Plane & Pilot
Saturday, July 1, 2006

Rediscovering The Diamond DA40


In its gentle stall, the descent rate is less than in a Cirrus SR22 with its parachute deployed


diamondSome 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.
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Even a half-dozen years into the DA40’s life, it’s inevitable that pilots will compare it to the original, Rotax-powered Katana. As with most expandable designs, however, there are virtually no common components between the two models. Diamond offers three engine options on the four-seat Star, none of them Rotax. There’s the standard 180 hp, injected, Lycoming IO-360 with a constant-speed Hartzell or MT out front, rated for 2,200 hours TBO; and a carbureted version of the same powerplant with a fixed-pitch prop, which is $11,000 less expensive and aimed primarily at flight schools. Finally, there’s a turbodiesel model fitted with essentially the identical 135 hp Thielert Centurion mill used on the Twin Star.

Currently, the Thielert-powered Star is only being built in Austria and is limited to overseas sale. If avgas supplies continue to dwindle on this side of the Atlantic, however, expect to see production of the diesel Star at London, Ontario, Canada, for the North and South American markets.

Despite the waspish, T-tail empennage and generally similar configuration, the Star is a considerably larger airplane than the Katana or Eclipse, both outside and inside. The fuselage is three feet longer, and the Wortman FX 63-137/20 laminar-flow airfoil spans an extra four feet. Fuel is stored in the outboard wing (20.5 gallons per side)—the better to isolate fuel supply from the cabin for improved crash worthiness.

Inside the cockpit, the front cabin measures a full 45 inches across, wider than the Skylane, Bonanza or Mooney. It’s also 44 inches tall, and because the seating is semi-supine (engineer-speak for reclinable), the Star can easily accommodate even a short Celtic center. The seats don’t adjust, but the rudder pedals do, allowing for long-legged pilots.

Side sticks are all the rage these days, and there’s no question that they work well on Columbia and Cirrus models, but the Star employs conventional, center-mounted sticks. Personally, I love joysticks, even if you do need to step around them during boarding. On the old (and new) Tiger, the standard drill was to flip up the bottom seat cushions or simply step on them during boarding, but the new Star is fitted with luxurious leather, and even clean Reeboks might scratch it.

Settled into the seat, you can’t help but notice the Garmin G1000 (nav/com/engine/flight) instrument system. There’s nothing old hat about the G1000, but most pilots have at least seen it, even if they haven’t flown it, so we won’t reiterate the system’s multiple talents here.

Diamond was the launch customer for the G1000, and three years ago, I was privileged to fly the prototype box installed in a Star at a press unveiling at Garmin’s Lenexa, Kan., facility. Transitioning from analog, steam gauges to rolling tapes and digital readouts takes some getting used to, but it’s not a problem for any pilot willing to try.

The view to the outside with the wraparound canopy is excellent, though I’d love to see visors fitted to avoid the greenhouse effect from all that Plexiglas. The opposite argument is that it would be neat if the painted portion of the overhead canopy could be engineered to shade from deep tint to clear to provide a better view to the top. I know this is an upscale concept, but some corporate airplanes already offer this feature.




Labels: Piston Singles

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