On Memorial Day I had a chance to visit Icon Aircraft and spend some time with CEO Kirk Hawkins. We met seven years ago — just after the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) rule was released — near the beginning of his ambitions to create an entirely clean-sheet LSA amphibian.
Recently, Icon released a video to tout its spin resistant airframe (SRA). I reported work toward this earlier and it’s been some time coming. Why the wait? From my first-hand experience with Cirrus Design and the development of the SR20, I have a bit of inside knowledge on this subject.
Cirrus also tried to grab the golden ring of SRA, as did it then-close competitor Columbia Aircraft (the two companies won their Part 23 Type Certificates within days of one another). Neither succeeded. Cirrus turned to an airframe parachute under what’s called Equivalent Level of Safety. Columbia chose a rudder spring mechanism to lessen the likelihood for loss of control. The parachute proved to be a marketing bonanza for Cirrus.
Many feel SRA is vitally important if we are to grow aviation by making aircraft that are truly easier (and therefore safer) to fly. If you could create a design that would allow an overwhelmed student pilot to end up safely on the ground even when he or she keeps the stick buried in their gut, you’d truly have something. Cirrus deployed the parachute concept, and indeed, many lives have been spared.
Now, Icon officials proudly note they achieved the extremely rare feat of designing a mainstream, conventionally-shaped aircraft (meaning no canard or other unorthodox solution*) that is genuinely spin resistant — not merely spin recoverable.
You’ll have to watch the company’s video, maybe a few times, to grasp what I learned in several hours of conversation with Kirk. This is quite something! An Icon can be flown slowly to stall, with the stick remaining full aft and still have roll control, plus the A5 will descend, in essentially straight flight, all the way to the ground or water at about 1,000 fpm. This descent rate, combined with a safety cell and other devices, could allow the occupants to walk away despite their effective loss of control (in that the pilot did not allow the aircraft to resume normal-airspeed flight).
In truth, a parachute is more certain to deliver an aircraft safely to the ground than a stalled aircraft. Both can descend at survivable speeds — but the stalled-yet-controllable aircraft still has a forward motion component whereas the parachute has only a vertical descent plus whatever wind motion is created.
Neither Cirrus nor Columbia created a spin-resistant airframe. Likewise, the video shows a Cessna 150 can’t match A5′s result. No one else has done this either, except for some “specialty” designs, such as the twin-tailed, no-rudder-pedals Ercoupe, several canard designs, and the Kasperwing — with only the Ercoupe reaching serial production.
That’s why I consider this a big deal and one that could help aviation find a broader market. For that I salute Icon and its talented team.
When combined with careful pilot training, an SRA aircraft has real potential to change the student pilot paradigm. If you are an experienced pilot, you’ve learned to avoid entering a spin and you may know how to safely recover from one. Wouldn’t it be better if you simply never got into one?
For more information: IconAircraft.com
For more on Sport Pilot and Light-Sport Aircraft: ByDanJohnson.com
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