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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ICON A5 and Misleading Advertising

    When retired baseball player Roy Halladay was killed when his new ICON A5 plane crashed it has been raising a lot of questions about the aircraft. The first model of the ICON A5 took flight in 2008, but as the plane moved closer to mass production, complications mounted...delays, price hikes, layoffs. Today the price for a fully equipped A5 will be $389,000, while the base price will rise to $269,000, although base models will not be delivered until 2019 at the earliest. Halladay isn't the first pilot to be killed in an ICON A5. The plane has now been involved in three crashes, two fatal, in the last eight months. This past May, an A5 carrying two of the company’s top engineers crashed in a California canyon, killing both men and subjecting Icon to fresh scrutiny. That crash was the result of the pilot mistakenly entering the wrong canyon with no exit and was then unable to perform a necessary 180-degree turn to get out.
     The plane has been described as a Jet Ski with wings, a high-performance sport aircraft. Technically, it is NOT a high performance aircraft. The powerplant is a fuel-injected, air and liquid cooled four cylinder aircraft engine that generates 100 horsepower. Federal aviation regulations require pilots to have a high-performance airplane endorsement in order to act as pilot-in-command of a high-performance airplane. Any airplane with an engine of more than 200 horsepower is considered “high-performance.” An airplane with a 200-horsepower engine does not qualify. On a multiengine airplane, the engines are evaluated individually (horsepower ratings are not added together).
     The problem is most likely marketing and lack of pilot training and experience. People have been lead to believe this plane is a toy. They see it as a pleasure craft, used for flying on water, which it seems what Halladay was doing. It’s to play around in and have some fun. Flying close to flat ground or water is always very dangerous because it is easy to lose one's depth perception and fly into the ground. I personally know of one pilot who was flying over a frozen Lake Erie and about 50 feet when he hit the ice at 100 miles per hour and ending up sliding for a mile.
     The ICON A5 is sleek and sporty, amphibious aircraft. Its wings fold up and the cockpit mimics that of a sports car. You can roll it out of the garage, haul it to the nearest boat launch, hop in and take off for a joy ride. The plane has been described as easy to fly, it has a no-stall wing design and it’s designed to be a safe airplane. When I learned to fly it was in a Cessna 152 which, if memory serves, had 90-100 horsepower engine, about the same as the ICON A5. A real wimp engine that generated speeds of around 100 mph, again, about the same as the ICON A5.
Cessna 152

     The problem is that Jet-Ski-with-wings description. It’s one thing to rip around on a Jet Ski and get tossed around. It's quite another to skim low over the water at a high rate of speed (the ICON A5 tops out at 121 mph). And, that is exactly what the demo video shows the plane doing.
     Halladay got his pilot’s license in April 2014, took ownership of the ICON A5 less than four weeks ago and apparently only flew the plane a few times. He tweeted, “I keep telling my dad flying the ICON A5 low over the water is like flying a fighter jet!” And that, I think, is the problem. A combination of poor advertising that misleads people, especially inexperienced pilots, into thinking this airplane is a fun toy and lack of pilot education and poor judgment on the part of the pilot.

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