On this website, we zoom around the world following Light-Sport Aircraft, from near the Arctic Circle — you know, where Santa and the wee elves are pulling some heavy overtime about now — to the warm balminess of Southern California. I know of what I write, having once lived in the snow belt and now hanging with the family in Palm Springs, California for Christmas. It seems everywhere I look I see LSA seaplanes in sea trials and this is happening in the dead of winter. Why be surprised? Perhaps you’ve noticed boat shows happen in the winter months. When living in Minnesota, I was always amazed that boat shows were held in January and February, a time of year when it would be months before the ice melted from the state’s 10,000 lakes to allow use of those boats. Yet this is when people were shopping, I suppose anticipating an upcoming season of boating fun.
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One of the most-watched Light-Sport Aircraft is Icon’s A5 seaplane. Through savvy marketing and a splashy display and events at AirVenture (the only show where Icon Aircraft regularly exhibits), the company has clearly wowed potential buyers, the general aviation public, plus media journalists and photographers. ByDanJohnson.com has followed Icon since the beginning, actually even before the beginning, so we are pleased to continue our updates on their progress. Most observers see that it has been a long road. I first met CEO Kirk Hawkins back on the EAA Sport Pilot Tour in 2005 when he was — as he put it himself — “one guy with a business card.” Whatever you may think about the road long traveled, Kirk has taken his company from nowhere to one of the most closely tracked enterprises in the entire LSA space worldwide. His training for this lengthy exercise began at California’s respected Stanford University Graduate School of Business where he learned the Silicon Valley way to make a big impact … what the tech industry likes to call “creative destruction,” leaving behind the old ways of methodically introducing products and embracing the Internet style of taking bold leaps forward.
I have been following Icon Aircraft closely since I first met top gun Kirk Hawkins on the EAA Sport Pilot Tour back in 2005. Then he was one man with a business card and a dream. In the nine years following, Icon has become, well … an icon of light aviation. Almost everybody knows this (yes, I’ll write it) iconic company and their eye-catching A5 LSA seaplane. The southern California company reports more than 1,000 people have put down deposits. The first in line have been waiting quite some time to hear when their airplane will be built and now the company confirmed what we’ve reported earlier: they selected Vacaville, California to be their main production location — although component production will occur under the watchful eyes of successful GA builder, Cirrus Design, way up in North Dakota. “After several years and an extensive nationwide search, I’m excited to announce that Vacaville and Solano County will be the new home of Icon Aircraft, Inc.,” reported CEO Hawkins.
One of the most celebrated of the Light-Sport Aircraft fleet is Icon Aircraft‘s A5 seaplane. The Southern California company has passed the benchmark set by Cessna after they first announced their Skycatcher to great fanfare back in 2007. Since Icon first emerged in 2005, the company has gone from one man with an idea to one of the largest players in the LSA space … yet they have yet to produce their first airplane. Some aviators have voiced concerns the company is a marketing juggernaut that raises money but builds nothing. To confront this perception and in preparation for their usual announcements at AirVenture — the only show where Icon chooses to present itself for the time being — Icon released photos and some details of their work to make production a reality. One of their earlier announcements related to engaging SR20 and SR22 manufacturer Cirrus Design to do component assembly.
Someone remarked to me recently that LSA seaplanes seem to be the topic of the week or month (or however often you check in to see). Indeed, as we approach the tenth anniversary of Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft, we can reflect with pride upon more than 130 models making their way to market. True, not all have proven successes in the market place but having choice is always good for customers even if they finally select from a limited number of brands to occupy their hangar. Therefore, thanks to all those entrepreneurial designers that brought new airplanes to the sky. Now, in the closing months of LSA’s first decade, a new focus appears turned to amphibious Light-Sport machines, with more than 20 vying for our attention. As always some are doing a better job of capturing mindshare than others. In this article I’ll talk about two from nearly opposite ends of the new spectrum.
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.
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.