Tampa, Florida (CNN) – When it comes to flying a plane, I have no experience.
In fact, I have never considered trying it.
Nevertheless, I enthusiastically take over the operation of the ICON A5, a two-seater amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski and is so intuitive as we snatch across Florida’s Tampa Bay on a beautiful November morning. the company says that even a beginner can learn to fly it in less than 30 hours.
With a length of 23 feet and a weight of 1,510 pounds, it is known as a light sea sports aircraft.
Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying about whether the plane will react unpredictably. There is nothing like it on the market.
Now that I have control, my whole body tenses for just over five minutes. Am I really ready to steer this shiny new machine all by myself? I am not completely sure.
However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 is built specifically for people like me, and it is designed to drive like a car.
Plus, it also does not hurt that Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, is next to me in the cockpit. He can take control at any time.
So far so good.
We glide smoothly through the air at about 1,000 feet and I am comfortable enough to enjoy the sights. Lovely Fort De Soto Park does not disappoint.
Squiggles of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it should be in the Caribbean.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its series of long-span cables, is just as impressive.
The adrenaline is still running. And as most surreal experiences go, it just gets better.
To begin with, there is another ICON A5 to my left, which is exciting in itself. We fly in formation and my job is to mimic its movements. One would think it would be scary, but it is not.
It’s just fun.
There’s music in Hawkins’ ears. He is the mastermind behind this new-fashioned aircraft, an idea 10 years in the making.
As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and graduate of Stanford Business School, he has focused most of his adult life on making sport flying accessible to the masses.
“The idea for us was to create an aircraft where the average person can go out and experience the world without having the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.
So it makes sense that the dashboard is similar to what you see in your car. There are only a few meters that I do not recognize.
“It’s Apple’s approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it and make it intuitive and easy and cool.”
He’s so sure people will fly (and buy) his plane that he’s just opened a flight training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it is a place where there is plenty of both beauty and sailboats.
The company’s other fitness center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Big eyes and open windows
At 9 o’clock it is time for a short pit stop for water landing.
Hawkins takes control. I’ve been too busy learning to fly in formation (not something that non-pilots get to try quite often) and interviewing Hawkins to even think about learning to make a water landing myself. That’s something Hawkins tells me most people can master in about 30 minutes.
A few negative Gs and 360-degree turns later, and it’s going to be a fun roller coaster ride in the sky. In addition, it is an outdoor flight, so I sometimes knock my arms out. Just because I can.
A few hundred meters above the water it is easy to see a sailor waving to us, a bunch of pelicans and even rockers.
“We want to pull here and stop and get out for a moment,” he says.
He’s probably making fun, right? But after landing the plane on the water, he takes off his seat belt, and I’m aware that he is not.
Seconds later he hits the roof and we climb up on the wings, which can easily act as seesaws. Suddenly it feels less like a flight and more like I’m on a boat and sunbathing.
Everything is soaked in a fascinating golden hue. I can imagine having a picnic on the beach nearby. Or take the plane somewhere for a secluded weekend camping trip.
Because the aircraft has a range of about 430 miles on a full tank, it is made for short trips.
“This is all about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you will never be the same. You will see differently in the sky, you will see differently on the planet.”
Designed to make flying easy
“The primary motor skills to operate an aircraft are pretty easy,” Hawkins tells me. “We have people landing for themselves with an instructor on their very first day within 30 minutes.”
That said, they have carefully taken the time to design it for safety. The goal of the spin-resistant fuselage function is that if the pilot makes a mistake, the aircraft does not lose control.
As a backup, there is a complete aircraft screen.
“The spin resistance feature is a big thing, as it is the first aircraft that the FAA has considered spin-resistant,” said Chris Dupin, a flight instructor and U.S. Air Force officer. “A significant number of fatal accidents in ordinary aviation are from accidents with loss of control involving an unrestricted spin at the base to the last turn.”
In addition, there is the angle of attack indicator, something you do not normally see in a light aircraft. It shows you how happy the wing is (in the green) or where it can stop (in the red).
The pilot’s task is to keep the wing within the green or yellow part of the meter. This is part of what makes launching and landing water so easy to learn.
To become a child storm
“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive; learning the feeling of flying first and the principles and structure later, not unlike how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author to “The Crash Detectives.”
“The world is facing a pilot shortage, so the idea of teaching differently so that different learning styles can be accommodated could very well expand the pool of pilot graduates.”
On that note, about 40% of the people who have made deposits to ICON A5 are not pilots, which means that this aircraft attracts beginners in aviation.
After an hour and a half of flying time, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver that you can tackle once you have mastered several water landings. It is a bit more difficult as it requires more precision and knowledge of crosswinds.
At this point, if I owned this plane, I would hook it up to a trailer, fold the wings, drive it home, and park it in the garage.
Get some airtime
If you want your own ICON A5, line up. More than 1,800 customers have put down deposits.
For those who are not ready to pay $ 207,000 to buy one, there is the option to stop by ICON’s training facility in Tampa or the facility in Vacaville, California, to fly for the day.
The Sport Flying introductory class is 1.5 hours for $ 595. To get your sports pilot certificate you need more than 20 hours and prices vary.
Sarah Sekula is an Orlando-based travel writer and video host. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.