As of two years ago, the training market became a little more complex with the official introduction of a dozen or more light-sport aircraft. Today, the number of different LSA models has swollen to well over 60, and that figure increases on practically a daily basis. Many of these airplanes are fine little two-seaters, easily capable of handling the training mission despite their occasional performance limitations, and that’s exactly the market their manufacturers are targeting. No one can tell how many of these LSA manufacturers will survive in the next few years of natural selection, but it seems a safe bet that there’ll be a strong LSA presence in flight training.
Among certified production aircraft, the choices are considerably fewer. There are essentially three semi-dedicated trainer models available; the $88,900 American Champion 7EC Champ, the $179,000 Liberty XL2 and the smallest of the Diamond models, the $174,495 DA20 Eclipse. As you might have noticed, comparing the latter two airplanes to the first is a little like comparing two apples with a grape. The Champ is a traditional, bare-bones, fabric-covered, entry-level taildragger—pure airplane, no ups, no extras; conversely, the XL2 and Eclipse are perhaps the most exotic two-seat trainers you could imagine.
Each model takes a slightly different approach to training, not necessarily better, just different. Traditionalists regard a durable, fabric taildragger as the only way to really learn to fly, while the modern contingent continues to suggest that a composite, nosewheel airplane is more durable, safer and easier to handle in a training environment. (In fairness, Cessna’s ubiquitous Skyhawk is another popular trainer.)
We’ll leave examination of the Champ and XL2 for another day. We recently spent a day with a new Diamond DA20-C1 Eclipse, and it was an experience somewhere between pure joy and exultation. The littlest Diamond is a true kick in the sky, one of those airplanes that brings the fun back to flying.
As an extension of the Katana idea, the Eclipse did everything better, and it was definitely targeted to the entry-level pilot and flight school. The airplane was about as simple and straightforward as Diamond could make it, and it has remained as basic as possible.
The elegant and waspish tail is in T-formation, with an elevator mounted high up out of the prop blast to minimize pitch excursions during power changes. The cabin sports a 45-inch cross section, broad of beam for pilots who share the problem. The aft-hinged hatch folds up and to the rear, allowing pilot and copilot to climb aboard from both sides and providing a strong incentive to make sure it’s properly latched. All circuit breakers are in clear view in case something “overvolts.” Joysticks spring from the front center of each seat and fall readily to hand. Rudder pedals are adjustable to conform to most body configurations.
The engine is fuel-injected rather than carbureted, so there’s no possibility of carb ice and no carb heat control to worry about. The only fuel tank is in an isolated bay in the aft fuselage, so there’s no selection to be done. Fuel is either on or off—if the engine runs, you know it’s on.
The DA20 is a comfortable airplane, not as snug and compact as a Pitts, but you do have a feeling of wearing the Eclipse rather than simply climbing aboard. Visibility with all that Plexiglas is excellent, though the overhead hatch design makes no provisions for sun visors, and after a while in the hot summer, the canopy takes on a greenhouse effect.
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