Icon A-5 , A unicorn going extinct in spite of glowing ‘journalist’ reports?


If you came here to read the article listed in the title, sorry, after several days of it being up, I have elected to take it down. I got a phone call this morning for a very well known person in experimental aviation, even though they liked the message, they convinced me that the drama caused by the story wasn’t going to do much to fix the issues illustrated in the story, but it would likely disrupt things that are important to me right now, which are finishing the Western builders tour and having a good year at Oshkosh and staying focused on assisting my siblings in the care of my parents. I have said my 2 cents, some else can take a turn at being an industry critic now.




All the stuff I write on my website is just directed to people who might be called traditional homebuilders, the learn, build and fly people. The only two points I wanted to make in the Icon/unicorn story come down to this:


Aviation ‘journalism’ doesn’t always have the ethics we expect. A lot of it is really just press releases, and there are factors going on that most people new to homebuilding are not yet aware of. I just want homebuilders to understand that they really need to consider these factors. I am pretty sure none of my regular readers nor customers is among the 1,850 people who have a deposit on an Icon A5, but many of them will buy components for their homebuilt or a kit, based on published ‘reviews’ of those products. Many of the same writers and publications will produce the reviews they will read, and builders should be aware of the limitations of the information they will get.


Second, I wanted my readers, who are mostly guys who are never going to buy a $200K Cessna 162 or a $239K Icon, or any of the other planes of that category, to stop being concerned about what happens to those companies. Many of the articles about them are written as if the future of light aviation is hanging in the balance of their success. If a new guy reads enough of this stuff, each of their failures brings questions about the health of the small plane industry. Alternatively, I want the new homebuilders to understand that the vast majority of new light planes in the last 20 years are homebuilts, Homebuilts are doing great, and if you are a homebuilder, either by choice or economics, you are already in the successful part of the industry. I want them to know that their personal adventures in flight are determined by what they will build with their own hands, and they have nothing to do with commercial ventures, good nor bad.


A positive note about Homebuilding: It is easy to understand why Icon buyers wanted the planes. Flying off water is a beautiful thing, and it takes little imagination to picture some of the best flying one could ever do, hours you would treasure forever. The 1850 people who put down deposits obviously were motivated by ideas like that. If the company doesn’t pull off an industrial miracle, these buyers will likely never have their dreams become reality.


Conversely, nearly any homebuilder reading this, who had the same dreams, can decide to make them real, and isn’t dependent on the success nor failure of an over extended company. A homebuilder mostly just counts on himself. He can go buy a set of Volmer plans or any number of planes on floats, and work with his own mind and hands to have the experience. It may not have the special interior, but it isn’t going to have the 40 page agreement nor the 4 bedroom house price tag. The message is very simple: People who are willing to learn and get their hands dirty can make their own dreams come true, and people who are not willing to do these things will remain dependent on others.


Anyone who thinks the interior or glass cockpit, or composite construction is essential, get a look at the following link: It is a fantastic video of French kite boarding wonder Pauline Valesa, waterskiing behind a Zenith 701 on floats in one of the most beautiful settings in the world, the reefs off New Caledonia on the east side of the Coral Sea. Watch the video and tell me that you wouldn’t want to be there yourself.





18 Replies to “Icon A-5 , A unicorn going extinct in spite of glowing ‘journalist’ reports?”

  1. I’ve been an aviation journalist and know many. Some of your rants are (sadly) right on, some are laughably naive. But consider that in homebuilt aviation, what is for sale is not just the product but also the reputation of the vendor. When you take pot shots at others, correct or not, and call it “entertainment,” you jeopardize your own credibility and your products’. Man up! “He who throws mud only loses ground.” (And the correct word is complimentary, not complementary)

    1. Ed,
      Among aviation writers, and people who know planes, you are thought of as credible and knowledgeable. Do me the honor of explaining which parts are right on and which parts you think are ‘laughably naïve,’ and why. Take the opportunity to make readers better informed than I did. And you can call your comments ‘entertainment’ if you like so no one with cubic yards of investor money sends you a lawyer letter either.

      I have worked in experimental aviation for 27 years. Parts that I have built with my own hands are now flying on about 400 homebuilts. The reputation of my products and their values should be judged strictly on their reliably, performance and value. I don’t agree with reputations being made or broken in aviation based on opinions people express or what people say they will do, or how they look, I want it just based on did they build what they said they were going to, and did it work to benefit any builder.

      I used to think of myself as an aviation writer also. I was on the EAA publications masthead for years, and I have had articles published in many on the places I comment on. I am a firm believer that nothing gets better if people don’t talk about it. This applies to my work also, and that is why I am honestly looking forward to a reply from you to tell me your specific thoughts.

      PS, I can’t spell nor edit, I have a brain injury. Also my nephew who is 20’s gave me heads up that I will share, he said “When a guy with gray hair uses phrases like “Man Up” or “Dude” it just makes him look really old.” He wasn’t being mean, I changed some of my writing vocabulary after he said it. Come by my booth at Oshkosh, I will buy you a coffee or a beer, and I will listen while you tell me what I am yet to understand. love, William

      1. William –

        Thank you for the kind words about my reputation.

        I think you’re right on talking about aviation journalism in general these days. Personally, I find few writers published today can gather information, discern the significant parts, convey those accurately, add perspective and judgement and make it fun to read. Some writers’ articles I read only as far as the byline. There is only one aviation magazine that I read cover to cover, but even there, a recent issue had one article that was acutely inaccurate. Then again, I don’t read all the publications, so I may be slighting some worthy individuals by omission.

        I disagree with the grouping of “never-was/investment scam/flop” into one category. I don’t think that the SkyCatcher was a flop, my opinion is that new bean-counter at Cessna didn’t want to be in that business; I don’t know the details of the SwiftFury, but apparently that failed because of a Piper bankruptcy, not necessarily the airplane’s fault; and I don’t think that the BD-5 was conceived as a scam, although it clearly was not a business success.

        I only know of one occurrence that I think was a deliberate scam, and that was when Direct To was selling Chelton equipment. A friend lost money in that deal, and I heard that that fraud was not prosecuted because those who lost money could afford the loss.

        I used to write for an aviation magazine that was #2 in terms of US newsstand sales. Yes, my expenses were covered when I went on a trip to write an article. But even as a senior writer, at the top of their pay scale, I probably made at most $15 / hour writing articles, after they paid expenses. I made lots more than that at my day job. Getting your expenses paid is not a perk, and I strongly disagree with you on that point. And I recall, years ago, talking to one excellent writer who had gone inactive because the effort was inadequately compensated. Certainly these days, print journalism is a tough business proposition, and not just in aviation.

        Decades ago, I read that some writers had been given airplanes for a week or so to try them out, and that the privilege was abused. But in the time I have been an active writer, I have never been offered nor ever even heard of anyone being offered improper inducements to write a favorable story.

        I was fortunate that I never worked for an editor who told me what to write or to whitewash anything. (I quit writing for one magazine when the then-editor received a letter praising my cover story and she removed my name before publishing the letter). One manufacturer excoriated me for not giving glowing reviews to their airplane, but another manufacturer and I remained friends after I wrote a similar criticism of their airplane. (Tragically, both companies subsequently suffered fatal accidents with company pilots).

        And to the degree that many companies in the homebuilt market rise and fall with the skills, knowledge, values and integrity of their principal, I stand by my statement that the reputation of the principal is as important as the product. We may have to disagree on that point.

        I’ve never flown behind one of your engines. Maybe we can remedy that some time. My journalism slogan is no whitewashes, no hatchet jobs.

        Keep putting the customer first,


        PS. Man up, dude!

        PPS. Yes, I am old.

      2. Ed,
        Thanks for giving readers another perspective. If they are going to devote a large chunk of years of their savings and time to homebuilding, they deserve to understand the industry that controls the setting in which their building and flying will take place.

        My point on expenses is not about the magazines covering them, it was about the manufacturers picking up the writers expenses. On smaller publications, having a factory tell a writer ‘we got you a room at the holiday inn’ isn’t going to buy a review, but a large north American distributor of a popular product picks up the expenses of journalists headed a posh Florida resort every year as long as every story is favorable, including no one revealing their very elaborate rewards program. I have personally seen aviation writers get thousands of dollars of free avionics to write positive reviews, so it does happen.

        A lot of the general public has a poor opinion of national journalism, but I don’t think it is that bad. My cousin is the White House bureau chief for a major news organization, my wife was an editor for the times. TV editorial news colors the public perspective, but national print writers are better than people give them credit for. My issue here is that what passes for ‘journalism’ in our industry, isn’t always, but can be as bad as anything the public has ever heard about journalists.

        See you at Oshkosh, dude. -ww.

    2. My two cents worth, companies do not buy big expensive advertisement spaces in magazines that give them negative reviews. I am guessing that there is a bit of editorial bias towards positive reviews in that case, at least until the project tanks and there are no more advertising dollars flowing in from them. Some would call that a pessimistic view, I think of it as the modern reality of our press.

  2. Reputations of vendors. We’re going to consider that now, from the inside.
    Fact is, and I know as third generation Boeing (as well as other facets in aviation) AND being one of the chief engineers on the 747-8 both Passenger and Freighter; and also being at Paine Field the day that RA001 (the first 747 in history) flew for the first time, all that William points out is 100% true. He can call it comedy but it is both solid perspective and very pertinent.
    Wichita (my birth city) is now an aviation shell of the powerhouse it once was. The Air capitol of the World is now best known as Pizza Hut #1. Renton is also a shell as well. Everett is now being taken slooowly to it’s knees. Any idea on the crap that came out of China on the 737? I do. How about the 787 fiasco? I do.
    Boeing corporate moved to Chicago. Hmmm…Why? Maybe they decided the view from the Board room in Washington State needed changing? When Cessna sold out to the single engine trainer build to the Chinese that was pretty much the end of the line for the common business person buying a safe trainer for American aviation. What has happened is aviation Corporate is become evil, and in the process damned any of us who might had hope.
    Have you ever met Dwane Wallace in person? I have at Augusta airport where we both had our Cessna’s camped. Dwane flew an impeccable 190, yet he was down to earth enough chat all afternoon with a lowly B model 150 owner pilot with still wet ink on his A&P like myself.
    You ever met and talked with pilots like Bill Lear, Burt and Dick Rutan as well as John Roncz and Jeana Yeager while ON the Starship One R&D site? I have. How about Bob Hoover? You know, William is too humble to ever say this but I can.. William is in the same camp as these aviation giants. Why so? Because I have spoken with him in person away form other folks, listened to his teaching at Arlington E.A.A. and one just can’t hide the fact that he is a true gentleman and has the love of others and aviation deep in his blood. He is intelligent, not only educated. His certifications and experience were earned, not bought! The scars on his hands and on his heart proved to me what is happening in aviation are his right to share and to be taken seriously. This is what true aviators the world over are about, not some income reports made to the stockholders or wild toga parties by lying CEO’s! No turboprop driven jig built that the engine alone cost ten times what a factory worker earns in a years labor belongs on the cover of any E.A.A. publication!

    Something very bad changed in the American ideal in Corporate in the 1980’s. I happen to believe the starting of the unwind was the ERISA being passed and finally being sold lock stock and barrel to the blue collar. I call it “the time when the deal was called off”. The deal was when I was growing up in aviation we stayed loyal to our company, worked our asses off for whatever hours it took to get the impossible done, and if we survived it, after 30 or so years the company made sure we were not thrown out like trash. Mahogany row made a good salary but not an obscene one. We pulled together and we were American’s! NO ONE on Earth could do it better and we knew it! Not true now…but the grunt like myself on the factory floor was not who called off the deal!!
    William is pointing out, and rightfully so, that it is a duty of the aviation Media to report on how these “wonderful changes” are not only Corporate or product events, but to inform on how the greed now runs very deep on Mahogany Row! If you can see I’m not a happy camper it is because I am haunted by the faces of all those I knew at Boeing Wichita and other factories who had given incredible service and intellect as well as generations of sweat under a hot tin factory, and then be rewarded by LOOSING EVERY HOPE~~ !
    Whats the deal with E.A.A. and AOPA now? The same shit! The foundations of General Aviation in America are being systematically being eroded. Where does the aviation Media stand on this? How can the new or even experienced Pilot or Mechanic ever know without the facts unless reported? Where will the new aviation person with real dreams of flight go if the truth is not reported from the Media?
    As an A&P and Pilot of over 3 decades it saddened me deeply when I witnessed the Spar rivet job sign off on Doc (the restored B-29) where my Great Aunt’s Ann Critendens’ name was there for all to see when she the same job as “Rosie the Riveter”. At the time I was one of the Engineers on the ABL (Airborne Laser) conversion, inside what ended up being the last Boeing Wichita factory. Aunt Ann was still alive on that day and I called her in Liberal Kansas where she lived and gave her that bit of historical news. She relived the sacrifice of so many with me and wept quietly from the memories of that time. We should remember that the war was won with blood, sweat, and tears! And now the same factories that helped save the World from Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany longer exist!!!
    Consider this…NOT ONE factory in Wichita has the original name on the sign out front. Beech is systematically being bought piece-meal by Chinese companies. Lear is owned by a Canadian snowmobile company. Boeing is now not present AT ALL in the city!! An idiot run Canadian banking consortium now owns what is left there. Cessna is what? Chinese still? No one knows.. they are floundering around in the muck now. Clyde is no doubt rolling in his grave. Probably not long before Cessna is also history. It is imperative E.A.A. is not lost down the same trail of
    If someone told me this would be the future of Wichita’s factories on my first day at Learjet on April 9,1975 I would have told them they were either high on serious drugs, not a Patriotic American, or totally out of their minds! Guess what happened to the generations of my fellow Wichita citizens pensions and futures?

    Vern Lehman

  3. I really liked the Icon A-5 as a concept, but when the suggested prices were announced, it was sadly obvious this was another ‘unicorn”. At a time in which too many American workers are earning less than they did 30 years ago (in actual buying power), trying to “revitalize” by selling airplanes that no middle class person can afford is not going to do any good. Dealing in used older aircraft, or building your own airplane, will be the only ways that the average A,erican can acquire his own aircraft. As you have pointed out previously, if the entry price to the arena of private recreational aviation could be lowered perhaps 10-15%, certainly at 20%, the number of people who could participate would probably more than double. But then the high-priced projects never were really intended for us…..we should stay outside the fence but be sure to buy tickets to all the air shows. With all the past successful light amphibians that have existed – Republic Seabee, Spencer Air Car, Osprey, etc., surely there must be someone who could bring a real light amphibian, or any other type of recreational aircraft, to the market under circumstances in which an average builder could have an airplane of his own. Or have we simply forgotten about affordability – or perhaps we no longer care. It’s just sad…..

  4. When the story of the Purchase Agreement hit the press I took the time to read through it and I new that the A5 was a dead duck. How much did that company spend on a lawyer(s) to write that document up in order to “Protect the Brand” ? I was surprised it did not include a clause that you could not make any public comment on your aircraft without prior permission of Icon. What was notable was that there did not seem to be much negative press from the established publications over the implications of that agreement and its impact on the companies future.

  5. LOL LOL I love your story. Behind all humor is an element of truth. I really hope that the A5 is a success, for a lot of reasons. At Oshkosh I will drop by your booth and listen in, for sure the discussions will be fun and lively.

    P.S. I miss the old UL market of fat ultralights and small experimental aircraft.

  6. Though I agree that there are many industries that hawk bogus components to aerospace world, ICON is not one of them. I liked your story, but I agree, one should not lump all aviation efforts in to one scammer category, thats not fair to those that try, ICON is a very forward thinking innovative project that is spearheaded by some of the best inventive minds in GA today. I personally know several of them.

    Some folks just don’t know any better, and some are clearly crooks. Also, many potential customers don’t see a disconnect in value vs cost. If a 20K C-120 suits their needs, they will never be in the market for an A5. Having owned a 120 (love them), I also hope to own an A5 someday, albeit, probably used.

    To fly a 20K Cessna 120 (I have had a few of them) is fun and inexpensive. However, for 239K (or whatever the price is) you can experience what 60M in engineering nets, which is actually, an amazing airplane. I never flew it, but another friend was the flight test DER at ICON, and he said it is simply the most fun he has ever had in a small plane and that it does exactly what it was meant to do, which is put a smile on your face.

    Folks, in 2016, this is simply what it costs to engineer, and produce an airplane, and I think they succeeded where most don’t have the stomach to venture, anyone reading this ever worked on a certified program? Even a modern STC? Not for the faint of heart, I assure you.

    I have friends that have been at ICON since day 1, and a very good friend was the aerodynamicist, and I can tell you they have worked their rear ends off to accomplish what they set out to do. Approving a spin resistant, transportable sea plane was no easy task.

    Unfortunately in today’s economy, it simply takes a ton of money to do it. The author makes reference to a C120 or 140, simply not the same task as ICON was faced with. The fact that it was composite, glass panel, etc, are really not that big of a deal in comparison.

    Can I stand back and say that I could armchair quarterback that program any better? Absolutely not. How about another quotable quote? “Never judge a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes”. In this case, an airplane company. Most have no idea of the hell they went through to get this done.

    So, several ways to look at this. If one were given 60M (I have no idea of the investment, I am simply reciting the number that has been in the thread) you anyone do any better? I doubt it, I know some of the staff at ICON, and I can tell you, they are the best at what they do.

    The cost of the ICON in todays dollars is 119,000 per seat. Thats almost half of a Cessna 400TTX (I worked on the Columbia 400 project myself) which is over 800K today. Its almost the same amount of composite airframe, yet it was designed almost 20 years ago. At that price, the 400 should be 476,000, but its not. Yes, its 200+KTS, but it cant land on water, and you cant trailer it home at the end of the day. This costs real money to develop and get FAA approved. I could make comparative analyses all day. But if thats not your bag, it may not seem like a good deal to you, again, cost, vs value.

    All I can do for ICON is give them a big thumbs up for trying, I know they are trying, and I hope they ultimately succeed and I believe they will.

    I think they have a great product and wish any honest aviation endeavor the best of wishes. I hope to fly one someday to experience an ICON for myself.


    1. Mike,

      Everyone is allowed to like the planes they wish, and believe in what they want to. The center point of the article was that I didn’t think there is much intelligent critical reporting on aviation stuff. And I am allowed to think that also. You missed the point on the 120/140s that was not part of the discussion of Icon at all, it was pointing out that Cessna had treated their American workforce as partners in production in the 1940s, and they dropped them for Chinese workers on the 162 and found out you get what you pay for on quality control.

      1. William,

        I liked your article, I think for the most part, you are spot on. My only disagreement was not to lump the hard working folks at ICON, with some of the doomed projects of the past. Many of these projects are trail blazers, sadly, some don’t survive. I wish anyone interested in bringing new products to market the best of luck, yourself included.

    2. If the design needs and regulatory environment in the US today require the expenditure of this kind of money, then recreational general aviation is doomed, and that will eventually snag many people with the money to buy any Icon A5s produced. Here’s the thing – general aviation, due to regulations, requires an extensive support system of A&P mechanics, AIs, FBOs, aircraft repair shops, engine shops, propeller shops, electronic shops, etc. The current fleet in general aviation is largely composed of aging older aircraft produced during the “golden age” of post-war to 1970-80 general aviation activity. Many of these airplanes are still in fine condition, but every year ;pilots lose their licenses to age or medical issues, and the costs of the inspections and mandated maintenance also means many planes are parted out to get the most money, and those parts support the existing fleet. But most new production aircraft these days are way beyond the ability of the average US worker to afford new, and even parts and engines are now very expensive for the average potential aircraft buyer. As the size of the fleet decreases, gradually the support network will begin to degrade. FBOs, A&Ps, AIs, the various shops to repair components – all these will at some point begin to disappear. When they do, when you have to ferry an airplane 500-1000 miles just to have a radio worked on, or God forbid, an AD done, then what? The only way to preserve the current nature of recreational general aviation is to keep the active fleet large enough to support the infrastructure. And that means keeping aircraft affordable for the masses who will support aviation. If $250,000 airplanes are what you say are necessary to cover costs, when the average American worker earns about $36,000 a year, then the people flying their own airplanes now are about it…..

  7. William, I admit my comments seem a bit extreme vis a vis the health of the general aviation industry, but I should have made clear my thoughts were about those who have certificated aircraft, NOT homebuilts. I worked in military logistics for 25 years, for LTV and Lockheed-Martin. It concerns me that those who feel they cannot build their own airplanes will be eased out of this wonderful activity. For homebuilders, there is no down side – fewer active aircraft means more open skies, easier hangar rents, etc. Homebuilders can use non-certificated parts, instruments, engines, etc, and thus have a lower cost and more available supply of support than the certificated crowd. And building your own engine is the icing on the cake, as engines from commercial sources become much more expensive. And when you can overhaul your own engine from parts available in the non-aviation world (Corvair performance shops and regular auto-supply stores), you bypass the greatest expenses of the certified aviation world. So your latest comments are bang-on and deserve to be heard as widely as possible, including the C-suite at EAA….. This has been a great thread with many thoughtful comments.

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