Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Diamond's Family Star

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

Legroom in all four positions is excellent, though the front seats are fixed to the airframe and not adjustable in any direction, recline, vertically or fore and aft. That's one reason for the Star's excellent crashworthiness. The rudder pedals are adjustable to adapt to the pilots' legs, but seat backs are part of the airplane. Similarly, there are no provisions for short-armed pilots. Consider bringing along a cushion.

Perhaps the first thing you notice when you step over the sidewall and settle into the seat is a stick for roll and pitch control. By today's standards, when some manufacturers are switching to stylish side sticks and others continue to equip with yokes, a conventional joystick may seem a little retro, especially for a new generation four-seat traveling machine. Diamond felt a conventional stick was the best method of translating the airplane's smooth, quick control response from pilot input to airplane reaction. The Star uses push-pull control rods (ala Mooney) rather than standard cables, and that contributes a very positive, linear feel to maneuvering.

Overall, the cabin is surprisingly comfortable, partially because it's the widest part of the airplane. Diamond reshaped the forward-hinged canopy a few years ago to extend the sides vertically and widen the folding hatch wider at the top, resulting in more headroom. Dimensions are 45 inches across at the elbows by 44 inches tall.

The Star XLS employs the full Garmin G1000 avionics suite, now complete with the Garmin 700 autopilot and Synthetic Vision. That's perhaps only appropriate, as a Diamond Star was the launch vehicle for the G1000 back in 2004 at Garmin's Olathe, Kan., head-quarters, and the recent addition of Synthetic Vision in 2008 at Sun 'n Fun also featured a Star demonstrator.

Synthetic Vision is one of those features that sounds like a frill until you use it. It's a real-time, GPS-derived, computer-based image of the terrain and obstacles ahead, complete with warnings if your altitude puts you in jeopardy. When coupled to a traffic alert system, SynVis will also show the traffic in its proper perspective on the screen, assuming it's somewhere out in front of you. Pretty obviously, Synthetic Vision doesn't care about weather, so what you'll see on the screen won't be inhibited by poor atmospherics.

There's no connection between nosewheel and rudder pedals, so ground maneuvering is strictly a function of differential braking. The good news is that you can reverse direction in little more than the airplane's wingspan. The other news is that virtually all ground handling demands use of brakes, so good braking action and condition are mandatory.

Power-up for takeoff isn't a major event, but the airplane's low stall speed brings it off the runway in a little over 1,000 feet. Once in the air, the XLS flies like it should have Breitling instruments and Northrup controls. Though the airplane I flew was built in Canada, it had a distinctly European feel.

Climb is brisk, about 1,100 fpm if you're doing everything right. On the way uphill, you can't help noting the excellent visibility. Pilot and copilot sit in front of the wing, so there's even some limited seeing straight down. There's Plexiglas all over the place, allowing the pilot the equivalent of a military fighter's bubble canopy.


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