Unfortunately for me, acrophobia is also a major part of life. Simply put, I don't like heights. Although I thoroughly enjoy flying on big airliners, small planes still bug me. I don't like the instability, the single engine, and I don't like the all-too frequent instances of general aviation aircraft falling out of the sky.
Recently, ICON Aircraft introduced their new A5 light sport personal seaplane. It's a small two-seat amphibious plane that can take off and land from both the land and water. Based on the company's videos and photos, it looked pretty awesome.
Last year, the company made a couple of its planes and pilots available for demo flights over the Hudson River. The invitation was too good to pass up. But I was still hesitant. So I talked a videographer colleague of mine into going with me and take the test flight in my place.
On the day of our scheduled test flight, my colleague and I made our way to a marina on the northern tip of Manhattan. We were introduced to a series of company executives, including CEO Kirk Hawkins, who founded ICON decade or so ago, soon after graduating from Stanford's business school.
Hawkins, who also happens to be an engineer and former Air Force F16 pilot, created the company to fit into the "light sport" market segment.
ICON believes there is a $10-billion global market for products like the A5.
Although only my colleague was scheduled to fly, the temptation was too great. So I agreed to take a demo flight, as well.
Here it is! The ICON A5. Waiting for me in the cockpit of the plane was the company's head of sales, Craig Bowers. Bowers' flying resume is pretty impressive. He flew A6E Intruder and F/A18 Hornet jets for the Marine Corps before becoming a Navy test pilot.
To take off, we head south on the Hudson River towards the George Washington Bridge.
Although the A5 is powered by only a single, 100-horsepower Rotax engine, the plane accelerated briskly through the water.
Soon we were aloft and approaching the George Washington Bridge. I couldn't help myself. I had to take a picture.
So far so good.
Eventually, Bowers let me briefly fly the plane under his supervision. We stayed relatively low and maintained a speed of around 75 knots. According to ICON, the A5 can reach a top speed of 110 mph.
The A5's cockpit is modern and stylish. Quite unlike the austere and utilitarian instrument panels found on traditional small aircraft.
I pushed the throttle forward and climbed a little as we headed towards the Statue of Liberty.
According to ICON, the A5 has a maximum range of 450 miles.
After a few minutes at the controls, Bowers took command of the plane, which allowed me to take this photo of Lower Manhattan.
As we rounded the Statue of Liberty, Bowers decided to tip the plane to the side so we could wave to the ferries below. With the side windows open, I didn't handle this very well.
Soon, we turned north and headed up the Hudson.
Here's North Cove Marina.
Flying north towards the marina, the waters of the Hudson looked serene from the air.
Touchdown! The landing was incredibly soft. I could barely notice the impact.
The A5 is also equipped with retractable landing gear, giving the plane amphibious capabilities.
And when the owner is done having fun, the A5's wings can be folded and the plane stored on a trailer.
The ICON requires pilots have a light sport certificate, as well as flight training from the company's instructors.
Overall, the A5 is one impressive machine. The company has more than 1,500 orders for the plane. Currently, there's more than 3-year-long waiting list. The A5 starts at $197,000. Although the first 100 planes will be full-optioned and will cost $247,000.
All in all, it was an incredible experience. More importantly, it helped me work towards overcoming my fear of heights.