Tampa, Florida (CNN) – When it comes to piloting airplanes, I have no experience.
In fact, I never even thought about trying.
Yet as we fly over Tampa Bay on a beautiful November morning, I enthusiastically took control of the ICON A5, a two-seater amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski and is so intuitive, the company says even a beginner can learn to fly for less from 30 hours.
23 meters long and weighing 1510 kilograms, it is known as a sea light sports aircraft.
Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying about the plane reacting unpredictably, there is nothing else on the market that it might like.
Now that I’m in control, my whole body is tense for a good five minutes. Am I really ready to pilot this great new machine alone? I’m not quite sure.
However, my consolation is in the fact that the A5 is built specifically for people like me, and is designed to drive like a car.
Besides, the fact that the director and founder of the Icon, Kirk Hawkins, is next to me in the cockpit also doesn’t hurt. He can take control at any time.
So far so good.
We glide smoothly through the air at about 1,000 feet, and I’m comfortable enough to tour the sights. Lovely Fort De Soto Park does not disappoint.
Bags of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it should be in the Caribbean.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with a series of cables that stretch for a long time, is equally impressive.
The adrenaline is still racing. And as most surreal experiences go away, it only gets better.
For starters on my left is another ICON A5, which is exciting in itself. We fly in formation, and my job is to imitate his movements. You’d think this would be scary, but it’s not.
It’s just fun.
It’s music to Hawkins ’ears. The brain is behind the newly created plane, an idea that has been going on for 10 years.
As a former F-16 Air Force pilot and city at Stanford Business School, he focused most of his adult life on putting sport flying into the masses.
“The idea for us was to create an airplane on which the average human being could go out and experience the world without the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.
So it makes sense for the instrument panel to look like you see in your car. There are only a few gauges that I don’t recognize.
“It’s Apple’s approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it, make it intuitive and simple and cool.”
He is so convinced that people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he has just opened pilot training at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it is a place full of beauty and sailing boats.
The company’s second training center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Wide eyes and open windows
By 9 a.m., it’s time for a short stop to land in the water.
Hawkins takes control. I’m too busy learning to fly in formation (it’s not something that pilots don’t try very often) and I interviewed Hawkins to even think about learning to do docking on the water. That’s something Hawkins tells me most people can master in about 30 minutes.
A few negative -s and 360-degrees rotate later, and it becomes a celestial fun chassis ride. Plus, it’s an outdoor flight, so I occasionally fire my hands. Just because I can.
At a few hundred meters above the water, it is easy to spot a boat waving at us, a flock of pelicans, and even embankments.
“We’re going to pull up here and stop and get out for a second,” he says.
He must be kidding, right? But after the plane lands on the water, he takes off his seat belt, and I realize he didn’t.
A few seconds later he raises the roof and we climb the wings which can easily be doubled like diving boards. Suddenly it feels less like a plane trip and more like sunbathing on a boat.
Everything is dried in an enchanting golden shade. I can imagine a trip to the beach nearby. Or going on a plane somewhere for a long-distance camping trip.
Because the aircraft has a range of about 430 miles per full tank, it was made for short escapes.
“This whole thing is about people’s inspiration,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you’ll never be the same. You’ll look at the sky differently, you’ll see the planet different.”
Designed for easy flying
“The primary motor skills of flying an airplane are pretty simple,” Hawkins tells me. “People landed alone with the instructor on the first day, within 30 minutes.”
That said, they painstakingly took the time to design it for safety. The goal of a turn-resistant aircraft characteristic is that if the pilot makes mistakes, the aircraft does not lose control.
As a support, there is a complete plane with a parachute.
“The spin resistance feature is a big deal because it’s the first aircraft the FAA has assessed for spin resistance,” says Chris Dupin, flight instructor and U.S. air force officer. “A significant number of general aviation deaths are the result of the loss of control accidents involving undetected turning at the base until the final turn.”
In addition, there is an angle of attack indicator, something you don’t usually see in a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is happy (in green) or where it could stop (in red).
The pilot’s task is to keep the wing inside the green or yellow part of the gauge. This is part of what water takeoffs and landings can learn so easily.
I’m becoming a barnstormer
“Kirk Hawkins has a highly creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive; it teaches a sense of flight first, then principles and structure later, not unlike the way people learn to fly,” says Christine Negroni, a veteran aviation journalist and author. of the magazine “Destroyed Detectives.”
“The world is facing a shortage of pilots, so the idea of different learning, so that different learning styles can be adapted, could greatly expand the pool of pilot candidates.”
On that note, about 40% of the people who made deposits for ICON A5 are not pilots, meaning this plane is towing a newborn plane.
After an hour and a half of flying, Hawkins lands us on the runway at the airport, a maneuver you can access after mastering several water landings. It’s a little more intricate because it requires more precision and knowledge of crosswinds.
At this point, if I were the owner of this plane, I would hook it up to a trailer, fold its wings, drive it home, and park it in the garage.
Find some time for air
If you want your own ICON A5, be fine. More than 1,800 customers have deferred deposits.
For those unwilling to set aside $ 207,000 to buy them, there is the option of stopping an ICON training center in Tampa or a facility in Vacaville, California during the day.
The introductory Sport Flying class is 1.5 hours for $ 595. To download the Sport Pilot license, you will need to spend 20 hours plus, and prices vary.
Sarah Sekula is a travel writer and video host based in Orlando. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.