By Simon Murray
Last year came and went, and with it the promise of the future. That’s because on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 4:29 p.m., two time travelers appeared with a flash in a reconfigured DeLorean with something called a flux capacitor. They were in a movie, of course, Back to the Future Part II, which depicts the impossible technology and extraordinary innovations that futurists wildly hoped for when the film was made in 1989.
While Back to the Future Part II remains incredibly prescient in some respects, last year’s Back to the Future Day, as it came to be known, was a benchmark for our technological shortcomings.
What do we lack that our fictional selves enjoyed?
For one, hoverboards (real, levitating ones—not the so-called “hoverboards” with two wheels that don’t actually, you know, hover). And then there’s the unmistakable lack of flying cars whizzing up and down Madison Avenue, or anywhere, for that matter.
But I’m here to tell you there’s a silver lining to all of this. Although we didn’t quite get Marty McFly’s hoverboard, a lucky few are about to take the Z-axis by storm. That’s because the $250,000 Icon A5 is the closest thing to a flying car you can own today.
I mean look at it. Lean and angular like a hawk, the A5 is more jet ski than Cessna, more Ducati than Piper M-class. The propeller is behind you. A beautiful, unobstructed wide-angle view is in front of you. Sitting in the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot (there’s space for two) can open the side windows, just as you would in a car.
Speaking of the cockpit, it’s gorgeous—and a lesson in ergonomics: simplified control panels, analog gauges and GPS screen. It’s the kind of thing the Wright brothers could only have dreamed of while soaring in their rickety flying machines over the beaches of North Carolina.
In comparison, the A5 doesn’t just soar—it goes 109 mph at full throttle. And it’s explicitly made for the uninitiated. At least that’s what Kirk Hawkins, founder and chief executive officer of Icon Aircraft, hopes to achieve.
His goal? Nothing less than the complete democratization of aviation.
The A5 is what’s known in adrenaline-junkie parlance as a light sport aircraft. In the same vein as powersports—think speedboats, ATVs and other gas-fed adrenaline machines—light sport aircrafts are targeted to recreational pilots. To fly one, all you need is a sport pilot license (SPL), which requires an in-flight training of 20 hours, as opposed to more than double that for a typical private license.
Then it’s time for takeoff. The “A” in A5 stands for amphibious, which means this flying speedboat can take off and land on water. “Sure, the A5 likes a smooth strip of runway,” reads the text on Icon’s website, “but it also loves a dirt strip or a secluded beach.” This is an aircraft that’s going places.
While you can’t exactly use it as a substitute for your more earthly commute—an SPL is restrictive to daytime flying only, in good weather only, in uncongested airspace—you can hitch the 23-foot-long A5 (with foldable wings) to your trailer and take it just about anywhere. The plane’s 20-gallon tank can be filled with high-octane automotive gas as well as aviation fuel. With a full tank, it has a range of more than 300 miles.
By the end of this year, Icon hopes to have 100 airplanes shipped, and around 550 A5s on land, sea and air by the end of 2017. Preorders are climbing: Icon has more than 1,500 or so to fulfill. (If you placed your $5,000 deposit today, you’d have you very own A5 delivered to you by 2019.) Its base price is $197,000, with up to $50,000 in additional options (including a rocket-powered parachute for added safety).
That brings us to what everyone is talking about: the A5’s spin-resistant airframe. The first of its kind to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s full criteria for spin resistance, the A5 has been designed to mitigate risk. An easy-to-read angle of attack (AoA) display shows you how the wings are performing. If the needle stays in the green zone, you’re good. Enter the yellow and an audible alarm signals you the need to correct. Keep going and you’ll hit red, which indicates you’ve stalled in the air.
But don’t fret, because that’s where the spin resistance comes into play; it’s the one thing that’s keeping you from entering an uncontrolled spin that could hurtle the plane—and its human cargo—into the ground. If you stall in the A5, you don’t lose control.
While it might not be a flying car, Icon Aircraft envisions a world where the sky is no longer the limit for recreational enjoyment, just as jet skis and motorcycles have made quick work of roads and waterways. The air will be just another space for people to enjoy. Sounds an awful lot like the future to us.