Australian Army makes HIMARS procurement bid

by Jon Grevatt

Australia has requested to procure 20 M142 HIMARS launchers from the US government, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced on 26 May. (Janes/Patrick Allen)

The US Department of State has approved the possible sale of Lockheed Martin’s M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) to Australia.

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said on 26 May that the Foreign Military Sale of 20 M142 launchers and associated weapons and equipment is estimated to cost USD385 million. The proposed deal needs approval by the US Congress.

In addition to the M142s, equipment in the deal include 30 M30A2 guided multiple launch rocket systems (GMLRS), 30 M31A2 GMLRS unitary high-explosive pods, 30 XM403 extended range alternative warhead pods, and 10 M57 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) munitions.

DSCA said the proposed deal supports US security objectives in the Indo-Pacific. “The proposed sale will improve Australia’s capability to meet current and future threats, and will enhance interoperability with US forces and other allied forces,” it added.

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Barcelona, Lyon battling for status as Europe’s powerhouse

When Barcelona stepped out onto the pitch at the Groupama Arena three years ago in Budapest for their first UEFA Women’s Champions League final, they were the unfavoured team, expected to be no match for Olympique Lyonnais. The narrative was set: the European juggernaut (Lyon) was clashing with the new kid on the block (Barcelona) who had to learn from their mistakes. The match played out as if it were following the same script.

Star Lyon midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán opened the score just five minutes in, delighting the crowd in the city of her birth, and from there Barcelona began to fold into themselves with each subsequent goal. The Catalans were no slouches, but Lyon’s precision play made them look like amateurs as, time and time again that evening, the Barcelona defence was ripped wide open.

Then-manager Lluís Cortés later suggested that simply reaching the final was Barcelona’s reward at the end of the Champions League gauntlet, a comment that seems to help explain Barcelona’s poor performance, a 4-1 loss to Lyon that never really felt in doubt.

That was then. The feeling around Barcelona now could not be more different as they embark on Saturday’s Champions League final in a very different place. Seven-time champions Lyon remain a powerhouse and not a side to discount, but since Barcelona’s loss in 2019, the Catalan side has forged its way and upset the power balance in Europe. The path for each side to Turin’s final this weekend was markedly different, but both will feel they have something to prove in securing the European title.

The two years following Barcelona’s 2019 humiliation were perhaps the most important yet for the Blaugranes. Propelled by the disappointment of that loss to Lyon, they strengthened both on and off the pitch to finally regain the Spanish title in the truncated 2019-20 season after five years without the trophy. A successive title followed as Barcelona really began to flex their muscles, and their rise to the top of the European elite confirmed with their maiden Champions League title last season.

Meanwhile, the past two years for Lyon, who had been so imperious in Hungary, were punctuated by uncharacteristic wobbles. Manager Reynald Pedros departed following the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, his replacement Jean-Luc Vasseur lasting less than two seasons despite winning the domestic treble and yet another Champions League title in his only full campaign with the club. Yet there was something missing. The league title was awarded after the season was wrapped up early due to the pandemic, but the race felt far from over when the Fédération Française de Football declared Les Fenottes champions.

While Lyon had showed their overwhelming dominance as a team in Budapest, Ada Hegerberg had shone that bit brighter than her teammates — the jewel in the Lyon crown, her performance a display of an attacker at the very top of her game. The match was decided by her goals, but even beyond that, the Norwegian put on a clinic for 90 minutes and reminded everyone that she was still one of the best in the world. When Lyon lost Hegerberg to an ACL injury at the start of 2020, no one could have foreseen that she’d be out of the game for 20 months, but her absence was only part of OL’s wobbles.

The team still found ways to win, but frequently looked disjointed under Vasseur, and even when he was replaced by Sonia Bompastor, it would take time before the darlings of European football began to look like their old selves again more recently.

Barcelona’s convincing 4-0 win over Chelsea in the Champions League final last year cemented them as the new queens of Europe in the minds of those around the sport, but the path to this season’s final was less resounding and has required some careful navigation. Often this Champions League season, Barcelona have been forced to rely on moments of individual brilliance to help them through tricky games, most notably when they came from behind to win their quarterfinal first leg against Real Madrid.

Last time out in the competition, away to Wolfsburg, Barcelona put in their worst performance since the final in 2019. The team was unable to deal with the She Wolves’ press, and a tie that should never have been in question began to get a little uncomfortable at the Volkswagen Arena. Alas, Wolfsburg’s own poor finishing denied the fans a grandstand finish.

The defensive errors haven’t just been limited to one side of the draw, with Lyon still figuring themselves out under Bompastor at the start of the season. The saving grace has been the return of Hegerberg as well as the emphatic performances of rising American star Catarina Macario. Having already suffered a group stage loss to Bayern Munich, Lyon were handed their second defeat of the season by Juventus in the quarterfinals and needed to turn the tie at home the following week. Against PSG in the semifinals, the bitter rivals battled away against each other, the two 90-minute matches littered with unforced errors and uncharacteristic mistakes.

If the Champions League final three years ago was about Lyon’s brilliance versus Barcelona’s naivety, the errors both have made in European competition this season go someway to evening the playing field. Despite their highly favourable history in the Champions League, for the first time in a very long time, Lyon aren’t heading into a final as the outright favourites. Likewise, Barcelona’s weak history against Lyon stop them from claiming the favourites tag.

Saturday’s final is likely to be won by the team that can possess the ball better, and inflict the most damage when the chances are presented to them. Allowed to run riot in Budapest with no marker able to get close to her, Hegerberg will be looking for another five-star performance to cement her return to her pre-injury best, just as Barcelona’s star, Alexia Putellas, will be looking to run the show for her side. To that end, the ability of the Catalan midfield — Putellas, along with Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro — to keep the ball from Lyon will be key if they are to finally get the better of the French giants.

Even with two different managers in the dugouts on Saturday, along with a handful of different faces across both squads, Barcelona’s experience since the 2019 final stands out as the biggest difference coming into the clash, and it’s unlikely to be decided by halftime as that one was. Both Barcelona and Lyon enter this clash as legitimate contenders, despite each weathering their own struggles along the way.

It wouldn’t be the first Champions League trophy for either side — Barcelona has one to Lyon’s seven — but for Lyon, it would prove they remain the powerhouse they have always been, while for Barcelona it would further prove their rise to the top since disappointment three years ago is for the long haul.

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Tampa, Florida (CNN) — When it comes to piloting a plane, I have zero experience.

In fact, I’ve never even considered attempting it.

Nevertheless, as we swoop over Florida’s Tampa Bay on a gorgeous November morning, I enthusiastically take over the controls of the ICON A5, a two-seater amphibious plane that looks like a sports car, maneuvers like a jet ski and is so intuitive, the company says that even a novice can learn to fly it in less than 30 hours.

At 23 feet long and weighing in a 1,510 pounds, it’s known as a sea light-sport aircraft.

Designed to help you focus on the freedom of flying without worrying if the plane will react unpredictably, there’s nothing else quite like it on the market.

Now that I’m in control, my whole body tenses for a good five minutes. Am I really ready to pilot this shiny new machine all by myself? I’m not entirely sure.

However, I take comfort in the fact that the A5 was built specifically for people like me, and it was designed to drive like a car.

Plus, the fact that Icon’s CEO and founder, Kirk Hawkins, is next to me in the cockpit doesn’t hurt either. He can take over the controls at any time.

So far, so good.

We glide smoothly through the air at about 1,000 feet, and I’m comfortable enough to take in the sights. Lovely Fort De Soto Park doesn’t disappoint.

Squiggles of dreamy white dunes are surrounded by water that looks like it should be in the Caribbean.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, with its series of long-spanning cables, is equally impressive.

The adrenaline is still racing. And as most surreal experiences go, it just keeps getting better.

For starters, there’s another ICON A5 to my left, which is thrilling in itself. We are flying in formation, and my job is to mimic its movements. You’d think this would be intimidating, but it’s not.

It’s just plain fun.

That’s music to Hawkins’ ears. He’s the brains behind this newfangled plane, an idea 10 years in the making.

As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and a Stanford Business School grad, he has focused most of his adult life on making sport flying available to the masses.

“The idea for us was to create an airplane where the average human being can go out and experience the world without having the burden of becoming a professional pilot,” he says.

So it makes sense that the dashboard looks like what you see in your car. There are only a few gauges that I don’t recognize.

“It’s the Apple approach to things,” he says. “You humanize it, and make it intuitive and easy and cool.”

He’s so confident people will want to fly (and buy) his planes that he just opened a flight-training facility at Peter O. Knight Airport.

Located on Davis Island, five minutes from downtown Tampa, it’s a place where both beauty and sailboats abound.

The company’s other training center is in Vacaville, California, where ICON is headquartered.

Wide eyes and open windows

By 9 a.m., it’s time for a brief water-landing pitstop.

Hawkins takes over the controls. I’ve been too busy learning to fly in formation (not something non-pilots get to try very often) and interviewing Hawkins to even think about learning to do a water landing myself. It’s something Hawkins tells me most people can master in about 30 minutes.

A few negative-Gs and 360-degree turns later and it becomes a fun roller-coaster ride in the sky. Plus, it’s an open-air flight, so I occasionally flop my arms out. Just because I can.

At a few hundred feet above the water, it’s easy to spot a boater waving at us, a flock of pelicans and even stingrays.

“We’re gonna pull over here and stop and get out for a second,” he says.

Surely he’s kidding, right? But after landing the plane on the water, he takes off his seatbelt, and I realize he’s not.

Seconds later, he pops the roof and we climb onto the wings, which could easily double as diving boards. Suddenly, this feels less like a plane outing and more like I’m on a boat sunbathing.

Everything is drenched in a mesmerizing golden hue. I can imagine picnicking on the beach nearby. Or taking the plane somewhere for a remote weekend camping trip.

Because the plane has a range of about 430 miles on a full tank, it’s made for short getaways.

“This entire thing is about inspiring people,” he explains. “Once you learn to fly, you will never be the same. You will look at the sky different, you will look at the planet different.”

Designed to make flying simple

“The primary motor skills for operating a plane are pretty easy,” Hawkins tells me. “We have people landing by themselves with an instructor on their very first day, within 30 minutes.”

That said, they’ve painstakingly taken the time to design it for safety. The goal of the spin-resistant airframe feature is that if the pilot makes mistakes, the airplane doesn’t lose control.

As a backup, there’s a complete airplane parachute.

“The spin resistance feature is a big deal as it’s the first airplane that the FAA has deemed spin-resistant,” says Chris Dupin, a flight instructor and US Air Force officer. “A significant number of general aviation fatalities are from loss of control accidents that involve an unrecovered spin on the base to final turn.”

Plus, there’s the angle of attack indicator, something you don’t typically see in a light aircraft. It shows you where the wing is happy (in the green) or where it could stall (in the red).

The pilot’s job is to keep the wing within the green or yellow section of the gauge. This is part of what makes water takeoffs and landings so easy to learn.

Becoming a barnstormer

“Kirk Hawkins has an extremely creative and innovative idea for pilot training that is more intuitive; teaching the feel of flight first and the principals and structure later, not unlike how people learn to drive,” says Christine Negroni, veteran aviation journalist and author of “The Crash Detectives.”

“The world is facing a pilot shortage, so the idea of teaching differently, so that different learning styles can be accommodated could very well expand the pool of pilot candidates.”

On that note, about 40% of the folks who’ve put down deposits for the ICON A5 are not pilots, which means this plane is drawing aviation newbies.

After an hour and a half of flying time, Hawkins lands us on the airport runway, a maneuver that you can tackle after you’ve mastered several water landings. It’s a bit trickier since it requires more precision and knowledge about crosswinds.

At this point, if I owned this plane, I’d hook it up to a trailer, fold the wings up, drive it home, and park it in the garage.

Get some air time

If you want your own ICON A5, get in line. More than 1,800 customers have put deposits down.

For those who aren’t ready to shell out $207,000 to buy one, there’s the option of stopping by ICON’s training facility in Tampa, or the facility in Vacaville, California, to fly for the day.

The Sport Flying Introduction class is 1.5 hours for $595. To snag your Sport Pilot License, you will need to spend 20-plus hours and pricing varies.

Sarah Sekula is an Orlando-based travel writer and video host. Follow her adventures @wordzilla and @wordzillapics.

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