Meet the Icon A5: a high-tech airplane that anyone can fly

About a month ago I flew (and landed) a plane.

Thing is, I’m not a trained pilot. Not even close. I have no aviation experience whatsoever and have logged exactly zero hours of flying time outside of that crappy flight simulator that you can play inside Google Earth. But despite my grotesque level of inexperience, I flew a goddamn plane, and landed it in a goddamn river.

To be fair, I did have a trained copilot who gave me instructions and could take over if things ever got dicey — but the dude was hands-off for 95 percent of the flight. Seriously. I’m not trying to make myself seem like some kind of badass, natural-born pilot. He wasn’t hands-off because I was so good at flying, but because this was a demo, and the whole point was for me — the greenest of greenhorn pilots — to fly it. I really didn’t have much of a choice. Once we were on the runway, my copilot took his hands off the controls and told me to take over.

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Rich Shibley/Digital Trends

Thankfully, this wasn’t just any airplane. It was the Icon A5: a single-engine amphibious sport aircraft designed to be outrageously simple to fly.

When you step inside you’re not overwhelmed by an army of buttons, knobs, and confusing instrumentation

There are two main things that make it such a cakewalk: a ridiculously well-engineered hull/wing design, and a simplified flight interface that makes the cockpit far less cluttered and confusing.

When you step inside, the first thing you notice is that the interior doesn’t look like what airplane cockpits normally look like. You’re not overwhelmed by an army of buttons, knobs, and confusing instrumentation. Honestly it looks more like the dashboard of a car.

Arguably the biggest innovation is this thing called the Angle of Attack indicator — a little gauge that combines multiple flight indicators into a single, simplified display. As long as you keep your Angle of Attack in the “green zone” of the indicator, complicated things like takeoff and landing are drastically easier to pull off — even when you’re landing on water.

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Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The A5 has also been painstakingly engineered to be stable and predictable in the air. Thanks to a slew of smart design elements — things like wing cuffs and vortex generators — the A5 is completely spin-resistant, which means that it won’t spiral out of control if you go into a stall. In fact, our copilot had me intentionally put the plane into a stall during the demo, and amazingly, I could still maneuver it like nothing was wrong. It’s about as fool-proof as it gets.

So, does this mean that anybody can hop in the cockpit of one of these suckers and start flying right away? Yeah. Pretty much. Technically you have to log about 20 hours of flight time in order to get certified to pilot this bird by yourself — but it’s worth noting that that’s half as long as what’s required for most other single engine aircraft.

That’s what’s so remarkable about the A5. It’s easier to learn, safer to fly, and doesn’t require half a year of flight school before you can legally fly one. In other words, Icon has democratized aviation and made an airplane that practically anyone can fly — and that’s something we can all get excited about.

When was the last time you laid your hands on a new innovation, tried it out, and were truly amazed? Maybe it’s your first time driving a Tesla, hearing Dolby Atmos, or gaming in VR. In a landscape littered with incremental improvements and upgrades, it’s those wow moments that we really remember. In the Innovators series, Digital Trends goes behind the scenes with people on the cutting edge of innovation, to see how they do it.

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