Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sexy, but...

Just read a couple news articles on the launch of the new ICON amphibious aircraft. It's a good-looking plane, with nice lines and clearly a lot of auto-type industrial design having gone in to it. I just wonder if they remembered the "plane" part.

Once you get past the sexy looks, the proposed specs don't look so attractive. First, all the numbers are estimated, so should be taken with a grain of salt. Compared against the closest competitor, the Czech Aircraft Mermaid, it's about the same speed (120 mph vs. 118), both of which are slow relative to other light-sport aircraft, which can cruise at 135-140mph. That seems to be the price of the amphib.

At $140k, it's fairly pricey relative to competitors at $85-110k, and 420 lbs of load makes it effectively a one-seater, since you can't carry 2 180lb adults and reasonable fuel. The Mermaid has a load of 505 lbs, and non-amphibs are usually good for 600lbs.

The dash is a triumph of design for non-pilots. To the uninitiated, I suppose it looks futuristic but comforting in a sports-car way. To a pilot/owner, it looks like a bunch of useless plastic taking up perfectly good panel space that will have to be ripped out at the first avionics upgrade. Speaking of which, if I'm going to pay top dollar for an aircraft, it should come with top-of-the-line avionics, and not gussied-up steam gauges. Important items such as an audio panel, transponder and 2nd comm radio are absent and have no obvious home. I can only hope that the interior is a mock-up and that sanity will prevail once they start rolling down the production line.

In short, I won't be lining up to buy one, but then again I already have a plane. The styling and the automatic swing wings are attractive, and I have always liked the amphib's ability to use any water area as a runway. But ultimately the ICON seems overpriced for what you're getting.

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