It was Friday morning. The first day of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s last regional fly-in of the year in Tampa, Florida. I’d started the day early, but not bright. Les Smith, AOPA’s Senior Director of Pilot Community, and I met for breakfast before the sun dared show itself over the horizon.
We had pleasant enough conversation. I like Les. He and I have a lot in common. He’s a passionate supporter of general aviation, a regular user of avgas, and a good man to call on when you’ve got an idea but haven’t quite worked out how to apply it yet. We parted ways after ingesting eggs and breakfast meats with a plan to meet in the hotel lobby for a shared ride to the show later that morning.
Plans don’t always work out the way we expect them to.
Fifteen minutes later I was in my fifth floor hotel room getting ready for the day ahead. I had plenty of time. More than an hour. Then the phone rang.
“We’ve had a cancellation this morning. Would you like to take a demo flight in the ICON A5?”
Yes! Yes, I would like to take a demo flight in the ICON A5.
I’ve known about this airplane for years. Since well before it actually existed. Initially I was curious about this highly anticipated Light-Sport Aircraft. Over time my curiosity grew to a real fascination. By the time my hotel room phone rang, I was actively lusting over the idea of flying the sleekest little flying machine on the ramp in Tampa.
There was just one problem. It seems that while I was getting increasingly interested in the ICON, so were a few hundred thousand other adventure seekers. And ICON had openly advertised its willingness to provide demo flights during this one AOPA Regional Fly-In, which just happened to be taking place at Peter O. Knight Airport, where ICON has a flight training center.
“We’ve had a cancellation this morning. Would you like to take a demo flight in the ICON A5? You’ll need to be here in the next 20 minutes. We have another flight scheduled at that time.”
If you’ve ever seen a cartoon character leave the scene in a hurry, trailing a whirlwind of dust and swirling debris, that was exactly what I looked like running down five flights of stairs to beat the elevator to the ground floor. One Uber and 10 minutes later I was standing in ICON’s lobby at KTPF, where I signed a waiver in record time before meeting my demo pilot.
I’d have been happy with anyone. Really. If Pee Wee Herman was my demo pilot, I’d have still loaded into the airplane for a go at its controls. But it wasn’t Pee Wee Herman. Instead the Ops Manager, my new best friend Olivia, assigned my flight to a young woman named Genesah who just happens to be an old acquaintance.
Genesah and I had never flown together. Not once. Even though we’d both been based at the same airport earlier in her career, and we’d both belonged to the same flying club at one time, we’d managed to avoid being in the cockpit together up to that point.
That was about to change.
Genesah took me out to the airplane, briefed me on the flight, taught me how to get in (and yes, you need to be taught how to get in), then slithered into the cockpit beside my extra-large bulk. It was tight, but it was comfy. The seat is fixed, but the rudder pedals extend forward with the simple lift of a lever. At 6′ 1″ tall and a pleasantly plump 235 pounds, I was very much at home in the front office of this red and white amphibian.
The taxi out was short. Genesah had the controls and the radio well in hand. I was a passenger. A happy, excited, nearly euphoric passenger who couldn’t wait for the Bonanza on final to land so we could zip out to the center line, accelerate down that black ribbon of asphalt, and lift ourselves into the ether for an adventure I would hopefully enjoy to the utmost.
That’s exactly what happened, too.
Thanks to KTPF’s proximity to Tampa Bay, the journey to the watery practice area is short. Astoundingly short. Within only a few sweeps of the second hand on my watch we were rolling into steep turns, exploring the potential of the A5, and having the time of our lives.
Genesah demonstrated a water landing. A task that, like the takeoff, shows off the practicality of having an Angle of Attack indicator mounted high on the center of the instrument console. After she made a beautifully controlled landing in the bay, she took off again and turned over the controls. I put my seaplane training to work by plunking us in for the second splash down, then took to the skies again with ease.
My impression is that the ICON A5 is the motorcycle of the skies. And I say that as a long-time motorcycle enthusiast who has been riding with glee for more than 45 years. Yes, I started young.
The A5 is a hoot. It’s fun. It’s comfortable. It’s easy to fly, fun to explore in, a pleasure to put down on water or land, and solidly on my calendar to fly again. I like it. I like it a lot.
Which only goes to prove a simple adage that we should all commit ourselves to: Go to every aviation event you can fit into your life. You just never know what’s going to happen. It’s at least possible that you’ll be on the receiving end of an invitation to fly the airplane of your dreams.
And if that should happen to you one day, might I respectfully suggest say “Yes” as quickly and emphatically as possible. Then get your butt to the airport. They’re waiting for you.