“But it wasn’t aviation-related. It never
struck me to do anything in airplanes,
much as I love flying.”
That was when Kirk saw the FAA’s
notice of proposed rulemaking for the LSA
category and the sport pilot certificate.
“I said, ‘Wow, this could be huge. The
landscape could be changing.’ And when that
happens, opportunities occur,” Kirk says.
Back at Stanford, he conducted market
research and wrote a business plan for an
LSA appealing to powersport enthusiasts.
“A lot of smart people said, ‘Well, I don’t
know airplanes, but from a pure business
standpoint, this is a classic textbook
startup,’” after reading his study, Kirk says.
Moreover, he was uniquely qualified
to execute the plan.
“Surprisingly enough, there aren’t very
many fighter pilots who race motocross,”
says Kirk. “And there are not many engi-
neers who are base jumpers and sky divers.
So having a background in powersports, a
deep background in aviation, in engineer-
ing, manufacturing, and aerospace, product
design and business; if you were looking to
start a company [like ICON] and you spec’d
out who you want to run it, it’s my resume.
I didn’t plan to do all those things. I just
followed my heart. It just so happened that
the planets lined up.”
ICON TAKES OFF
Kirk and Steen first met at Stanford in
1993 in Mechanical Engineering 313:
Ambidextrous Thinking, a course
designed to teach engineers creative
thinking. Both excelled in the class and
became friends and mutual admirers.
Then Kirk went off to fly, and Steen, with
a master’s degree in product design,
worked at a leading design consultancy
and then founded Freebord, a successful
company built around a skateboard he
designed. The two kept in touch, and
coincidentally Steen had also returned to
Stanford—he was teaching a popular
product design course.
In June of 2005 the two met for lunch
in Palo Alto to catch up. Kirk related his
airplane idea, pulling out his computer to
show Steen a PowerPoint presentation
illustrated with cartoon airplanes.
“Then it hit me while I’m going through
it,” Kirk says. “I was looking for the first
person to join me, and I said, ‘This is just a
gut instinct: if you’re interested, I’d like to
have you involved.’”
“I don’t know anything about planes,”
The A5 is powered by a 100-hp Rotax 912S engine and will be sold as a light-sport aircraft, making sport pilots eligible to fly it.