Tampa, Florida (CNN) – When it comes to piloting an airplane, I don’t have any experience.
In fact, I never even thought about trying it.
However, as we fly over Florida’s Tampa Bay on a glorious November morning, I enthusiastically take control of the ICON A5, a two-seat amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski, and is so intuitive that 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 1510 pounds, it is known as a maritime light sport aircraft.
Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flight without worrying about unpredictable aircraft reactions, there’s nothing like it on the market.
Now that I’m in control, my whole body tenses up for a good five minutes. Am I really ready to pilot this shiny new car on my own? I’m not entirely sure.
However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 was built specifically for people like me and was designed to drive like a car.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to have Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, in the cockpit next to me. 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 take in the sights. The beautiful park of Fort De Soto will 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 high voltage cables, is no less impressive.
Adrenaline is still in full swing. And as most surreal experiences wear off, they only get better.
First off, there’s another ICON A5 to my left, which is spectacular in its own right. We fly in formation, and my job is to imitate his movements. You might think that this would be intimidating, but it is not.
It’s just fun.
This is music to Hawkins’ ears. He is the brain of this newfangled aircraft, the idea of which has been developed for 10 years.
As a former US Air Force F-16 pilot and Stanford Business School graduate, he has dedicated most of his adult life to making sport flying accessible to the masses.
“The idea for us was to create an aircraft where the average person could get out and experience the world without the burden of being a professional pilot,” he says.
So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like what you see in your car. There are only a few sensors that I don’t recognize.
“This is Apple’s approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it, make it intuitive, easy and cool.”
He is so confident that people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he has just opened a flight training center at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, this place is teeming with beauty and sailing boats.
The company’s other training center is located in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Wide eyes and open windows
At 9 am it was time for a short stop on the water.
Hawkins takes control. I was too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots do very often) and talking to Hawkins to even think about learning how to land on water on my own. This is something that Hawkins says most people can master in about 30 minutes.
A few negative Gs and 360 turns later and it turns into a fun rollercoaster ride in the sky. Also, this is an open-air flight, so sometimes I spread my arms. Just because I can.
Several hundred feet above the water, it is easy to see a boatman waving at us, a flock of pelicans, and even rays.
“We will stop here, stop and go out for a second,” he says.
He’s really joking, right? But after the plane lands on the water, he unfastens his seat belt, and I understand that this is not so.
After a few seconds, he opens the roof and we climb onto the wings, which can easily be used as jumping boards. All of a sudden, it’s not like going on a plane, it’s more like I’m sunbathing on a boat.
Everything is saturated with a bewitching golden hue. I can imagine a picnic on the beach nearby. Or fly somewhere by plane on a remote trip for the weekend.
Since the range of the aircraft on a full tank is about 430 miles, it is designed for short flights.
“It’s all about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you will never be the same. You will look at the sky differently, you will look at the planet differently.”
Designed to make flying easy
“The basic motor skills for flying an airplane are pretty simple,” Hawkins tells me. “We have people who land themselves with an instructor on the first day, within 30 minutes.”
However, they have painstakingly taken the time to design it from a safety standpoint. The purpose of the airframe’s roll stability function is to ensure that if the pilot makes mistakes, the aircraft does not lose control.
As a reserve, there is a full parachute of the aircraft.
“The roll-resistance feature is significant because this is the first aircraft the FAA has recognized as roll-resistant,” says Chris Dupin, flight instructor and US Air Force officer. “A significant number of fatalities in general aviation are attributable to loss-of-control accidents that involve an uncorrected spin at base prior to the final turn.”
In addition, there is an angle of attack indicator, which is not usually found on a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is normal (green) or where it might stall (red).
The pilot’s task is to keep the wing within the green or yellow part of the scale. This is part of what makes taking off and landing from the water so easy to learn.
Become a Barnstormer
“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive: learning the feel of flying first and then principles and structure, which is not unlike how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, an experienced aviation journalist and book author. Accident Detectives.
“The world is facing a shortage of pilots, so the idea of teaching in a different way to accommodate different learning styles could well broaden the pool of pilot candidates.”
At the same time, about 40% of people who made deposits for the ICON A5 are not pilots, which means that this aircraft attracts newcomers to aviation.
After an hour and a half of flight, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver you can perform after you have mastered a few water landings. This is a bit more difficult as it requires more precision and crosswind knowledge.
At this point, if I had this plane, I would hitch it to a trailer, fold the wings, take it home and park it in the garage.
If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1800 clients have made deposits.
For those not willing to shell out $207,000 to buy one, there are options to stop at the ICON Training Center in Tampa or Vacaville, California to fly for the day.
Sport Flying Introduction course – 1.5 hours for $595. To obtain a sport pilot license, you will need to spend over 20 hours and prices vary.
Sara Sekula is a travel writer and video host based in Orlando. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.