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Foldable sports plane gives Everyman a chance at crashing

Turning jet-setters into jet-getters?

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If what's keeping you from buying your own personal ultralight aircraft is lack of garage space and a USB plug on the plane's dash for your iPod — you are certainly in luck.

Los Angeles startup ICON Aircraft this week unveiled its A5 ultralight "sport plane," which the company hopes will open a new market made up of amateur pilots zipping around the skies with style.

Drawing of A5 aircraft in flight

Concept art — what, no reflective black effect?

Yes, you see, in 2004 the US Federal Aviation Administration created a new classification of Sport Pilot licenses that only requires 20 hours of in-flight training, no medical check, and half the cost of a traditional private pilot's license.

With the piloting bar set to an unprecedented low (not seen since they let a couple of bicycle repairmen tool around Kitty Hawk, North Carolina) companies such as ICON are looking to get rich.

Drawing of A5 aircraft parked in lake next to land. In foreground is man and boy standing in water, who appear to be fishing.

"Son, let me tell you something: Fuck hiking."

ICON focuses on special touches that are time-tested to appeal to the mass market — namely looking good and not killing the operator.

The two-seater A5 includes an "intuitive," sports car-like cockpit with a MP3 player port, runs on both auto and aviation gasoline, and sports retractable wings that make the plane fit snugly in a large garage.

It's also got safety kit such as a propeller guard and a whole-airframe parachute for those times when finding a landing strip is too damn inconvenient.

Drawing of A5 plane in flight over countryside with airframe parachute open and attached to the plane.

Should have saved up for the gas

Drawing of A5 plane with wings folded.

Fold@Home

ICON CEO Kirk Hawkings says the aircraft brings the "freedom, fun and adventure back into aviation." [Note: apparently at some point, piloting a regular personal aircraft has become — yawn — way too boring.]

The plane starts at $139,000 with initial models scheduled to be delivered in late 2010.

That's assuming things go well when the full-scale prototype begins flight tests this summer. Look to the sky — if you see a ball of screaming death and fire plummeting from above you'll know it's time to seek a refund on the required $5,000 deposit.

There's more about the plane at Popular Mechanics including a video of its unveiling. (Warning: Audience comments about the plane such as "This would be perfect for the Bahamas," will make you extremely bitter if you are going home to a studio apartment and peanut butter sandwich dinner.) ®

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