By now you have heard of Dr. Paul Moller and his sky car, a vehicle we covered in detail back in 2001. Moller dreams of putting thousands of his "Sky Cars" into the skies as air taxis that will whisk people door-to-door on trips of up to 900 miles at speeds up to 400 mph. As such, his idea is a potential competitor for both automakers and the airlines. His is not the only dream involving airplanes and the auto industry, however.
Icon Aircraft (Los Angeles, CA; www.iconaircraft.com) is taking advantage of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) new Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category for its A5 plane. It eases the requirements for both pilots and aircrafts, encourages new entrants to enter the market, and promotes new ways of building these craft. Steen Strand, Icon Aircraft's co-founder and COO, says, "The process is halfway between an experimental plane built without supervision and the certified classes where every little design change is followed in detail." That's because the LSA rules allow companies to take advantage of non-aviation certified vendors, with certification coming once the vehicle has been built and inspected. Icon is looking at a number of production options for the composite-bodied craft, including partnering with automotive composite suppliers to build the airframe to Icon's specifications under its supervision. "That way," he says, "we can get the engineering performance we need while taking advantage of some of the low- to mid-volume manufacturing techniques they are skilled in." Despite a projected selling price of $139,000, production costs must be kept reasonable, which means outsourcing will be an integral part of the process.
Icon also outsourced design of the A5. Though the initial layouts were done in-house by Art Center College of Design graduate Diego Morales under Strand's supervision (he has a degree in Product Design from Stanford University), progressed to concepts from BMW DesignWorks, and was completed at Nissan Design America (NDA). Randy Rodriguez-who won the design competition for the 370Z-drew the exterior. Because of its low top speed (LSA craft are limited to 130 mph), aerodynamic testing was limited to extensive CFD modeling by the engineering team-nearly all graduates of Scaled Composites, the company responsible for SpaceShipOne and the round-the-world Model 76 Voyager aircraft-and quarter-scale wind tunnel testing. That made it possible to add more visual character to the front end, but required close attention to the design of the seawings-the outriggers growing out of the lower cockpit sides that enhance performance on the water and facilitate entry into the cockpit-so they would straighten and smooth airflow along the fuselage.
NDA also designed the A5's interior, whose package size is based on another diminutive vehicle-the SMART car-and has a decided automotive look. "We wanted to make it intuitive, easy to use, and very safe for new pilots," says Strand. That's why Icon uses a minimum of analog gauges in the A5, though it has one gauge-angle of attack-not found in most airplanes. "Angle of attack is the way the military trains its pilot," says Strand, "and research says it is the safest way to fly."