Production Update, Autumn 2012
The entire ICON team is focused almost exclusively on starting production of the A5. ICON remains on schedule to receive the first production article, a horizontal tail, by year’s end. The remaining parts of the first production aircraft will arrive over the following months, and the first aircraft will be completed next summer. The first four airframes will participate in a rigorous testing program that includes ASTM compliance testing, and two of the four will be used for structural tests.
Production Data Releases
The release of production data to ICON’s composite supplier, Cirrus Aircraft, is a major milestone on the path toward receiving production articles. There will be four data releases based on the different areas of the aircraft. The data release for the horizontal tail (including elevator) occurred first and will be followed by the wings and fuselage. Below is an inside look at the last several months of work that went into the data releases, the first of which occurred on 28 September.
Engineering and Flight Testing
In June, the entire engineering and production team met for three days for a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), a complete review of all 16 of the A5’s systems, from environmental control to wingfold. This was a major developmental milestone that involved extensive system review by the entire development team to allow the A5 to transition into detailed component-design phases for production.
|ICON’s development team completing PDR|
The A5 has now completed its aerodynamic development and logged more than 600 test flights to date, including over 200 hours in spin testing alone. The results are a predictable and superb-handling aircraft that will also be the first conventional production aircraft in history to meet the full FAR Part 23 standard for spin resistance. With this extraordinary safety milestone accomplished and aerodynamic development concluded, the proof of concept (POC) aircraft transitioned into the final stages of user testing and verification with a particular emphasis on customer usability on and near the water.
|The A5 in real-world, user-testing scenarios to confirm stability and ease of use for on-water operations|
User testing is intended to verify all aspects of the user experience down to the smallest detail. Examples include a wide range of use cases and features, such as where to place handholds to ease ingress and egress from the water, where to place tie-downs, and assessing ease of docking and beaching the aircraft.
User testing also included taxiing the A5 through sizeable boat wakes to assess how the aircraft responds in challenging, real-world conditions that users might experience on a busy Saturday at the local lake (photos below). This level of comprehensive testing reflects ICON’s mission to deliver an aircraft that consistently exceeds the expectations of everyone who interacts with it.
|The A5 POC aircraft being intentionally taxied through boat wakes to confirm performance in challenging scenarios|
ICON is now performing structural tests to verify the strength of components before releasing data to start production of parts. Below is an example of one such structure test (of the elevator). There is a rigorous regimen of strength verification testing in the coming weeks and months, including drop tests for the landing gear.
|Bags of “shot” (weight) being placed on the elevator to verify structural strength|
The final data release requires that all industrial design be finalized, both inside and outside the A5. ICON’s design team leveraged the best practices from the automotive industry to verify production surfaces from both engineering and aesthetic perspectives. Prior to releasing data for tooling, ICON completed full-scale clay models of both the interior and exterior, which allows designers and engineers to review the forms in three dimensions at a human scale. This process is used for human-interactive verification of surfacing and forms that is impossible to visualize in CAD alone. For example, the top of the instrument panel was subtly reshaped to ensure proper drainage in case water enters the cabin during water operations, the center console shape was improved to maximize stick travel, and the headlight shape was refined for implementation of all-LED landing and taxi lights. Several such tweaks were quickly modeled in clay, digitized, and then brought back into CAD in order to meet ICON’s demanding internal standards for product excellence.
|ICON executives and designers during the final review of the clay model|
A team of “digital sculptors” generated what’s known as “Class A” surfaces for high-quality tooling for the entire aircraft. Performing this process ensures that the tooling used to build the A5 is of sufficiently high quality to minimize the need for additional finishing once the parts have been fabricated.
The ICON production team’s current emphasis is on supplier contracts and manufacturing preparation. ICON’s engineers are collaborating with Cirrus Aircraft on a daily basis on design for manufacturing of the A5’s structure. On the critical path is tooling design for the composite-mold drawing releases. These drawings will be used to CNC machine the mold masters, which will be used to make lamination molds for the airframe assemblies (wing, fuselage, tail, control surfaces). Cirrus will build airframe components for ICON alongside the SR20 and SR22 composite production lines in their Grand Forks, North Dakota, facility.
|Cirrus will build airframe components of the A5 in their state-of-the-art composite manufacturing facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota|
ICON has also made several other supplier selections, including power plant, GPS system (both announced earlier this year), and exterior navigation and landing lights. There are many other supplier selections in progress, such as interior injection molding, instrumentation, antennae, wheels, and brakes. Throughout the supplier selection process, ICON has consistently received extraordinary interest from suppliers wanting to be part of the creation of the A5; the ICON team has been impressed by both the enthusiasm and quality of the available supplier offerings.
|Parting shot: ICON’s Ryan Brookshaw participates in user testing of passenger comfort of flight with windows out.|