It's not quite a jetpack, but the Icon A5 sports plane is one step closer to getting everyone into the air. Icon Aircraft, founded by former fighter pilot Kirk Hawkins, aims to capitalize on "sport" flying licenses in the US, which only takes 20 hours in the air to complete. The ease of access of the license is matched by sports planes themselves. The new A5 has retractable wings, allowing it to be hauled easily on a trailer and even fit inside a garage. While the plane has some limitations, it's cool enough to inspire a new wave of amateur aviators. Check out the video from the Associated Press after the break.
Why are we covering a plane on Singularity Hub? Does it have a laser, or is it flown by a robot? No, but it is a great example of how futurists can be off the mark. Turn back the clock fifty years and every science fiction writer was trying to convince you that by the 21st century, the sky would be flooded with flying cars. Even in the 80s, Back To The Future had you believe that 2015 would be plagued by traffic jams in the sky. Sadly, "where are the flying cars?" has become the rallying cry for those disappointed (perhaps humorously so) in the progress of science. Screw flying cars and jetpacks, we don't need them. The truth is that they are inefficient and/or dangerous. If you really want to fly, get a pilot's license. Sports planes, and the sports flying licenses are the answer to the absence of airborne cars. You get all the fun of flying through the air, without the tedium of being a commuter in the sky.
Just look at the Icon A5, it oozes sleek coolness. The thing is one good voice-over actor from being a Transformer. Its motorized wings can be operated by a single person and completely fold or unfold in about five minutes. Retractable landing gear and sea wings even make the A5 amphibious. Go to the special page on the Icon Aircraft website so you can play around with the plane and watch it transform.
Icon has really created the plane to appeal to those who want to experience the sky on their own for the first time. With a bubble canopy, and reverse prop, the A5 is geared to letting you enjoy the most of your sky-high view. It runs on regular unleaded gasoline and thanks to its compacting frame it doesn't have to be stored at an airfield. Everything about this plane is aimed towards those who want to pick up flying as a weekend hobby.
Which is really the biggest critique of the plane I can make: most people already in the air probably won't take it seriously. There's a difference between a Hell's Angel and a guy who just likes riding his motorcycle, and there's a difference between a fisherman and someone who owns a boat. Likewise with the sports planes. These vehicles are for fun. They will hopefully get people into the sky. And yet despite Hawkins' enthusiasm they aren't going to make you a fighter pilot.
But that's kind of the point. The Icon A5 is what it is, a smooth looking prop plane whose carbon fiber frame has the ferocity of a shark but comes with a propeller guard so nubies won't chop off their hand. It can take off or land in just 750 ft, and fly 300 to 350 miles on a tank, but it can also be equipped with an airplane parachute in case you miscalculate how far you've traveled. All of the fun of flying, but safer, and easier to learn.
With a $139,000 price tag, Icon is appealing to the Ferrari and Porsche crowd - you could buy an used Piper Cherokee for a hundred grand less. With competition from other rigs (like the less flashy Cessna Skycatcher) we may see sports planes come down to squeeze into the budgets of the middle class. Even if it were cheap, however, you still couldn't get your hands on an A5 for a while. The current waiting list is 2 years long. It's telling though, that a third of those on the list don't have their license yet. The ease in which we are taking to the sky is kind of amazing. Not the future of the Jetsons, but still pretty damn cool.
[photo credits: Icon Aircraft]