Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fourth Time’s A Charm

In its fourth iteration, Diamond’s DA42-VI is a far better twin

Most people who buy twin-engine airplanes do so for one of three reasons. Either they: a) operate over rough terrain, large bodies of water or at night on a regular basis; b.) fly with their families and want the ultimate in redundant reliability; or c. plan to use the airplane for multi-engine training.

Not every twin can fulfill all three missions, but the Austrian Diamond DA42-VI is one airplane that just might. These days, there are only five twins on the market: Piper's Seneca V and Seminole, Beechcraft's 58 Baron, Tecnam's P2006T, Vulcanair's P68 and the DA42-VI. These range from $450,000 for the entry-level Tecnam to $1.367 million for the top-of-the-class Baron.

Pricewise, the Diamond entry falls in the middle of the field, at $758,000. If you're thinking, "Ah yes, my old friend, the Twin Star," think again. These days, the DA42-VI may very well still be your friend, but it's no longer the Twin Star. It seems Eurocopter, one of the world's largest producers of corporate helicopters, had been building a rotary wing called the Twin Star for the last 30 years, and felt they had a prior claim to the name. As a result, Diamond's twin has been forced to fall back onto its model designation, at least temporarily.

By whatever name, the latest DA42-VI version is a very different machine from the original. It looks cosmetically similar to the first of its type, but the series VI incorporates a variety of improvements that collectively transform the airplane.

It has become something of a cliché to label aircraft that look similar to previous models as "new" and "innovative" when they really aren't, but the DA42-VI introduces enough improvements to deserve the superlatives. In total, Diamond counts 21 improvements to the breed, most aimed at increasing performance and cabin comfort.

Right up front, Diamond was determined to avoid any improvements that would require recertification, the financial bane of all aircraft manufacturers. If you've heard some of the horror stories about the inconsistencies of FAA certification in different regions of the United States, imagine how tough it is earning certification in Europe, where EASA must satisfy the demands of a dozen or more countries. For that reason, most manufacturers are reluctant to make changes that would require costly recertification.

Diamond's first task was perhaps the most formidable—reduce empty weight. Once an aircraft is designed and constructed, weight reduction is a magic trick even David Copperfield couldn't match on his best day. It seems every new aircraft battles weight problems, and the conundrum of adding features and controlling empty weight only becomes worse as the aircraft ages.

Diamond went through the carbon-fiber airplane piece by piece with an eye toward trimming weight without compromising strength or flexibility. When they were done, they had realized an airframe savings of 88 pounds, a phenomenal improvement.

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