Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Diamond DA40 XLS: Premier Edition

Premier Aircraft of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has created its own ultra version of the Diamond DA40 XLS

The DA40 features separate doors for front and rear entry (opposite), offering passengers easier access to the back seats. In the cockpit, a conventional center stick is nicely harmonized between ailerons and elevator.
The Star's cabin is unusual in that the fuselage is slightly bowed abeam the rear seats, so the aft cabin is actually wider than the front. It measures 43.5 inches across, while the front is 42 inches wide, about the same dimension as a 36 Bonanza or 58 Baron.

Jeff Owen and I were flying on a lukewarm day in early April, but it's obvious the optional air-conditioning system could be invaluable for flying in southern Florida, in temperatures above 25 degrees C. The DA40's glass hatch offers plenty of visibility of the outside world, but a semi-bubble canopy is a two-edged sword. A warm cockpit is the price you pay for such an excellent view outside. Premier suggests the A/C is available as a retrofit on any Diamond DA40 for about $30,000, installed at the company's shop in Fort Lauderdale Exec, and I'll bet they'll have some takers.

I was brought up on full-castering tailwheels, so the Star's nonsteerable nosewheel makes me feel right at home. True, asymmetric braking is the only way to steer, a minor maintenance concern, but the system allows the airplane to maneuver within its own wingspan, an invaluable asset on a crowded ramp.

At 2,645 pounds gross with only 180 hp out front, the Star doesn't exactly scamper down the runway, but the glider-like wing requires less than 1,200 feet to lift the airplane into the sky. On the way uphill, expect to see an easy 800 fpm flying heavy, 1,000 fpm flying light.

Diamond claims a service ceiling over 16,000 feet, and considering the manufacturer's legacy of building pure and powered sailplanes and the wing's high aspect ratio (the proportion between wingspan and average wing chord), that's probably not far off the mark. In fact, the design is fairly efficient up high, a good thing, since the 50-gallon fuel capacity leaves the Star a little short on IFR range. Standard fuel is 40 gallons, but we're told virtually every buyer opts for the 50-gallon tanks (contained in aluminum fuel cells mounted between the wings' carbon-fiber wing spars).

An obvious benefit of the DA40's composite structure and slick aerodynamics comes in cruise. Up at 7,500 feet on an ISA day with the black knob against the wall, the little Lycoming typically sips 10 gph while tripping along at 145-147 knots. The Star does a good job at higher altitudes as well, and many pilots prefer to cruise at 10,500 or 11,500 feet whenever the wind will allow.
Some models are just too adorable to dislike. Think a husky puppy in dog bowl or a kitten with a ball of string.
In short, the Star offers impressive cross-country performance, at least five knots better than the efficient Grumman Tigers, and easily the equal of some '70s-vintage, 200 hp retractables (Piper Arrow, Beech Sierra, Cessna Cardinal RG, Commander 112). In combination with the Lycoming's miserly fuel burn, the Star yields almost 17 statute mpg, better economy than most Escalades or Navigators, and more than twice as fast.


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