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- Designed and built by Icon Aircraft, the A5 amphibious aircraft is classified by the FAA as a light sport aircraft
- It’s so easy to fly you only need a sports pilot license to fly it and has a design reminiscent of a sports car
- It currently costs $399,000 to acquire an A5, with a two to five year wait time for a new one
- Thanks to its composite airframe components, the A5 has a cruise speed of a remarkably fast 85 KIAS
- The ICON A5 has a flat 4-cylinder Rotax 915 iS engine that has a fuel burn of 4 gph on average.
The Icon A5 amphibious is an amphibious high-wing light aircraft that can be flown with a sport pilot’s license. Here’s all you need to know about the aircraft.
ICON Aircraft delivered the first ICON A5 in 2016. They currently cost between $270,000 and $390,000. Empty, the A5 weighs 1,080 lbs and has an MTOW of 1,510 lbs. It carries 20 gallons of usable fuel, giving it a payload capacity of 310 lbs. It burns 4 gph and cruises at 84 knots.
As a corporate pilot and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), I have flown nearly all types of aircraft. I first heard of a sport plane known as the A5 a few years ago from the wider aviation community and since visiting the company headquarters in 2019, I love the aircraft!
The ICON A5 is an amphibious light sport aircraft, designed with a hull shaped for water operation and a landing gear that extends from it to allow for landing on pavement. Unlike other aircraft that are designed as land planes and then modified to be amphibious, the A5 needs no additional modifications, or addition of floats.
The A5 is designed by Kirk Hawkins who is a retired F-16 pilot and engineer. He is also an avid outdoorsman who saw the potential of aircraft used in a way that is different from how typical general aviation aircraft are used today.
Hawkins wanted to build a vehicle targeting the recreational market, not just add another aircraft design for the utility or aviation enthusiast’s market. As part of his design philosophy he wanted customers to think of the plane more as a jet ski that they could load on a bed and hitch to their SUV to take home (as it takes up far less room than other conventional light aircraft).
For this reason, the A5 has folding wings that can be tucked by its side when it is loaded onto a flatbed or inserted into an enclosed trailer. It also means that you don’t have to drive it to an airport to get on your way. You can instead depart from the closest lake.
The A5 aircraft is also designed specifically for those who are not private pilots or have any professional experience. It is designed this way so that a person who has no prior flight training or experience can easily learn how to operate the A5 in as little as 25 hours.
All you need is a sport pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rather than a full private pilot license, which is far harder to acquire.
Sitting in the driver’s (I mean pilot’s) seat, the surroundings feel familiar. Even the way the instrument panel is arranged, as is the center console, feels like a sports car. Nothing intimidating like the typical six-pack of instrument gauges or three panels of the primary and multi-function displays seen in jets is presented to the occupants.
The airspeed and fuel level indicator looks more like a vehicle’s speedometer and fuel gauge while its throttle quadrant resembles a car’s gear shift.
Getting BMW engineers to design their interior and Nissan to sculpt the lines outside, Icon delivered on the touch and feel of a luxury two door coupe.
Sophisticated and contemporary, the design is not an accident. ICON intended it this way to appeal to a new market segment beyond aviation enthusiasts. They wanted to reach the outdoor recreational market.
Their targeting worked.
The Icon marketing team racked up more than 4000 orders, even before the production went into full swing. More than 80% of those orders came from those who had no airman qualifications or had experienced general aviation aircraft.
The exterior is characterized by smooth lines and seamless joints. The wings fold effortlessly for road transport and storage while the seaplanes that aid in hydroplaning come in handy when you float in the middle of the lake and sit on them with your feet dangling in the water.
The foldable wings are smooth. No rivets and warped metal sheeting. Made almost entirely of composite, the A5 weighs just over a thousand pounds, and can easily carry two full-size adults.
A single liquid cooled, 100-hp engine sits above the cabin in a pusher configuration sipping a measly 3.8 gallons per hour. A composite prop efficiently generates the necessary thrust while affording the empennage adequate airflow even during slow flight.
Hopping along at 85 KIAS, it stretches its 30 gallons of usable fuel for more than five hours. At 10,000 feet, that translates to about 110 knots of true airspeed allowing you a five-hundred-nautical-mile round trip on a full tank of gas.
First unveiled in 2014 at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show, the company received significant interest in what was only meant to be a concept aircraft. Following this interest, it made its first flight in late July 2014.
It entered a three phase testing program to comply with an audit and received FAA approval in 2015. Serial production of the type started in 2017, the same year the first deliveries were made.
What Are The Specifications of the Icon A5 Amphibious?
What Are The A5’s Flight Characteristics Like?
All the characteristics of flight of the Icon A5 amphibious aircraft rest on the single design philosophy that the Icon A5 is not meant to look or feel like a plane. Designed for non-pilots, it was supposed to be as simple as driving a car.
From engine operation to balancing the fuels in the wings, much of what regular pilots will have to perform in any given flight has been omitted in the Icon A5.
For instance, fuel is stored in the fuselage, keeping the wings light while minimizing the propensity to roll in the direction of the heavier wing. In an amphibious aircraft, keeping the wings balanced reduces the possibility of wings tipping to one side or the other and striking the water during the landing or take off phase of flight.
By keeping the aircraft’s weight evenly distributed along its longitudinal axis, pilots also experience constant flight characteristics across the different phases of flight giving them one less thing to think about.
The one main thing about this airplane that differs from anything else that flies is the way the plane stalls. The A5 is very difficult to stall, and even harder to spin. Even with the AOA indicator on the dash indicating that the plane is at its critical angle of attack, the aerodynamics of the A5 prevents a full stall and an incipient spin.
Pulling back on the stick and pushing on the opposite rudder, keeping the ailerons and rudder in cross control, trying to make the plane stall is next to impossible, thanks to the way designers at Icon approached the aerodynamics.
The wing, from root to tip has varying cross sections, utilizing different NACA airfoil designs to achieve optimal lift to drag ratios while preventing the wing from stalling under most conditions of flight. It even has a cuffed wing that further prevents the A5’s wing from stalling and spinning.
Again, the idea was to remove the need for an A5 customer to know stall recovery or understand aerodynamics.
Even in the event of engine failure, there is no need to extensively troubleshoot. The panel blinks messages that tell the pilot what to do. Regular pilots train extensively for engine failures, but the A5 simplifies it for the pilot by deploying a ballistic parachute instead.
Being a recreational airplane, not requiring much input from the pilot, and designed for recreational pilots, the company wanted to make the engine as easy as possible to operate.
Using the Rotax 912iS engine they also digitized much of its operation where the mixture of fuel and air is automated to give the best consumption possible. The pilot just has to set the throttle and fly the A5.
How Much Does an Icon A5 Cost?
When the concept was first announced, ICON had planned a price point below $200,000 for their amphibious recreational plane. But by the time the design completed research, development, and certification, it was clear that anything less than $300,000 a unit would not allow the company to be sustainable.
When the plane was finally certified, the price tag for a brand-new amphibious recreational airplane stood at $399,000.
Even with that price tag, you’d have to wait for between two and five years before being able to get your order delivered. There are currently two avenues you can follow toward ownership. You could either go to the company and place a 20% deposit and receive a delivery window, or you could buy it from someone who purchased the A5 earlier and is about to receive their order.
The latter option would cost you at least 20% more than the factory price, but you wouldn’t have to wait for so long.
ICON works with two funding sources for those who wish to have the purchase financed. Getting your financing sorted when you make the order is not a prerequisite. They will give you a heads-up a month before scheduled delivery at which time you can begin the process of getting your purchase financed.
With the typical 20% down and 80% financed over twenty years, your monthly payments assuming 9.5% annual interest would be $2,973 as calculated by the AOPA financing calculator.
Over the course of twenty years, you would pay $319,200 in principle (added with the downpayment you paid at booking equals $399,000) and interest over 20 years of $394,387 for a grand total of $713,587, excluding the down payment.
If you include the down payment then the total out-of-pocket for just the acquisition of the A5 is $793,387. Assuming you fly an average of 300 hours a year over the cost of 20 years, your hourly cost for the acquisition is $132.23
In addition to the purchase price of the ICON A5, you have to consider the cost it will incur to operate the aircraft. Costs should be divided into three and treated differently. Primarily the costs to operate an ICON A5 will fall under one of three headings, Direct Operating Costs, Fixed Costs, and Reserves.
Fixed Costs are incurred by the owner regardless of the number of hours flown as opposed to DOCs which are only incurred when you take the amphibious plane out for a spin. Reserves, on the other hand, are costs that you will incur down the road.
Keeping your costs and expenses tidy, and placing them under these headings will streamline your ownership experience and have you financially on top of owning and operating the A5.
Direct Operating Cost
Direct Operating Costs cover all that you spend directly toward the use of the aircraft when you start it up. Fuel is a typical example of this.
The A5’s fuel burn averages about 4 gallons per hour. Using an average of $6.50 as the price of fuel, the A5 has a direct fuel cost of $26.00 per hour.
You should also consider the engine oil that you burn when using the engine and this is typically a quart every ten hours according to the manufacturer. With a quart averaging $10, that works out to be $1 per hour.
You are now up to $27 per hour.
Next, you have oil changes, which are different from the oil burn we just mentioned. This is typically done every fifty hours of flight when an A&P mechanic drains the oil, changes the filter, and fills it with fresh oil. Sometimes they also send the oil for analysis.
This oil change will cost an average of $500, and since it's done every fifty hours, you can set aside $10 per hour for this. Now you are up to $37 per hour of flight.
The biggest line item under this heading, especially for the A5, is the cost of insurance. While most general aviation aircraft cost about 2.7% of hull value in premiums, the A5 averages 3.3% or approximately $13,000 in premiums for the hull and $1,000,000 in liability.
There is also the Annual maintenance that you would need to conduct. It consists of an inspection and the maintenance of items that need to be fixed. Annuals for the ICON A5 can be a little more involved than a typical land-based aircraft. Budget about $1000 a year for this.
If you hangar the aircraft, add another $12,000 per year for that. For just these three items, you are already up to $26,000 for the year. There is one way you can save on this though. You could tow the plane back and store it in your garage.
There are two kinds of tow beds you could opt for. An open two-wheel tow would cost less but won’t keep your A5 thoroughly protected. You could also get a fully enclosed trailer with a custom exterior. You could even leave your plane in it outside the garage and the enclosure will protect your A5 from the elements. The flatbed costs about $2500 while the enclosed trailer costs in the region of $12,000.
To that number, add avionics subscriptions, membership costs, and washing for another $2000 a year.
In total, your annual fixed costs, excluding loan payments, add up to $28,000.
The third and final of the three cost categories relate to costs that are certain to come but will come later with certainty or high probability.
Things that are certain are usually maintenance costs that come with use like engine and airframe overhauls are considered scheduled maintenance. Other things like unscheduled maintenance will come with a high probability, but you just won’t know when. You will still have to be prepared for it though.
The largest line item in the Reserve list you will have to prepare for are the overhaul costs for the engine and the airframe. The Rotax 912 iS needs to be overhauled every 2,000 hours and you can expect it to cost $20,000.
As for the airframe, ICON suggests you budget another $20,000 for overhauls at 2000-hour intervals.
Together you have $40,000 every 2,000 hours to prepare for. That’s $20 per hour you should set aside every time you take your A5 out for a flight.
You also have to inspect and repack the ballistic parachute, or the IPS system. It costs about $3.500 to do this and you need to do it every 8 years. You also have to replace the rocket that powers the parachute every eight years. This will cost you $1,800. That’s a total of $5.300 every eight years, or $662.50 per year.
You should also budget for unscheduled maintenance. Set aside about $3000 a year for this. It could be for anything from patching dings in the fiberglass to repairing the bilge pump.
Finally, you will have to inspect and overhaul the propeller every 2,000 hours. Set aside about $2000 for this. That works out to be $1 per hour of flight.
The total cost to operate the ICON A5 amphibious aircraft, as you can see, goes far beyond the purchase price and financing. It involves costs that include the hourly fuel burn, scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, as well as overhauls that stretch across a number of years.
To get an understanding of how much it costs every time we fly the A5, we have to put it all together with one question: How many hours do you plan to fly the A5?
Assuming you fly it 300 hours a year, here is what your cost will look like every hour.
If you recall, DOC is $37 per hour, while Fixed Costs are $28,000 per year. If you fly 300 hours in a year, that works out to be $93.33 per hour. Then there is the reserve that you will have to fund every time you fly.
$20 an hour for engine and airframe overhaul, added to $662.50 per year for the IPS system. (That works out to $2.20 per hour for 300 hours a year.) Then here is $3000 a year for unscheduled maintenance which works out to be $0.83 per hour. You also have $1 for the propeller. In total that works out to be $154.36.
If you add your cost of acquisition and finance costs of $132.23 per hour, your total hourly cost is $286.59.
How Fast Does the A5 Fly?
Flying the amphibious ICON A5 is not the same as flying any other aircraft, seaplanes included. The ICON A5 was built to fly for recreational purposes and that means that they designed it for those who are not full-time pilots or aviation enthusiasts.
But still, there are a few speeds you should commit to memory. To keep it simple, think of it this way, 60 and 40 are your two speeds to remember.
In this case, 60 is the speed when you pull back on the stick for take-off. It is also the speed you think about when you want to keep the airplane on the best glide path. It is also a good speed to make your approach.
As far as 40 is concerned, it's the speed the wings will begin to object. It's the point where they will shake in expectation of a stall. While you don’t have to worry about the A5 stalling and spinning, you should keep away from this speed in flight.
When you come down to land, aim to touch down with a nose-high attitude before you come into contact with the surface. Just remembering these two numbers will get you flying the A5 like a pro.
What is The Icon A5’s Fuel Burn?
The A5 can be flown up at 15,000 feet MSL but loves to get around at about 3,000 feet AGL. It's not the fastest of climbers and since its fuel burn is a meek 4 gallons per hour on average, don’t worry too much about climbing up too high, unless you want to enjoy the view from those wrap-around cockpit windows.
You can’t control your fuel burn like pilots of other regular planes can. There is no mixture lever in the throttle quadrant. Once you set the throttle and the rpm, the engine is managed automatically for you.
If you did get up to 15,000 feet, it’s best you step up without running the engine at full power for an extended period of time. Climb setting for extended periods in a pusher configuration generally leads to the engine heating up.
However, once you do get up to 15,000, assuming you also meet the necessary oxygen requirements, you will enjoy a fuel burn of about 2.8 - 3 gallons per hour.