Tampa, Florida (CNN) — When it comes to flying an airplane, I have zero experience.
In fact, I haven’t even considered trying.
However, as we cruise Florida’s Tampa Bay on a gorgeous November morning, I eagerly take over the controls of the ICON A5, a two-seater amphibious aircraft that looks like a sports car, handles like a motorcycle water and is so intuitive, the company says that even a novice can learn to fly it in less than 30 hours.
At 23 feet long and weighing 1,510 pounds, it is known as a light sport seaplane.
Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying about whether the aircraft will react unpredictably, there’s nothing else like it on the market.
Now that I’m in control, my whole body tenses up for five minutes. Am I really ready to pilot this shiny new machine by myself? I’m not entirely sure.
However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 was built specifically for people like me and was designed to drive like a car.
Plus, having Icon CEO and founder Kirk Hawkins right next to me in the booth doesn’t hurt either. You can take over the controls at any time.
So far so good.
We glide smoothly through the air at about 1,000 feet and I’m comfortable enough to take in the sights. Fort De Soto’s charming park does not disappoint.
Scribbles of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it should be in the Caribbean.
The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its series of long-span cables, is equally impressive.
The adrenaline continues to rise. And as most surreal experiences go, it just keeps getting better.
For starters, there’s another A5 ICON to my left, which is exciting in itself. We are flying in formation, and my job is to mimic their movements. You’d think this would be intimidating, but it’s not.
It’s just plain fun.
That’s music to Hawkins’ ears. He is the brains behind this new plane, an idea that has been 10 years in the making.
As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and Stanford Business School graduate, he has focused most of his adult life on 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 the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.
So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like what you see in your car. There are just a few indicators that I don’t recognize.
“It’s the Apple approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it and make it intuitive, easy and cool.”
He’s so sure people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he just opened a flight training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.
Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it’s a place where both beauty and sailboats abound.
The company’s other training center is located in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.
Wide eyes and open windows
At 9 am, it’s time for a short stop in the water.
Hawkins takes over the controls. I’ve been too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots get to try very often) and interviewing Hawkins to even think about learning how to do a water landing myself. It’s something Hawkins tells me most people can master in about 30 minutes.
A few negative G’s and 360 degree turns later and it becomes a fun roller coaster in the sky. Also, it’s an open air flight, so I stretch my arms every now and then. Just because I can.
A few hundred feet above the water, it’s easy to see a surfer waving to us, a flock of pelicans and even rats.
“We’re going to stop here and stop and go out for a second,” he says.
Surely he’s joking, right? But after the plane lands in the water, the seat belt is removed and I realize that no.
A few seconds later, the roof comes off and we climb onto the wings, which could easily double as a trampoline. Suddenly this feels less like a plane ride and more like I’m on a boat sunbathing.
Everything is imbued with a mesmerizing golden hue. I can imagine having a picnic on the nearby beach. Or hop on a plane somewhere for a remote weekend camping trip.
Since the plane has a range of about 430 miles on a full tank, it’s designed for short getaways.
“It’s all about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you’ll never be the same. You’ll look at the sky differently, you’ll look at the planet differently.”
Designed for easy flying
“The primary motor skills for operating an airplane are pretty easy,” Hawkins tells me. “We have people landing on their own with an instructor on the first day, within 30 minutes.”
That said, they have painstakingly taken the time to design it for safety. The purpose of the anti-spin fuze feature is so that if the pilot makes a mistake, the aircraft does not lose control.
As a backup, there is a full airplane parachute.
“The roll resistance feature is very important because it is the first aircraft that the FAA has deemed roll resistant,” says Chris Dupin, flight instructor and US Air Force officer. “A significant number of general aviation fatalities are from loss-of-control accidents involving a spin not recovered from base to final spin.”
Also, there is the angle of attack indicator, something not normally seen on a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is happy (in green) or where it could stop (in red).
The pilot’s job is to keep the wing within the green or yellow section of the indicator. This is part of what makes water takeoffs and landings so easy to learn.
Becoming a barn
“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive – teach the feel of the flight first and the mains and structure later, not unlike how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author of “The Crash Detectives”.
“The world is facing a shortage of pilots, so the idea of teaching differently so that different learning styles can be accommodated could very well expand the pool of pilot candidates.”
On that note, about 40% of the people who have put down deposits for the ICON A5 are non-pilots, which means that this aircraft is attracting newbies to aviation.
After an hour and a half of flight time, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver you can do after you’ve mastered several water landings. It’s a bit trickier as it requires more precision and knowledge of crosswinds.
At this point, if I owned this plane, I would hook it up to a trailer, fold the wings up, take it home, and park it in the garage.
Take some time in the air
If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1,800 customers have made deposits.
For those not ready to shell out $207,000 for one, there’s the option of stopping by ICON’s training facility in Tampa or the Vacaville, California facility to fly the day.
The introductory sport flight class is 1.5 hours for $595. To get your sport pilot license you will need to spend more than 20 hours and the prices vary.
Sarah Sekula is a travel writer and video host based in Orlando. Follow their adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.