Today's Aerial Innovation News: Spin-Resistant Flying Boat

IconWater.jpgOver the years I've written several times about the Icon A5 "amphibious airplane," or what I like to think of as a personal-scale flying boat. Back in 2009 I officially put it on my Christmas Wish List, but did anyone listen? There's always next year -- and, to be fair, the plane's not yet actually on the market.

This week Jason Paur of Wired had a very nice item about the next step in Icon's evolution. This is its certification as a "spin-resistant" aircraft, one built to minimize (though not absolutely eliminate) the chance of the pilot getting into the very perilous flight condition known as a "stall-spin."

Paur does a great job of explaining exactly how stalls and spins develop; why they are so dangerous; and what it took for Icon to win certification as "spin-resistant." The kind of airplane that I have owned and flown since 2000, the Cirrus SR20 and SR22, had many more safeguards against stall-spins than most previous models, but the Icon is the first to be certified as "spin-resistant." Lots more background, linkage, and explanation at Wired.

That same item includes a video that does the clearest job I've seen  showing what a stall-spin looks like. The first part of the video shows how it looks from outside the plane. This is obviously a training exercise, and a trail plane captures the other plane's intentional spin and recovery. The last 30 seconds show how a spin looks from inside the cockpit. The wailing you hear is the "stall warning" horn going off, as the pilot keeps pulling the plane's nose up and increases the "angle of attack" beyond what will keep the plane flying. When it stops flying, the plane starts falling out of the sky, with a spinning rotation to the left. You'll quickly see why spins are so dangerous if they happen close to the ground, as when a pilot mishandles an approach to landing (usually on the "base to final" turn, as explained here).

Over the years I've done a number of these practice spin-recovery drills, on the theory that familiarity with unusual situations makes you safer in normal conditions. You do it in specially spin-certified planes; you climb many thousands of feet above ground level for a margin of safety; and often you're required to be wearing a parachute just in case. I don't enjoy this sort of "unusual attitude" flying, but I'm glad to know what a spin and recovery feel like -- as an extra incentive to stay out of these circumstances in normal flying. Glad that Icon has won this new distinction.

One more "flying boat" shot before I go:


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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