Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Diamond's Family Star


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



Michael Fabianac (left), Regional Director of Aircraft Sales at Kansas City Aviation Center West, and Jon Karkow (right), prepare to launch out of Santa Monica Airport.

Just as with the fighter, however, the Star can have too much of a good thing. On a hot day, the cockpit will heat up quickly, despite two large Wemacs on the panel, two more in the back seat and two overhead vents.

Fortunately, cooler cruise heights come up in less than 10 minutes, and that's where the Star really begins to show its stuff. Cruise is impressive. KCAC's Mike Fabianac claims the Hartzell prop boosted cruise about four knots. Add another two knots as a result of the recent gear fairing clean-ups, plus perhaps three knots from the Power Flow exhaust, and you begin to understand the Star's impressive performance margin over its competition.

Level at 7,500 feet MSL over Catalina Island, with full power and 2,500 rpm (about 75%) dialed in, I saw a TAS of 150 knots. A thousand feet lower at 6,500 feet, speed picked up to 153 knots on about 10.3 gph. Remember, this is with only 180 hp out front and fixed feet beneath. Like practically all Stars, the test airplane was fitted with the optional, 50-gallon, long-range tanks, so a full service should be worth at least 600 nm plus reserve. For those strange folks who like to fly fast airplanes slow, a 55 % setting should yield more like 720 nm. Your mileage may vary.

Stalls are ridiculously gentle, wings level affairs, with moderate buffeting below 50 knots. The Star is certified in the Normal and Utility categories, but it's not approved for spins. It's hard to imagine how any pilot who's simply awake could stumble into one accidentally.

I tried a demonstration of the airplane's remarkable stability by reducing power to idle, trimming the nose full aft, releasing the stick and watching what happened. After a few oscillations up and down, the Star settled into a gentle 750 fpm mush, wings level, and would have held it as long as I'd asked. In contrast, a full airframe parachute on an SR-20 provides a sink rate of 18 fps, about 1,100 fpm.

Not to worry about structural integrity, either. The high aspect ratio wing imparts a low wing loading, and the long span provides a high glide ratio of 10 to one. The airplane is approved for an unlimited service life, an endorsement not granted many aluminum flying machines. Metal fatigues, composites don't (at least, not that we know of).

Landing characteristics pretty much follow the stall. The flare is so easily predictable that you can roll the airplane onto the runway with power for a greaser practically every time, or you can full stall it into a short strip. Either way, the Star demands less than 1,500 feet for a full stop.

As one of the newest entries to the general aviation market, Diamond Aircraft's Star XLS offers performance consistent with the trend in general aviation. At $359,800, the 2012 DA-40 is slightly more expensive than its two primary competitors, the Piper Archer III and the Cessna Skyhawk SP, but that's the price you pay for extra performance on the same horsepower.

In an unintended homage to George Lucas, the Diamond Star XLS is a Star Wars design that looks like something Luke Skywalker might fly. And you don't even have to put the wheels up and down.



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