Tampa, Florida (CNN) – When it comes to piloting an airplane, I have no experience.
I’ve never even considered trying to do so.
Nonetheless, as we hover over Florida’s Tampa Bay on a beautiful November morning, I enthusiastically take control of the ICON A5, a two-seat amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, moves like a jet ski and is so intuitive. The company says that even a beginner can learn to fly it in less than 30 hours.
It is 23 feet tall and weighs 1,510 pounds and is known as a light sports aircraft.
There is nothing else like it designed on the market to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying about whether the aircraft will respond unpredictably.
Now that I’m in control, my entire body is tense for five minutes. Am I really ready to launch this shiny new machine alone? I’m not entirely sure.
However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 was built specifically for people like me, and that it was designed to drive like a car.
The fact that Icon CEO Kirk Hawkins is next to me in the cabin does no harm either. He can take over the controls at any time.
So far so good.
We glide about 1,000 feet through the air and I am comfortable enough to take in the sights. The lovely Fort De Soto Park does not disappoint.
Shrines of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like the Caribbean.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its range of long-span cables, is equally impressive.
The adrenaline is still racing. And as most surreal experiences go on, it only gets better.
For starters, there’s another ICON A5 on my left, which in itself is exciting. We fly in formation, and my job is to imitate his movements. You’d think it would be intimidating, but it’s not.
It’s just a pleasure.
It’s music to Hawkins’ ears. He is the brain behind this newly-launched aircraft, a ten-year idea.
As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and a graduate of Stanford Business School, he spent most of his adult life focused on making sports flying available to the masses.
“The idea for us was to create a plane where the average person can go out and experience the world without the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.
So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like you see in your car. There are only a few meters that I do not recognize.
“It’s the Apple approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it and make it intuitive and easy and cool.”
He is so confident that people want to fly (and buy) his planes that he has just opened a training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it’s a place where beauty and sailboats abound.
The company’s other training center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Wide eyes and open windows
By 9am it is time for a short stop waterland.
Hawkins takes over the controls. I was too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots try to do regularly) and interviewed Hawkins to even think about landing water myself. This is something Hawkins tells me that most people can master in about 30 minutes.
A few turns negative and 360 degrees later, and it becomes a pleasant roller coaster in the air. On top of that, it’s an open-air flight, so I count my arms occasionally. Just because I can.
At a few hundred feet above the water, it is easy to see a little brother blowing towards us, a herd of pelicans and even stinging trees.
“We’ll pull here and stop and get out for a second,” he says.
Surely he jokes, doesn’t he? But after landing the plane on the water, he takes off his seat belt, and I realize he doesn’t.
Seconds later, he jumps on the roof and we climb on the wings, which can easily double as diving boards. Suddenly it felt less like a plane trip and more like sitting on a boat and sunbathing.
Everything is drenched in an enchanting golden color. I can imagine picnicking on the beach nearby. Or take the plane somewhere for a remote weekend camping trip.
Because the plane has about 430 miles on a full tank, it was made for short trips.
“This whole thing is about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you’ve learned how to fly, you’ll never be the same again. You will look at the sky differently, and look at the planet differently. ‘
Designed to make flying simple
“The primary motor skills to operate an airplane are pretty easy,” Hawkins says. “We have people landing on their very first day within 30 minutes with an instructor.”
That said, they have carefully taken the time to design it for safety. The purpose of the turn-resistant airframe function is that if the pilot makes mistakes, the aircraft will not lose control.
As a backup there is a full aircraft parachute.
“The spin resistance is very good because it is the first aircraft the FAA has considered spin resistance,” said Chris Dupin, a flight instructor and US Air Force officer. “A significant number of aviation deaths are the result of loss of control accidents involving an irreversible turn on the base to the final turn. ‘
On top of that, there’s the attack indicator, something you don’t usually see in a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is happy (in the green) or where it can stand (in the red).
The pilot’s job is to keep the wing within the green or yellow part of the meter. This is part of what makes taking off and landing water so easy to learn.
Become a barnstormer
“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive; to first learn the sense of flight and the principals and structure, not unlike how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, veteran flight journalist and author from “The Crash Detective.”
“The world is facing a pilot shortage, and the idea of teaching differently to accommodate different learning styles can expand the pool of pilot candidates very well.”
On the note, about 40% of people who have deposited deposits for the ICON A5 are not pilots, which means this aircraft is pulling new aircraft.
After an hour and a half of flying time, Hawkins lands us at the airfield, a maneuver you can tackle after mastering several water landings. This is a bit more difficult as it requires more accuracy and knowledge about crosswinds.
At this point, if I owned the aircraft, I would attach it to a trailer, fold the wings, drive it home and park it in the garage.
If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. Over 1800 customers have deposited deposits.
For those who are not yet willing to spend $ 207,000 to buy one, there is the option to stop by the ICON training facility in Tampa or the facility in Vacaville, California to fly for the day.
The Sport Flying Introduction class is 1.5 hours for $ 595. To hold your Sport pilot license, you must spend 20-plus hours and prices vary.
Sarah Sekula is a travel writer and video host in Orlando. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.