to grab the golden ring of SRA, as did their then-close competitor Columbia Aircraft (the two companies won their Part 23 Type Certificate within days of one another). Neither succeeded.
The splash heard ’round the LSA world continues to send out ripples, though it’s been years now since startup LSA maker Icon Aircraft first announced, with considerable marketing fanfare, its amphibious light sport amphibious project, the A5. *** Now comes word today from the company that’s it’s just completed a “demanding regimen of spin-resistance test flights. This milestone will make the A5 the first production aircraft in history to be designed to and completely comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s full-envelope Part 23 spin-resistance standards developed from NASA’s work on the topic.” *** The lengthy release (a PDF file) goes on to enumerate the general cost in lives and hardware to civilian flying from stall/spin accidents, and cites its intentions to “design the A5 to the more difficult to achieve but safer standard of ‘spin resistant,'” as opposed to spin recoverable. *** Icon also conformed its testing regimen to the FAA Part 23 standard for certified aircraft.
Icon’s Mission of Outreach ICON Aircraft calls itself “a consumer sport plane manufacturer.” Kirk Hawkins, an accomplished engineer, former U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter pilot and avid power sports enthusiast, founded the company. After learning of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) major regulatory changes in ’04 that created the light sport aircraft category and sport pilot license, Hawkins conceived his enterprise in ’05 while attending Stanford University Business School. Since then, ICON Aircraft’s sole purpose has been to bring the freedom, fun, and adventure of flying to all who have dreamed of flight, whether they are existing pilots or other recreation enthusiasts. ICON Aircraft believes that consumer- focused sport aircraft can do for sport flying what personal watercraft did for boating. “ICON aircraft are not only designed to deliver an amazing and safe flying experience, but also to inspire us the way great sports cars do,” explains the company. A venture-backed, early stage company out of Silicon Valley, ICON Aircraft based its operations in Southern California, which is a hotbed for aerospace engineering, automotive design, and power sports activities.
|Gross weight||1,430 pounds|
|Useful Load||530 pounds 1|
|Cabin Interior||46 inches|
|Fuel Capacity||20 gallons|
|Baggage area||60 pounds 1|
|Notes:||1 Depending on optional choices|
|Standard engine||Rotax 912 ULS2|
|Prop Diameter||Woodcomp 3-blade|
|Max Speed||105 kts/120 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||1,100 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||750 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||750 feet|
|Range (powered)||300 nm. (with reserve)|
Growing “Out of the Box” A large number of current pilots have some sense of foreboding regarding the dwindling numbers of the pilot population. Many feel powerless to change this fact, what with our airports often surrounded by a 10-foot-high chain link fence topped with barbed wire plus prices for training and airplane ownership out of reach for many Americans. An Eye for the New Airshow visitors with an eye for the new may have seen ICON Aircraft and their gleaming silver-and-accent-red A5 seaplane at Oshkosh AirVenture ’08. The company’s displays have attracted as much attention as their aircraft design. ICON’s A5 is a handsomely stylish Light-Sport Aircraft design. Airshow visitors had good reason to pay it attention. Many gawking attendees found A5’s “wow factor” off the charts. But the story here is much more than the aircraft, fetching though it is. The real ICON story is that of a company trying to bring aviation and flying to people who don’t have a pilot’s license.
Today, Microsoft announced the return of Flight Simulator, once one of the best-selling games on computers. Well, in truth, it’s no longer called Flight Simulator, rather simply “Flight.” *** In 2009 Microsoft abruptly dropped Flight Sim, leaving only the techy X-Plane for digital joystick jockeys. It’s way above my pay grade to understand while the Microsoft billionaires dropped a good seller but, who cares? It’s back with one Great Big Surprise: The iconic Icon A5 LSA seaplane is the default aircraft and shows even titanic Microsoft sees where the action is in aviation. The other two aircraft coming with Flight are an RV-6 and a Boeing Stearman, a significant change from the Cessna 172 or bizjet of Flight Sim. *** “Microsoft Flight drops the ‘Simulator’ label for what its developer unabashedly dubs a game — and a free one at that,” wrote Mark Hachman for PC Magazine online.
Two of the best-promoted and most interesting LSA projects – and two of the most delayed getting to market – are back in the news. Icon Aircraft, a startup company created to produce the sexy composite A5 amphibian, just snagged $25 million in funding to help complete remaining design issues, tool up for production and begin cranking out airplanes. *** The company reports around 500 A5 orders on the books, at $139,000 per. A few months of flight testing remain to be completed, along with a new wing (reportedly for better spin resistance and directional stability), which means the production target date has been pushed back again, this time to the last quarter of 2012. *** Reported among the new crop of investors are Eric Schmidt of Google, Satyen Patel, formerly of Nike and Phil Condit, former CEO of Boeing, and some “undisclosed” Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The initial infusion of greenbacks will be $15 million, with an option for $10 million more.
Most of the 118 Special Light-Sport Aircraft have been developed on a very modest budget… not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. By far, the highest figure I’ve heard was about $2 million to create a new SLSA model. Yet that number doesn’t include starting a company from scratch and going all the way through to a new production facility with airplanes ready to fly away. So, what’s the total investment? Well, that depends on a thousand variables. It can be done quite inexpensively. Or, you can shoot for the moon. *** “Icon Aircraft recently closed a $25 million round of U.S. and U.K. venture financing from several high-profile consumer-product and aviation investors,” the company announced today. “The [money] takes Icon through the completion of the A5 development program and into the production phase.” *** So, one thing seems certain. Before gaining SLSA status or building a single production airplane, Icon is already the LSA market leader… in fund raising.
Right in line with Icon’s high-viz marketing push for its A5 amphib LSA comes the announcement that iconic big-ticket shopping purveyor Nieman Marcus has the futuristic waterplane as the number one (and priciest) fantasy gift in its 2009 Christmas Book. *** The Icon is currently in extensive flight testing at Tehachapi, Ca, one of the soaring meccas of the west but also near Lake Isabella, so both the land and water chops of the A5 can be thoroughly wrung out. *** An interesting sidenote mentioned in the piece: Matthew Gionta, ICON’s chief technical officer, is quoted as saying 33% of the A5’s current customer base has “never flown before.” *** That’s a testimony to the vision of the company’s founder, Kirk Hawkins, who believes the ICON will bring new pilots to aviation with its glossy marketing of the A5 as a kind of flying jet-ski you can easily trailer to your holiday getaways.
In its first year as the AOPA “Summit” (versus “Expo”), the 70-year-old, 415,000-member organization made lots of changes large and small. Among the most notable under capable new president Craig Fuller was much greater attention to LSA. Here’s the fast-read update… *** AOPA announced their 2010 Sweepstakes airplane is a Remos GX; the company had multiple displays and aircraft. Cessna brought a Skycatcher for selected reporters to fly. Craig Fuller had Icon A5 developer Kirk Hawkins on the center-hall stage. EAA’s Earl Lawrence led a LSA panel of FAA and industry experts (including yours truly). LAMA operated an LSA Mall area and had fruitful discussions with AOPA to advance goals of the LSA industry. SeaMax USA showed off their simulator seaplane running on MS Flight Sim. Tecnam North America, with several aircraft on display, announced new service centers for the popular Italian line of aircraft they now represent.
Earlier it appeared that the Flight Design MC would be the first Light-Sport Aircraft ever displayed at the giant National Business Aircraft Association show. NBAA is the organization representing business jets plus a large range of exhibitors serving executive transportation. The trade show happening now in Orlando is a stupendous event with many more exhibitors than Oshkosh. Numerous displays are fantastic creations that cost more for a three-day show than LSA producers spend to market themselves for an entire year. *** So it is fascinating indeed that any LSA would be present at this event. And, in fact, two are seen by the bizjet crowd: the MC and Icon‘s handsome amphibious LSA project, the A5. Icon mounted their own display and reported good response, especially when one of their team hits the auto wing fold button. Even jaded aviators tend to have a jaw-drop reaction to this feature.