Today is the plane’s first flight. Aeronautical calculations, computer simulations, and wind tunnel tests have been performed, of course. And yet … every maiden flight is a dance with death. If all that math was foolproof, after all, no one would need test pilots. At 6:30 am, the winds are calm. Jon Karkow pulls a parachute over his shoulders, hugs his girlfriend—a long embrace with whispers exchanged—and clambers into the cockpit; the A5 is remarkably stable on the water for something with a knife-edged underside. The tech crew chief closes the cockpit and gives the carbon-fiber skin a few pats; Karkow fires up the propeller and taxis the A5 out onto the lake.
Back on the beach, a square-jawed guy with closely cropped hair watches, frowning, his arms crossed. Kirk Hawkins started Icon Aircraft, and he has spent the past five years designing and building the A5. It’s a plane like no other—the wings fold at the push of a button, making it easy to store and trailer. The side windows pop out so pilots can feel the wind, and the cockpit has just a few gauges. Meant to evoke something sporty, like a jet ski, instead of a lumbering Cessna or a tough-to-fly experimental kludge, the plane is supposed to let anyone who can afford the $139,000 price tag become a barnstormer. In a few weeks, a prototype will be on display at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin—mecca for air enthusiasts. If the A5 flies today, and flies well, it could create a new market for airplanes.