Now for Some Good News: The Icon Spin-Resistance Test

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[Please see update below.] A few years ago I said, on the Atlantic's web site, that all I wanted for Christmas was a flying boat. Now that you ask, I was thinking of the spiffy new amphibian Icon A5, then still in development in Los Angeles.

Sadly, no one pays attention to my dreams and wants. But I have buffered my sorrow on this front with (a)  the used Cirrus SR22 that I was able to buy on return in China, and in which I am due for some recurrent training after a long time on the road; and (b) news of Icon's continued progress toward going onto the market.

There's still time for someone to get my years-ago wishlist into Santa's hands and make something happen. In the meantime, here is video from this week, of the Icon passing an important airworthiness test. The FAA has approved The company is certifying the plane as "spin resistant," and the test video, apparently shot in the Mojave, does a very good job of explaining just what that means and why it matters.** [See update note below.]



The section beginning at time 1:45 gives you a very clear idea of what a stall and subsequent spin look like, and how the Icon behaves in stall/spin circumstances. To oversimplify: an airplane's wings (not its motor) stall when the plane is attempting to climb too steeply*. This kind of "stall" is crudely comparable to your inability to keep climbing a steep hill with a bicycle still in its highest gear. Then the spin is sort of like the bicycle's tendency to fall over to one side when you can't keep it moving forward fast enough. You'll see the non-Icon airplane in this film, a Cessna 150, enter this kind of stall and, in its spin, essentially fall out of the sky. For more, see Wolfgang Langewiesche's classic Stick and Rudder ; sample spin-related excerpts are here.

The best way to learn is get some training yourself -- ten years ago, I went through several sessions of spin-recovery training, which I didn't enjoy but which gave the an idea of what a spin looked and felt like, so as to avoid ever getting into that circumstance in real life. Good to see an airplane whose design aids in that goal.
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* To be more precise, a wing stalls when its "angle of attack becomes too high for a given airspeed, weight, angle of bank, and so on.

** Update. The CEO of Icon, Kirk Hawkins, sends this clarification. The suggestion that this was an FAA certification was mine, not his or the company's:

Because the ICON A5 is an LSA [JF note: Light Sport Aircraft, a relatively recent official category for more experimental planes], it is NOT FAA certified. Instead, LSA's are self-certified to an industry consensus standard maintained by ASTM. [A testing organization.]  The ASTM standards require an LSA to be either "spin recoverable" or "spin resistant."  However, LSA is new enough that no current standard has been developed yet for ASTM on spin resistance.  Given this, ICON voluntarily chose to use the rigorous Part 23 certified standard for the design and evaluation for our spin resistance development program.  While we used the FAA standard as well as the same test regimen and even test pilots to verify the A5 met this standard - the FAA does NOT officially verify compliance or approve it in any way.  We as a company are simply legally liable for our self-certified claims.
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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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