Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DA 40 XLS: The Innovator Keeps Getting Better

With the addition of Garmin’s Synthetic Vision Technology and other improvements, the popular composite four-seater reaches a wider audience

The cabin of the DA40 XLS features a sports car–like interior with a center-stick design that appears to grow out of the seats
Stewart walked me out to the immaculate hangar where the freshly polished DA40 sat, looking not unlike an alien craft with its teardrop fuselage, wingtips and bubble canopy. We spent a long while peering around the XLS, with Stewart demonstrating obvious things like the unique center-stick design that seems to grow out of the seats and interesting features like the “safety cell” structure around the cabin and the BMW-like interior.

Climbing into the DA40, the first thing that everybody notices is the visibility. I had flown airplanes with good visibility before, but this surpassed them all. Lack of windshield support posts or divisions, combined with a low sill height, gives the cockpit an IMAX theater feel. The ample rear windows and gull-wing rear passenger door prevent the claustrophobic feel of many passenger compartments.

Standard in the XLS are front air-bag seat belts. The seats aren’t adjustable, and my 5’7” stature could have used another inch or two of support to see over the panel. One nice feature that wasn’t on the older DA40s is the electric rudder-pedal adjustment. The range of motion is impressive, and I think even my nine-year-old could reach these with the flick of a switch.

DX 40
The aircraft is equipped with Garmin’s G1000 glass panel, and Synthetic Vision Technology offers a 3-D view of surrounding terrain and potential obstacles.
Starting the engine didn’t yield anything esoteric, so we fired up the Garmin G1000 to put in our flight plan. The DA40 XLS comes standard with the G1000 with satellite data link, WAAS, TAWS-B, a GFC 700 autopilot with flight director, SafeTaxi, FliteCharts and a GTX 33 transponder with TIS traffic. This particular XLS also had new Garmin Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT). It was astonishing to know that this four-seat aircraft had more technological capability than most modern airliners.

Because this was to be a typical mission, we decided to fly 55 nm to Santa Paula Airport to mingle with the taildraggers and grab some dinner. Santa Paula is a sort of haven for classic aircraft, and we thought it might be good to see how the Diamond would stack up in such a rough-and-tumble environment.

DX 40
Cleared for takeoff, I lifted the nose at 63 knots and headed toward the ocean. “Climb at about 80,” suggested Stewart as I awkwardly tried the electric trim on the stick. “I like to use the manual trim so I can feel the airplane,” he smiled, and I welcomed the sight of the trim wheel under my arm on the center console. We showed an easy 1,050 fpm climb on the PFD at 80 knots. Around me, the panorama of flight through the wraparound windshield unfolded like a Cecil B. DeMille film. You sit ahead of the wing on the XLS, so you experience the benefits of a high-wing airplane’s downward visibility, along with the clear turns and skyward view of a low-wing.

It’s impossible to report on the DA40 without talking about safety. Safety is a hallmark for Diamond, and the company’s development in this area is impressive. The NTSB’s raw data confirms the undeniable fact that Diamond makes aircraft that are safe by design. I decided to do some research on my own to confirm the manufacturer’s numbers. The evidence is quite compelling. According to the NTSB, since 1998 when the DA40 was introduced, there have been only two fatal accidents involving the DA40. In fact, in the past 11 years, there have been only eight total accidents involving the DA40. The two fatal accidents were attributed to “buzzing” a boat at night and to hitting power lines on an approach to minimums.


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