Tampa, Florida (CNN) — When it comes to flying an airplane, I have zero experience.
In fact, I never considered trying it.
Nevertheless, as we fly over Tampa Bay, Florida, on a beautiful November morning, I enthusiastically take control of the ICON A5, a two-seat amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski, and is so intuitive that the company says even a beginner can learn to fly in less than 30 hours.
With a length of 23 feet and a weight of 1,510 pounds, it is known as a sea light sports aircraft.
Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying if the aircraft will react unpredictably, there is nothing quite like it on the market.
Now that I’m in control, my whole body tenses up for five minutes. Am I really ready to drive this shiny new machine all by myself? I’m not entirely sure.
However, I take comfort in that the A5 was built specifically for people like me and designed to drive like a car.
Plus, the fact that Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, sits beside me in the cockpit doesn’t hurt either. He can take control at any time.
So far, so good.
We glide smoothly through the air at about 300 meters, and I’m comfortable enough to take in the sights. The lovely Fort De Soto Park does not disappoint.
Twists of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it should be in the Caribbean.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its string of long cables, is equally impressive.
The adrenaline is still rushing. And as most surreal experiences go, it only gets better.
For starters, there’s another ICON A5 to my left, which is exciting in its own right. We are flying in formation, and my job is to mimic its movements. You would think this would be intimidating, but it isn’t.
It’s just fun.
That sounds like music to Hawkins’ ears. He is the mastermind behind this modern airplane, an idea that has been 10 years in the making.
A former Air Force F-16 pilot and a Stanford Business School graduate, he has spent most of his adult life making sport flying available to the masses.
“The idea for us was to create an airplane where the average human can go out and experience the world without having the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.
So it makes sense for the dashboard to look like what you see in your car. There are only a few meters that I do not recognize.
“It’s the Apple approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it and make it intuitive and easy and cool.”
He’s so sure people want to fly (and buy) the planes that he just opened a flight training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it is a place where beauty and sailboats abound.
The company’s other training center is located in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Big eyes and open windows
At 9:00 am, it is time for a short pit stop before landing on the water.
Hawkins takes over the controls. I’ve been too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots often attempt) and interviewing Hawkins to even consider doing a water landing myself. It’s something Hawkins told me that most people can master in about 30 minutes.
A few negative G’s and 360-degree turns later it becomes a fun roller coaster ride in the sky. Plus, it’s an open-air flight, so I fold my arms out occasionally. Just because it’s possible.
A few hundred meters above the water, you can easily see a boater waving at us, a flock of pelicans, and even stingrays.
“We’re going to stop here and stop and get off,” he says.
He’s definitely kidding, right? But after landing the plane on the water, he takes off his seat belt, and I realize he isn’t.
Seconds later, he pops open the roof, and we climb onto the wings, which could easily serve as diving boards. Suddenly this feels less like a plane trip and more like I’m sunbathing on a boat.
Everything is drenched in an enchanting golden hue. I can imagine picnicking on the nearby beach. Or take the plane somewhere for a remote weekend camping.
Since the aircraft has a range of approximately 430 miles on a full tank, it is made for short trips.
“This whole thing is about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you will never be the same again. You will look at the sky. Differently; you will look at the planet differently.”
Designed to make flying easy
“The primary motor skills for flying an airplane are pretty simple,” Hawkins tells me. “We let people land independently with an instructor within 30 minutes on their first day.”
That said, they have painstakingly taken the time to design it for safety. The purpose of the spin-resistant airframe feature is that if the pilot makes mistakes, the aircraft does not lose control.
As a backup, there is a complete aircraft parachute.
“The spin resistance function is a big deal as it is the first aircraft the FAA has deemed spin resistant,” said Chris Dupin, a flight instructor, and United States Air Force officer. “A significant number of fatalities in general aviation result from accidents involving loss of steering control, involving unrecovered spin on the base to the final turn.”
Plus, there’s the angle of attack indicator, something you don’t normally see in a light aircraft. It shows where the wing is happy (in green) or where it might stop (in red).
The pilot’s job is to keep the wing within the green or yellow portion of the gauge. This is part of what makes taking off and landing from water so easy to learn.
Become a barnstormer
“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive: teaching the sense of flying first and then the principles and structure, similar to how humans learn to drive a car,” said Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author of “The Crash Detectives. ”
“The world is facing a shortage of pilots, so teaching differently to accommodate different learning styles could expand the pool of pilot candidates.”
In that regard, about 40% of the people who have deposited money for the ICON A5 are not pilots, which means that this aircraft attracts novices to aviation.
After an hour and a half of flying, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver you can perform after you’ve mastered several water landings. It’s a bit trickier as it requires more precision and knowledge about crosswinds.
Now if I had this plane, I’d hook it up to a trailer, fold the wings, drive home, and park it in the garage.
Get some airtime
If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1,800 customers have made deposits.
For those not ready to spend $207,000 to buy one, there is the option to stop at ICON’s training facility in Tampa, or the facility in Vacaville, California, to fly for a day.
The Sport Flying Introductory Lesson is 1.5 hours for $595. To get your Sport Pilot license,, you must spend more than 20 hours,, and prices vary.