Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Diamond's Family Star

Diamond’s innovative, four-place Star offers performance and efficiency beyond its price

Over the last dozen years, the Star has earned a reputation as one of the most efficient and comfortable four-seaters in the sky. I'm reminded of another pair of efficient four-place machines, Roy LoPresti's remarkable Grumman American Cheetah and Tiger. Both of the latter were fast, quick-handling semi-sportplanes from the '70s that could outclimb and outrun anything else with comparable power and configuration.

For 2012, the Star delivers performance that's well ahead of any other production airplane with fixed gear and the same power. The Power Flow-tuned exhaust, standard on all Stars, contributes perhaps two to three knots of cruise all by itself (and that's not a pipe dream. I installed a Power Flow system on my Mooney seven years ago, and the result was an instant three-knot speed increase.)

California Flying
For this evaluation, Mike Fabianiac of Kansas City Aviation Center (KCAC-West), the new Diamond distributor for California and 10 other states, arranged for a new Star to be delivered to Angel City Flyers on Long Beach Airport in Southern California. Angel City is a Diamond Flight Center with Stars and Twin Stars on its flight line. KCAC-West is in the process of establishing two sales and maintenance centers on the West Coast, one in Hayward and the other in Long Beach.

My Star demonstrator for the day was a ferry-time-only XLS with pretty much everything on the option list installed. From the outside looking in, the Star appears almost dainty, with its carefully upturned wing tips, waspish empennage and T-tail. Don't let the airplane's delicate countenance fool you, though. The DA-40 is a tough, carbon-fiber machine, enclosing a 26G passenger safety cell.

In combination with aluminum fuel cells encased between two tough composite spars and airbag seatbelts, the Star enjoys the lowest fatal-accident rate of any general aviation airplane in the industry, .16/100,000 hours. That's about an eighth of the industry standard. Post-crash fires are nearly unheard of in Diamond's models, and there's no record at all of inflight structural failures.

To the numbers. My fully equipped test airplane had an empty weight of 1,860 pounds against a gross of 2,645 pounds (that's 1,200 kg in Euro-speak). This left a useful load of 785 pounds or a payload of 485 pounds with a full 50-gallon service of fuel. That's fairly typical of modern four-seaters, two big passengers plus golf clubs or three standard folks with toothbrushes.

Climbing into a Star XLS is a little different than boarding most low-wing airplanes in that everyone boards from the front. You unlatch the canopy and rotate it up and forward, exposing both front buckets and boarding assist handgrips atop the panel. There's a fixed step just behind the engine cowling, so you climb up onto the wing over the leading edge rather than across the flap. Those relegated to the rear are hardly second-class citizens, as they have their own gull-wing door on the pilot's side, hinged on the roof and totally separate from the front hatch.


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