Some people feel that the Japanese and Germans produce better cars, TVs, computers and cameras than the Americans, but there’s never been any question about the world domination of American airplanes. General aviation aircraft from the United States continue to lead in sales and performance at home and overseas.
Such American companies as New Piper, Cessna, Beech/Raytheon, Mooney, Cirrus, Columbia and others comprise at least 70% of personal and business aircraft sales around the world. The United States has dominated the aviation market for at least the last 50 years, despite occasional threats from Extra, EADS/Socata, Partenavia, Pilatus, Bombardier and a few others.
In the last decade, however, an Austrian company has begun to make major inroads into the world market. Diamond Aircraft of Neustadt, Austria, and London, Ontario, Canada, has emerged as a major player in the production of personal airplanes. Once known only for its motorgliders and the Rotax-powered Katana, Diamond now offers products for training and personal travel—and soon they’ll enter the very light jet (VLJ) market. (In fact, at this writing, Diamond had just begun flight testing its prototype D-JET at the company’s Canadian facility.)
Certainly, one of Diamond’s most popular products is the DA40 Star. Since its introduction six years ago, first overseas and then in the United States, the Star has penetrated the general aviation, fixed-gear-single market in a big way, selling some 600 units. That’s nearly 100 a year—big numbers in today’s economy.
Not surprisingly, the Diamond Star has the Skyhawk, Archer and Tiger dead in its sights. As everyone knows, the 172 is one of the world’s most successful airplanes, and the Archer is a consistent performer that’s been in more or less continuous production for 40 years. The New Tiger, in its third iteration, is still experiencing birthing problems, but its sportplane image and cult classic popularity of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s promise strong potential for the new century.
The Star’s 180 hp Lycoming engine and fixed gear match it well with the Cessna, Piper and Tiger products, but closer examination reveals major differences between the airplanes. For one thing, the Star offers a constant-speed prop. While all four machines offer comfortable 2+2 seating for a quartet of people, the Star has the unique advantage of a rear-entry door, hinged at the top of the fuselage and folding up and to the right. This allows rear seaters to board independent of the pilot and copilot. In combination with the front hatch that folds up and forward, the rear door allows pilot and passengers to enter the front seats from both sides and the rear independently from the left.
Unlike the Skyhawk, Archer and Tiger, the Star is the only model that features boarding steps just forward of the wing’s leading edges on both sides. That means you board the Star from the front. It also means you’ll almost never see any sane person climbing into a Star with the prop turning. And that’s not a coincidence, it’s just great design.
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