Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From The Editor: The Wild West


We’re following the map, but as we pull into Lake Isabella’s South Fork boat ramp, Marc Lee and I aren’t sure we’re in the right place. The conglomeration of tents, coolers, barbecue, music and even a 35-foot motor home gives the impression of a jovial family get-together. I glance at the array of water-sport toys floating in the shallow water, and I do a double take. The Icon A5 blends in so perfectly with Jet Skis and powerboats that I almost don’t recognize it.

It’s one thing to see the futuristic-looking amphib surrounded by a gawking crowd in AeroShell Square at Oshkosh, but it’s another to see it gently rocking on a remote lake, surrounded by bathing suits and flip-flops—where it belongs. The lakeside scene we’ve arrived at is indeed a family get-together: the family of Icon Aircraft.

Marc and I share the hot mid-August afternoon with this smart, interesting and driven group. “Play hard, work harder,” I think while cruising the lake low-and-slow with CEO Kirk Hawkins in an Aventura II, a kit amphib Icon bought specifically to mount and test different hull designs when developing the hull for the A5. Kirk’s resume of fighter pilot, airline pilot and two master’s degrees from Stanford brings new meaning to the word “overachiever.” CFO David Crook races us around in his Malibu Wakesetter boat to photograph Jon Karkow as he performs touch-and-goes in the A5. Karkow’s equally impressive CV includes 20 years as a top engineer at Burt Rutan’s famed Scaled Composites. Matthew Gionta, with 13 years of experience at Scaled Composites, documents and analyzes flight-test data; Karkow’s girlfriend, Cheryl Cotman—a biologist with an MFA in fine arts who first met the test pilot at Mojave Airport when she presented a model of an ornithopter powered by electrically stimulated frog legs—helps with shore logistics. This isn’t your average family picnic, nor your average aircraft company’s day of flight-testing!

The Icon team is young, innovative and forward-thinking; we like to think of them as pioneers in “the Wild West of Aviation.” The greater Mojave area has always played a central role in cutting-edge aviation—look for future issues that highlight new (and often unusual) projects, from space elevators to UAVs.

Mark (Icon call sign “Vapor”), an engineering intern from Stanford, briefs me and Marc on riding a set of 215 hp supercharged Jet Skis, and we zip around the lake as the A5 orbits above, trailed by a Robinson 44 that’s shooting video footage with a new, state-of-the-art Red Digital Cinema camera. Play hard, work harder! The sun lowers, the rock formations of Kern Valley turn a sunburned gold, and the A5 launches for its sixth and final flight of the day: an air-to-air photo session shot from Skydance Skydiving’s “Super” Cessna 172 (180 hp with STOL mods that allow it to fly a mere 35 knots).

Icon customer deliveries are expected to begin in 3Q 2011. Until then, Kern Valley Airport, tucked into the northern corner of Lake Isabella, offers easy access to the water and other outdoor activities. In this issue, the Plane & Pilot team shares even more great flying destinations, from Mojave’s “spaceport” to Big Bear’s ski resort. My pick, Lake Powell, accessible via Page Municipal Airport in Arizona, is a wonderland for water sports that beckons for an A5.

As much as we enjoy sharing travel tips with our readers, we love hearing yours! The newest feature on our website, Favorite Flying Destinations, is an online “show-and-tell” where you can share tips, photos and flying stories. Visit planeandpilotmag.com to post your hot spots and to watch footage from our exhilarating day on Lake Isabella.



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