The Video Pilot Report below may be one of the most anticipated VPRs my video partner Dave and I have produced. I did the flying at AirVenture Oshkosh 2015 on Lake Winnebago in late July, but because Icon preferred to provide the video footage, it has taken some weeks to put it all together. Production of one of these VPRs is a two-part effort. First, I invested some time to get to where Icon did their demo flying (away from all the other flying locations associated with Oshkosh). Weather and the company’s desire to take aloft a reported 150 of their waiting owners forced a couple schedule changes. Since returning home, we worked with several helpful folks at Icon to assemble all the right video pieces. Finally, Dave invested many hours editing what you see below (or here). Our video should show you most of what you want to see about this impressive LSA including water takeoffs and landings, in-flight maneuvering, stalls (such as they are), low flying over the water, and the interior of the airplane including Icon’s highly emphasized Angle of Attack indicator.
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DemoVenture 2015 — Flying at Oshkosh
Shows like Sebring and Midwest LSA Expo are known for being great places to demo fly a Light-Sport or light kit you may be considering to buy. They earned that reputation because it is typically much easier to fly at those lower-key, less crowded events than at giant shows like AirVenture. However, some companies make demo flying a mission at Oshkosh and this article covers three that delivered an exceptional number of demo flights. Icon reported doing around 150 demonstration flights in the first public outing of the long-awaited LSA seaplane. Writers for aviation’s largest magazines got their private crack at the new bird beforehand … since returning from Oshkosh, I’ve seen A5 on the covers of Flying, AOPA Pilot, Sport Aviation, and Plane & Pilot. That’s an enormous splash. I can’t recall any single aircraft capturing all four titles in the same month, quite a credit to Team Icon for deftly executing such a major marketing push.
AirVenture Wrap-Up: Shiny Part 103, Icon Rising
The big summer celebration of flight has ended. I have more info from AirVenture 2015 and next I plan a summary article. A preview includes the most positive prognosis from industry players I have seen in recent years; strong sales reported by several producers; several interesting developments or benchmarks; and a wonderful week of weather as icing on the cake. My video partner and I put in long days to secure perhaps 30 or more new videos including many on the freshest topics in light aviation. Stay tuned for more and go here to see the hundreds of videos we have posted from previous events. The Shiniest Part 103 … We shot a video interview on the line of Hummel Aviation light aircraft, including two Part 103 models and one Experimental Amateur Built version. Toward the end of the week, one that had been sheltered in a tent on one end of the sprawling AirVenture grounds was hand towed to the Ultralight Area — called the Fun Fly Zone — so people could see this mirror-finish (highly polished aluminum) UltraCruiser in the air.
Opening Day Firsts: Icon, American Legend, Dynon
I promised to tell you what was under the blue wrap disguising the powerplant on the unnamed taildragger in my earlier article. Here it comes with other opening day news from AirVenture 2015. Icon Aircraft made their first delivery of an A5 after a tremendous media build-up, as this California company has clearly demonstrated it can do brilliantly. Not only was a huge crowd in attendance but a large flock of young people in matching tee-shirts accompanied the airplane as it was towed down the main drag — called Celebration Way — to Boeing Plaza and the runway. The reason for the young folks was because airplane number one went to EAA’s Young Eagles, but this is especially fitting as Icon has aimed their aircraft in a different direction than any other airplane maker with which I am familiar. One pilot who flew the A5 said, “It has an automotive-like interior.
Preparing to Test Fly Icon’s A5 … at Last!
The big dogs have been fed. It will soon be time for we smaller critters to get our chance. Icon Aircraft reported that in late June, they hosted reporters from Flying Magazine, Plane & Pilot, AOPA Pilot, EAA Sport Aviation, and the Seaplane Pilots Association’s Water Flying magazine. Those writers got pretty excited by their long-awaited experience in the A5 and I must admit, it has psyched me up as well. Over many years in this trade, I’ve had the pleasure to fly nearly 400 different aircraft, virtually all of them in the same space occupied by A5 yet, even with all that, I’m very much looking forward to my own A5 flight experience coming up just before AirVenture Oshkosh 2015. You can read about my flight experience on this website and you can presently find plenty of content (articles and video) about A5. No waiting required!
Icon Successfully Completed FAA Audit
Let the production begin! This, um … iconic company in the LSA space has been brewing for a long time, long enough that some aviators have been grumbling, wondering if Icon is “for real.” Today, the company announced that a week ago on June 11th, they successfully completed their FAA audit. That opens the door to serial production of a reported 1,250 orders as announced earlier this year. In addition, some media persons including yours truly, will get to fly the machine during Oshosh in just a few weeks. I’m excited to see how this well-promoted, long-in-development aircraft flies. “The successful completion of the FAA’s audit of the A5 is one of the most critical milestones in our company’s history,” said Icon Aircraft CEO and Founder Kirk Hawkins. “This means that after years of intense development by the Icon team, our customers and the media will finally get a chance to experience the A5 firsthand and form their own opinion.
Icon Reported Scheduling First 20 A5s for Delivery
According to a report in the North Bay (San Francisco) Business Journal, Icon will build its first 20 A5 LSA seaplanes before the end of 2015. Certainly in the LSA space, this can best be described as “much-anticipated event.” At an annual meeting of the Solano Economic Development Corporation, the Business Journal reported, guest speaker Kirk Hawkins of Icon provided an update on the production of the A5. “The first Icon Aircraft production planes are currently undergoing flight verification testing, and 20 of our A5 aircraft are scheduled to roll off the Vacaville production floor in 2015,” the Journal quoted. They added that Hawkins said production will follow the completion of construction at the facility in August, 2015. Earlier the California company reported taking more than 1,250 aircraft deposits, which they said represents nearly $300 million in backlog. “By comparison, Tesla Motors had approximately $100 million in order backlog just prior to its production start,” Hawkins noted to the business development group.
It’s Winter, So Seaplanes Are Flying … Uh, What?
On this website, we zoom around the world following Light-Sport Aircraft, from near the Arctic Circle — you know, where Santa and the wee elves are pulling some heavy overtime about now — to the warm balminess of Southern California. I know of what I write, having once lived in the snow belt and now hanging with the family in Palm Springs, California for Christmas. It seems everywhere I look I see LSA seaplanes in sea trials and this is happening in the dead of winter. Why be surprised? Perhaps you’ve noticed boat shows happen in the winter months. When living in Minnesota, I was always amazed that boat shows were held in January and February, a time of year when it would be months before the ice melted from the state’s 10,000 lakes to allow use of those boats. Yet this is when people were shopping, I suppose anticipating an upcoming season of boating fun.
Icon Updates Their Order Book; Forecasts Delivery
One of the most-watched Light-Sport Aircraft is Icon’s A5 seaplane. Through savvy marketing and a splashy display and events at AirVenture (the only show where Icon Aircraft regularly exhibits), the company has clearly wowed potential buyers, the general aviation public, plus media journalists and photographers. ByDanJohnson.com has followed Icon since the beginning, actually even before the beginning, so we are pleased to continue our updates on their progress. Most observers see that it has been a long road. I first met CEO Kirk Hawkins back on the EAA Sport Pilot Tour in 2005 when he was — as he put it himself — “one guy with a business card.” Whatever you may think about the road long traveled, Kirk has taken his company from nowhere to one of the most closely tracked enterprises in the entire LSA space worldwide. His training for this lengthy exercise began at California’s respected Stanford University Graduate School of Business where he learned the Silicon Valley way to make a big impact … what the tech industry likes to call “creative destruction,” leaving behind the old ways of methodically introducing products and embracing the Internet style of taking bold leaps forward.
Icon Confirms Vacaville, California for Production
I have been following Icon Aircraft closely since I first met top gun Kirk Hawkins on the EAA Sport Pilot Tour back in 2005. Then he was one man with a business card and a dream. In the nine years following, Icon has become, well … an icon of light aviation. Almost everybody knows this (yes, I’ll write it) iconic company and their eye-catching A5 LSA seaplane. The southern California company reports more than 1,000 people have put down deposits. The first in line have been waiting quite some time to hear when their airplane will be built and now the company confirmed what we’ve reported earlier: they selected Vacaville, California to be their main production location — although component production will occur under the watchful eyes of successful GA builder, Cirrus Design, way up in North Dakota. “After several years and an extensive nationwide search, I’m excited to announce that Vacaville and Solano County will be the new home of Icon Aircraft, Inc.,” reported CEO Hawkins.
Icon Demonstrates Progress to Production Goal
One of the most celebrated of the Light-Sport Aircraft fleet is Icon Aircraft‘s A5 seaplane. The Southern California company has passed the benchmark set by Cessna after they first announced their Skycatcher to great fanfare back in 2007. Since Icon first emerged in 2005, the company has gone from one man with an idea to one of the largest players in the LSA space … yet they have yet to produce their first airplane. Some aviators have voiced concerns the company is a marketing juggernaut that raises money but builds nothing. To confront this perception and in preparation for their usual announcements at AirVenture — the only show where Icon chooses to present itself for the time being — Icon released photos and some details of their work to make production a reality. One of their earlier announcements related to engaging SR20 and SR22 manufacturer Cirrus Design to do component assembly.
LSA Seaplanes Remain Newsworthy in 2014
Someone remarked to me recently that LSA seaplanes seem to be the topic of the week or month (or however often you check in to see). Indeed, as we approach the tenth anniversary of Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft, we can reflect with pride upon more than 130 models making their way to market. True, not all have proven successes in the market place but having choice is always good for customers even if they finally select from a limited number of brands to occupy their hangar. Therefore, thanks to all those entrepreneurial designers that brought new airplanes to the sky. Now, in the closing months of LSA’s first decade, a new focus appears turned to amphibious Light-Sport machines, with more than 20 vying for our attention. As always some are doing a better job of capturing mindshare than others. In this article I’ll talk about two from nearly opposite ends of the new spectrum.
X-Ray Views of Icon’s Amphibious LSA
If you traveled to Oshkosh for AirVenture 2013, you got to see a lot of airplanes and other aviation gear. EAA reported a very substantial crowd of more than 500,000 attended. As this might translate to 150-200,000 pilots, the big figure nonetheless means that more than 400,000 American pilots did not go to AirVenture. That majority of flying enthusiasts missed a lot but recently Icon Aircraft sent out news about their X-Ray View of their Light-Sport entry. This impressive display was shown in their big tent and many examined the details. If you missed AirVenture 2013, we’re happy to show you a little of what you missed. Icon circulated photos of what the company informally terms its “three-dimensional CAD drawing” of the company’s A5 amphibious Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). “The full-scale 3D model employs automotive vinyl wrap technology,” explained Icon, “printed with an adapted projection of the Computer Aided Design (CAD) virtual model depicting the location and layout of key structures and systems of the aircraft, which provides an unprecedented level of technical detail about the production A5.” If you’ve been wondering what’s under the skin of the handsome LSA amphib, the special graphics were very helpful.
Icon Gets Its Weight Exemption
Important FAA-related message at end of this article.Opening day at AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 and the very first announcement before exhibit spaces even opened was a press conference from Icon Aircraft. To a media-only group of perhaps 30 or 40 media personalities, CEO Kirk Hawkins began, "Is there anyone here who doesn't know what this about?" No one responded; everyone knew what the rumor mill had begun spewing. Icon is in good company. Even premiere new product secret-keeper, Apple Inc., has trouble announcing something that no one expected. Yet a few comments from the top gun at Icon were of special interest. One other observation first: it was a media event, but if even a single FAA person was in attendance, they were under cover. No FAA shirts or badges could be spotted. Thus Icon made their announcement without any active FAA participation. Icon received Grant of Exemption No. 10829 for a weight increase with FAA stating,"The combined features and SRA (Spin Resistant Airframe) incorporated into the Icon A5 design ... are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements." FAA also referenced that the agency felt an exemption was "in the public's interest." Kirk Hawkins added that his engineers "put safety ahead of arbitrary weight limits" and forged ahead with enhancements to include a more crashworthy cockpit, the airframe parachute (about which they'd already talked but with which the weight increase became more possible), and of course, the wing cuffs, "a synthesis of several known ideas put together in a way that finally worked" to provide a Part 23-worthy stall resistant airframe. More structure on wings and tail was needed to achieve the SRA and that drove the request for weight exemption, Hawkins added. However, Icon said they do not plan to use all 1,680 pounds they could under the exemption. In their press conference, the company mentioned a target weight of 1,510 pounds, only 80 more than allowed for seaplanes without an exemption. These and other refinements mean that the price will rise from $139,000 (in 2009 dollars) to a starting price of $189,000 but you'll get more airplane in the form of the costlier fuel injected Rotax 912iS — and more fuel efficient — engine, a touchscreen Garmin 796, and night lighting. The results: Icon will immediately increase the current effort to prepare for production. On a large projection screen they showed a handsome computer-imagery video of a production facility full of A5s being built. It's all animation but it was done with the style we've come to expect from the Southern California company. So, the exemption has been granted and at least three other companies told me within 15 minutes they will also prepare a request based on safety features (but see Update below). FAA may not grant them all — they may not be adequately prepared and documented — but the agency has to at least review them and in a period of budget constraint, these requests will surely take plenty of time and could consume time from FAA personnel. Despite such potential hiccups, Hawkins felt Icon's grant of exemption was a positive for the whole LSA industry and many, though not all, are inclined to agree.
Update 7/29/13 evening — At the LAMA board of directors meeting, FAA further clarified their approach with Icon. "A weight increase was not a factor in granting Icon's request for exemption," a senior FAA executive told the board members. Instead, the agency "rewarded" Icon with a weight increase because they felt the company had achieved a highly stall resistant wing design to avoid the reason for 70% of fatalities, namely stall/spin. "Any company that addresses this [stall-resistant airframe] can also get the exemption but they must prove their solution." Such an aircraft must still meet all parameters of an LSA, specifically the stall speed, max speed ... everything except weight. "FAA would obviously love for all LSA to be stall resistant," because this could save lives. Requests for a weight allowance for parachutes, safety belt airbags, fire extinguishers and other safety gear are very unlikely to get a positive reply. Beyond the weight increase, FAA allows 100 kilowatts (KW) of power or about 135 horsepower. However, this is a firm limit. Any LSA with more than 100 KW of power must remain a non-exempted LSA and cannot weigh more than the current 1,320 or 1,430 pound weights (600 and 650 kg). FAA also noted that a pilot with a Sport Pilot certificate could fly an exempted airplane up to 1,680 pounds with 135-hp and that a Light Sport Repairman could work on such an Light-Sport Aircraft.
Important FAA-related message at end of this article. Opening day at AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 and the very first announcement before exhibit spaces even opened was a press conference from Icon Aircraft. To a media-only group of perhaps 30 or 40 media personalities, CEO Kirk Hawkins began, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t know what this about?” No one responded; everyone knew what the rumor mill had begun spewing. Icon is in good company. Even premiere new product secret-keeper, Apple Inc., has trouble announcing something that no one expected. Yet a few comments from the top gun at Icon were of special interest. One other observation first: it was a media event, but if even a single FAA person was in attendance, they were under cover. No FAA shirts or badges could be spotted. Thus Icon made their announcement without any active FAA participation. Icon received Grant of Exemption No. 10829 for a weight increase with FAA stating,”The combined features and SRA (Spin Resistant Airframe) incorporated into the Icon A5 design … are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements.” FAA also referenced that the agency felt an exemption was “in the public’s interest.” Kirk Hawkins added that his engineers “put safety ahead of arbitrary weight limits” and forged ahead with enhancements to include a more crashworthy cockpit, the airframe parachute (about which they’d already talked but with which the weight increase became more possible), and of course, the wing cuffs, “a synthesis of several known ideas put together in a way that finally worked” to provide a Part 23-worthy stall resistant airframe.
Avionics World: Changes for Your Panel
Dynon gathers little moss it appears. The SkyView builder has been upgrading software, releasing new products and now, the Woodinville, Washington company has acquired Advanced Flight Systems (AFS). Dynon said they did the acquisition, “… to use Dynon’s financial strength to keep AFS strong and vibrant in the experimental community.” It appears to be a pure financial move as the two companies will continue to operate with full autonomy, according to a Dynon FAQ series. • Another reason to buy a former “friendly competitor” is to get more deeply involved with Angle of Attack (AoA) indicators, which are causing a significant buzz. “AFS holds patents on Angle of Attack (AoA) technology and has long been a leader with AoA products,” reported Dynon. As you’ll read below, Icon is pushing the instrument and others are singing the praises of AoA, yet fighter aircraft and airliners have had the technology for years.
Weight Increase for Icon … Yes or No?
Fact #1: EAA ArVenture Oshkosh is coming in mere days. Fact #2: In the world of politics (and for that matter in corporate communications), you announce good news to big crowds or at the beginning of the week and you bury bad news on a Friday afternoon when maybe no one is listening hoping they’ll forget before a new week begins. So, if FAA may finally respond to Icon Aircraft‘s request for a 250-pound weight increase for their A5 LSA seaplane, Oshkosh would be a great place for FAA to announce it. The million-dollar question: Will FAA do this? And, what would it mean if the agency did announce it? My journalist friend, Al Marsh, over at AOPA just published a blog on this subject titled, “Why Icon will get its LSA weight exemption.” If you have any problem finding Al’s article go to AOPA’s blog website and click the “Reporting Points” heading, then scroll down as needed.
Icon Aircraft Reports Being Fully Funded
First Icon Aircraft wowed aviation enthusiasts with its sleek and uniquely featured amphibious A5 LSA seaplane. Over the years the company reported collecting around 1,000 orders, a success story that even beats Cessna’s Skycatcher. However, several years passed and the company did not enter production, although they reported a deal with Cirrus Aircraft to handle some fabrication duties. Perhaps all that changed now. The Southern California company announced that it raised its fourth and final round of funding totaling over $60 million. They’ll use the funds to “complete production preparations, demonstrate regulatory compliance, [and] ramp up full-scale aircraft production.” CEO and Founder of Icon Kirk Hawkins said, “For the first time in Icon’s history, the company’s future is no longer reliant on the whims of the capital markets, which have been highly unstable over the last five years.” He identified that the new financing effort was led by a “multibillion-dollar conglomerate” strategic investor from China.
Light Aircraft Weight … More or Less?
Several aviation sources recently carried news about Icon Aircraft and their A5 LSA seaplane development. Icon Aircraft has been waiting — surely with increasing impatience — for FAA to answer their formal request for exemption to the Light-Sport Aircraft gross weight parameter. FAA normally replies in 120 days, however, more than a year passed and all that arrived was a request for more detail. One can imagine the cries of angst at Icon. Many have wondered when (or if) this handsome aircraft will go to market but if you were part of their leadership, what would you go into production with … a 1,430-pound seaplane or one at the new requested weight of 1,680 pounds? Either way, what if FAA later changed their mind about an exemption they might grant. Recent news about the IRS makes us all aware government agencies don’t always operate as we expect. What a vexing situation for Team Icon.
LSA Seaplane Invasion …Can It Happen?
What’s going on out in the marketplace? More than any time since the launch of Light-Sport Aircraft in 2004, I have not observed such a frenzy of activity for a particular niche, this time for LSA seaplanes. Next season, in 2013, we could see no less than nine entries; three brand new and that count does not include any LSA equipped with floats, possibly adding several more. Yet some major potholes appear in the runway… or perhaps that should be waves sloshing over the bow. One entry is a return of a LSA seaplane previously seen in the USA as the Freedom S100 (SLSA List #44) yet can it reenter the market without a full FAA audit? See Update at end. A new agency directive with the catchy name 8130.2G CHG 1 may require a FAA visit to Spain but who knows when that might occur, given the likelihood of an FAA budget cut through the political process known as sequestration, part of the so-called “fiscal cliff” the mainstream media drones on about endlessly.
Quick LSA Review of What’s Expected at Oshkosh
I have several targets on my radar for follow-up at the big show that starts July 23rd. Here’s a beforehand review; details will follow. |||| *** LSA seaplanes will generate plenty of interest, I think, with Icon‘s latest announcements and the dreamy new Lisa Akoya (photo). Both are superslick but not to be outdone by the SeaRey, which already has nearly 600 flying. SeaRey builder Progressive Aerodyne is hard at work on SLSA status. Adding the SeaMax into the mix, LSA seaplane enthusiasts have lots of great choices… and then come the floats for other planes. Lotus is back and Zenith is a trusted supplier of many years. You’ll be able to see both sets of floats in the LSA Mall. While you’re in the LSA Mall, you can check out AMT’s air conditioning for LSA plus the Belgium D Motor.