We rolled out of a shallow turn onto short final for Tampa Bay as its gray waters filled the windscreen. I veered left—an adjustment for a flock of ducks who’d opted to swim over flying on this chilly January day, but unlike other times flying low over water, we had the power back. The instructor’s voice came through the headsets with the third confirmation of the aircraft’s configuration: Flaps down, gear up for water landing, water rudder retracted.
After 9,000 hours of various landing checklists and callouts, including phrases like “gear down, gear checked down” or “down and verified,” ensuring the gear was up seemed counterintuitive—but then again, so is throttling down when just above the water. It all canceled out in one glorious bit of settling into the surface. Despite a seven-knot breeze spreading small ripples across the bay, there was no ricochet off the surface. By ignoring the surrounding airframe (and that’s easy to do), it’s easy enough to believe the Icon A5 is a lot bigger airplane than a 1,510-pound gross Light-Sport Aircraft amphibian. It’s a common reaction.
It’s Bigger On The Inside
The A5 stands out on the ramp—not because of its size; it’s just that the lines are different. The all-composite, high wing could still nestle beneath the Cessna Caravan it was parked nose-to-nose with on the morning of our evaluation flight, but most general aviation birds could do the same. The A5 can really fit into a tight spot, though: After you flip a latch under the wing, walk to the wingtip, where there’s a convenient grab handle. Pull the wing out about a foot, rotate the leading edge up, and walk the wingtip back beneath the horizontal stabilizer. A circular cutout in the outboard leading edge corresponds with a nib underneath the tail, and with a click, the wing locks onto the underside of the stabilizer. The outboard section of the horizontal stabilizer also unlatches for removal, and once you’ve repeated the process on the other side, the A5 has gone from just shy of 35 feet in wingspan to an overall width of 7 feet, 8 inches. The landing gear is even narrower at 5 feet, 8 inches. Whether you want to cut costs by sharing a hangar or eliminate them by trailering your plane home, it’s doable with the A5—the process of folding a wing takes less time than you spent reading this paragraph. Icon is presently working with a trailer manufacturer to develop a custom-designed enclosed trailer for A5 owners.
All the electrical and pitot-static lines are flexible at the wing joints, and the control linkages for ailerons and flaps connect and disconnect themselves as the wing slides in and out. Total weight to handle at the wingtip is 30 to 40 pounds, and the whole operation requires no outside help. In addition to the latch itself being readily visible if it is unlocked on the preflight walkaround, there’s a light on the annunciator panel if any of the wing or tail locks aren’t positively locked.
There’s little space wasted with the curvy cowl enclosing the pusher-mounted Rotax 912 iS engine, which drives a three-bladed Sensenich propeller and a fan that nests just inside the cowling. The fan keeps air flowing to improve cooling at times when there wouldn’t be much air moving through otherwise.
There’s a single 20-gallon tank below the baggage floor, and the fuel selector is overhead, along with the fuse panel. The fuel shutoff points forward to fly. Having the fuel centrally located cuts down on weight in the wings and reduces the challenges of the folding wing design.
On land, the A5 sits on a retractable tricycle landing gear. The electro-mechanical system has two actuators, with one on the nose gear and the other driving both mains.
There are a lot of features packed into the exterior of the A5, but when you open up the canopy and climb in, the larger-airplane illusion begins to set in. With a 46-inch-wide cabin, you’re going to have elbow room. The A5 POH stresses that the maximum weight for a single occupant is 250 pounds—and the author is right near that figure. With a slender CFI and 7 gallons aboard, we were right at max takeoff weight on a near-standard day. The POH stresses the 250-pound figure is structural, not a weight and balance issue, and emphasizes that soft-soled shoes, particularly for heavy folks, are a necessity to prevent damage. Bring your boat shoes and flip-flops.
The base model A5 is equipped with round gauges and a Garmin 796 GPS docked into the center of the instrument panel; a Garmin G3x system is a $15,500 option, or $25,000 adds a two-axis autopilot to the G3x.
As the canopy closes, the instinct is to duck down and toward the center the first few times—after all, it’s an LSA. Once the canopy is down and latched with its single overhead handle, you’ll realize it was never that tight of a fit to begin with. The seats are fixed in position, but the rudder pedals adjust to accommodate most any pilot height.
Removing the safety pin for the ballistic parachute is one of the last steps before you start burning fuel. The Icon Parachute System has no hard altitude limitations, although optimal deployment is 500 feet above the surface. The descent under canopy comes down at about 1,400 feet per minute—it’d be a firm arrival but about 300 FPM slower than the Cirrus CAPS parachute system, which has saved plenty of pilots and passengers.
When you holler “clear,” make it count because that whirly slicer-dicer is back out of sight, and you never know who may have wandered up to take a look at things. Taxiing the A5 is straightforward with its free-castoring nosewheel and differential braking. If you’ve flown anything with a similar setup, you’ll be right at home. The only time that anything required more than a breath on the brake pedals was making a right turn to clear the runway with a left crosswind. Visibility on the ground is phenomenal from shoulder-to-shoulder. The instrument panel sits low and unobtrusive, and the expanse of polycarbonate makes the airplane almost invisible to the pilot’s eye within minutes.
Lining up for takeoff with a 7-knot quartering crosswind, we set up just a little bit on the downwind side of centerline but had no problem tracking straight for the takeoff roll. Icon company pilot Sean Stamps pointed out the design’s max demonstrated crosswind component is 12 knots but that he’d be comfortable with more if needed. In talking to other pilots with A5 experience, that sentiment is echoed without prompting.
We rotated around 50 knots and climbed out on the angle of attack gauge’s white line—A5 instrument panels feature an AOA gauge top and center of the instrument panel, and that’s the reference used more than airspeeds, although I peeked at the ASI; that was about 60 knots, for those who want to know. The initial climb at max takeoff weight and 5,500 RPM weren’t anything to write home about, 500 feet per minute more or less. We were bouncing around on a turbulent day and didn’t have far to climb, between the overcast just above and the seaplane practice area just to the south. In warmer weather, the side windows pop out to add airflow; on this January day, the eyeball vents on either side of the panel gave plenty of ventilation.
On land, normal takeoffs are performed with flaps up; short and soft field takeoffs are performed with 15 degrees of flaps. Landings are normally done with full flaps (30 degrees) on land or water; water takeoffs are flown with full flaps, retracting to half flaps at 200 feet and zero flaps at 300 feet.
In-flight, the A5 handles well. The stick forces balance between pitch and roll. The ailerons are very responsive but require a bit of rudder to keep the ball centered. Not a lot of rudder, mind you; just enough to keep all your limbs in the game. Given the A5’s collection of aerodynamic vanes, vortex generators and cuffed leading edges, one could assume there were some nasty flying qualities in hiding, but we ran through a series of stalls, and the spin-resistant wing, along with its row of vortex generators, behaved beautifully. The nose settled just below the horizon, and the ailerons remained effective below stall speed as the A5 set up about a 1,000 FPM elevator ride down under full control, no fancy rudder dances required.
As we accelerated from the stall series, it only took a few blips of elevator trim on the left-side stick transitioning back to cruising speed, and power changes in the pattern required no real trim changes, despite the high-mounted pusher engine, a configuration that, on other planes, tends to raise havoc when flaps are extended.
The aileron effectiveness at low speed really revealed itself on approach to the water landings, as flocks of waterfowl required a few adjustments to the desired touchdown spot. It didn’t require aggressive maneuvering, but the airplane felt solid all the way through the minor turns until touchdown.
Water landings were smooth, and handling was straightforward. Below 10 knots, the water rudder has authority enough for directional control, including a turn downwind, despite the A5’s tendency to weathervane. With the water rudder retracted, accelerating to 20 knots sets up a very stable step taxi and prompted the first comparison of the day to a jet ski. The sea-
wings, sponsons just below the canopy rails, lend stability at low and high speeds on the water. The wingtips are designed to tolerate a brush with the water at speed but aren’t intended to do that intentionally.
Making A Splash
To say the Icon A5 amphibious light sport aircraft shook the industry with its arrival may be light sport aviation’s understatement of the last decade. The A5 burst onto the scene and carried a continual string of headlines—some effusive, others less than positive.
The design took flight with the first prototype in July 2008, and it took seven years before the first customer aircraft was flown and delivered. In that span of time, engineers went back to the drawing board several times, resulting in aerodynamic cleanups, a completely different “spin-resistant” wing with cuffed leading edges, and a purchase price that grew from $139,000 in 2008 to $247,000 in 2015. The A5 base price now is up to $359,000.
There were struggles with funding as the company sought investors—ultimately winding up with a strong infusion of foreign money, a similar route that other manufacturers have taken, including Cirrus, Piper and Continental Motors. Production issues came and went; for a while, Cirrus was lined up to produce composite components, although that never came to fruition. Icon wound up with large production facilities in Tijuana, Mexico, and Vacaville, California.
A trio of accidents tarnished the Icon name in 2017. All three got chalked up to pilot error—specifically, bad judgment calls. But with the A5 fleet being rather small, those three accidents got a lot of attention despite the human factors that were to blame. Some blamed the company’s promotional materials for inspiring overzealous maneuvering at low altitudes. Magazines and advertisers have sold issues and airplanes for decades with images of airplanes in breathtaking showcases—such as a Learjet climbing steeply with a runway in the background, almost appearing to be vertical, or of a Maule flying out of the door of its factory hangar in Moultrie, Georgia. The advertising tactic was nothing new, but it was current and public.
Icon published “Low Flying Guidelines,” a four-page document that basically asserted that flying low was part of Icon ownership: “Low altitude flying can be one of the most rewarding and exciting types of flying possible, but it also comes with an inherent set of additional risks that require additional considerations,” it said. This publication drove home the company’s stance on lower bank angles below a 300-foot above-ground level “soft deck,” how to plan for low-altitude flying, and to be considerate of those who share the surroundings. “Do not show off,” the document concludes. “While flying, be aware of who is around you and empathize with how they may perceive your flying.”
At AirVenture 2021, Icon exhibited the app it has developed for A5 pilots, which essentially takes the threat matrix that military veterans are well familiar with and adapts it to Icon flight operations. The app considers weather, experience, familiarity with the surroundings and a host of other criteria and conjures a score of risk for a particular flight, then lets the pilot consider whether that’s a risk they’re comfortable with or maybe a few parameters might be worth revisiting before flight.
A New Skipper At The Helm
In January 2022, Icon announced a major leadership change—and the change was a promotion from within. Jerry Meyer was named interim CEO, having served with the company since 2016 as director of sales for the western U.S. and head of marketing. Meyer is a naval aviator, having flown the T-45 Goshawk and E-2C Hawkeye. His flying credentials are solid, and so are his business and academic backgrounds. Meyer has an MBA in marketing and strategy from Northwestern University and has worked for Procter & Gamble, managing the brand for Tide. He’s rated for land and seaplanes and a CFII, to boot. His work with the company to date has included planning Icon’s product and corporate roadmap, and he’ll continue that work in his new role.
Building A5s isn’t the company’s only ability or priority at the moment. With a 300,000 square-foot facility in Tijuana capable of carbon fiber composite manufacturing, final assembly and paint, and a facility half that size in Vacaville, the company has capacity to spare. “Those facilities could build 1,000 airplanes a year, but we’re not at that run rate, as we all know,” Meyer said. “That’s a huge part of our cost structure. What we’re looking to do is use our well-trained team and facilities by bringing potential partners to leverage the expertise we built.” So, in a curious turn, Icon went from seeking out other manufacturers to do its composite work in the early days to having the ability to do contract work for other manufacturers in the aviation, automotive and powersport industries.
Meyer said that Icon has done well insulating itself from the global supply chain crisis by stocking supplies ahead of time and actively monitoring lead times on products. “We’ve had no production delays as a result of supply chain issues,” Meyer said. The shortage of computer chips that has sidelined some auto manufacturers has been a concern to the company—particularly electronic components related to the annunciator panel, microswitches for the wing and tail locks, and engine monitoring systems. The 150th A5 just took flight as we went to press. The company is presently completing two to three airplanes a month and has about 24 airplanes lined up for production.
Coming Soon: Certified Edition
The S-LSA category of aircraft is a double-edged sword. It created a pathway for bringing modern, innovative designs to market in the United States. The certification standards are ASTM, not FAA, though, and as such, few nations recognize the LSA certification standards. At AirVenture 2021, Icon pulled the curtain back on its A5 Certified Edition. By pursuing FAA certification in the primary category, Icon will be able to export the design abroad—Canada and Caribbean countries that were previously off-limits have been tossed around as great opportunities for the A5.
“We’ve submitted the paperwork required—and for us, it largely is a paperwork exercise,” Meyer said, indicating that Icon expects no requirement for changes to the aircraft as it is currently produced. It expects type certification around June of this year. “We had hoped it would be sooner. Last summer, when we announced it, we were hoping it would be last fall or maybe before the end of the year.” Being certified in the primary category means that pilots will have to hold at least a private pilot certificate to operate the aircraft. The Certified Edition A5 is priced at $399,000.
The A5 is not a practical airplane for most of us. Its limited useful load means that two large adults would have a tough time being legal, and any takeoff with full fuel would nearly have to be solo. It isn’t fast, and speed is the name of the game for a lot of folks when it comes to their choice of airplanes.
It is comfortable—the only single-engine aircraft with a wider cabin that spring to mind are the Commander 112/114 and Cirrus SR-series models. The A5 doesn’t climb amazingly at gross, but what 100-horsepower two-seater does? All that said, the A5 isn’t intended to be practical—it’s meant to be fun. Instead of motoring around with full tanks, keeping fuel around 7-8 gallons is reasonable, considering the injected Rotax sips just over 4 gallons an hour at cruise down low. Whether you’re planning to go solo or take skinny folks at the beach for an airplane ride, the A5 can do that. As long as you respect the airplane’s limitations and can afford its price tag, it’ll put a smile on your face. At the end of the day, isn’t that why most of us fly?
Icon A5 Specifications
Height: 7’ 6”
Wingspan: 34’ 8”
Wing area: 135 sq. ft.
Aspect ratio: 9:1
Cabin width: 46”
Empty weight: 1,080 lbs.
Gross weight: 1,510 lbs.
Draft at gross weight: Gear up—14”; gear down—26”
Useful load: 430 lbs.
Powerplant: Rotax 912 iS air and liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 4-cylinder, 4 cycle-engine; 100 horsepower (5-minute limitation), 97 maximum continuous horsepower
Propeller: Sensenich three-blade composite fixed pitch
Fuel capacity: 20.1 US gallons total, 20 gallons usable
Fuel type: Unleaded, up to 10% ethanol, 91 Anti-knock index or 100LL Aviation gasoline
Icon A5 Performance
Range: 427 nm (5,000 RPM, 8,000’ with 45-minute reserve)
Cruise speed: 84 KTAS
Vx: 54 KIAS, 616 ft./min.
Vy: 58 KIAS 629 ft./min.
Vs: 45 KIAS
Vso: 39 KIAS
Vfe: 75 KIAS
Vle: 75 KIAS
Va: 76 KIAS (minimum flight weight) 87 knots (max takeoff weight)
Design load factor: +4, -2 g
Max demonstrated crosswind: 12 knots
Service ceiling at gross weight: 15,000’
Icon A5 Pricing
Icon A5 LSA as tested: $359,000
Icon A5 Certified Edition: $399,000
Available options: G3X Avionics package $15,500, G3X with autopilot $25,00