I Tried It: Sport Flying

I’ve flown planes all my life—from six years in the Air Force to twin-engine civil aircraft—but a recreational sport plane that’s also amphibious? That’s a new one.

Icon Aircraft’s new Icon A5 is a light sport aircraft (LSA), a designation created in 2004 for simple, lightweight planes that require only a sport pilot license to fly. Unlike a private pilot license, which calls for 40 hours of flight instruction and many hours of ground school, the sport pilot license takes just 20 hours of in-flight training. (You still have to attend ground school, take written and oral tests, and do a check ride with a Federal Aviation Administration examiner.)

Icon Aircraft was offering demonstration flights of the A5, so I jumped at the chance to fly one. It’s a very cool, very little airplane—the wings fold back so it can be towed on a trailer. And it’s the only LSA that’s also amphibious, with the ability to take off and land on both land and water.

We took off from Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport with a former Navy pilot in control. He immediately handed the controls over to me (I have more flight time than he does—I’m also much older) and we flew to Mount Soledad, then down the coast to the bay at 500 feet above the water. It was a beautiful, clear, calm San Diego day.

After receiving clearance from air traffic control, he demonstrated a water landing and takeoff. The bottom of the plane is shaped like a boat hull, so it simply glides through the water, making for a smooth landing. He then gave me a chance to try the same.

I flew a standard low-level landing pattern and landed in the water, then applied power and took off. It was smooth and simple, too—easier than a standard airport landing. So I did it again. We then flew over the Coronado Bridge, over the takeoff end of San Diego International, and back to Montgomery.

The Icon A5 is a very easy to fly and responsive little aircraft. Its top speed is 100 knots, with a range of 400 miles depending on weight and wind. It’s restricted to daylight only and visual flight rules (that is, good weather), and it’s equipped with a parachute that can lower the aircraft to the ground in the event of an emergency—both good precautions for anyone with only 20 hours of flight time.

For a price tag of $389,000, it’s a fun toy airplane.

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