Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

World's Best Trainer

Diamond Aircraft’s entry-level trainer hopes to lure new pilots to the company’s innovative line of aircraft

The lady in my life, Pilot Peggy, is in the process of learning to fly. She started in a Piper Archer, switched to a new Skyhawk S when the Archer went off leaseback, and most recently, dropped back to a Cessna 152 because of its $90/hour rental rate.

Along comes Oshkosh AirVenture 2010, and one of my assignments was to fly the newest version of Diamond’s DA20-C1 Eclipse. I had flown the DA20 several times before, and I was well aware of what a fun machine it was. It had been two years since my last visit, and I was immediately taken with the airplane’s remarkable adaptation to the training role. I couldn’t help speculating what a wonderful airplane this would make for Peggy, or any other student pilot looking for a trainer, that’s as much fun as it is instructive.

If you’re looking for a true two-seat, teaching machine these days, and you’d prefer to stay with a new, certified aircraft, there are only three real candidates. In Peggy’s case, her experience with the Archer and Skyhawk proved they could be adapted to flight training, but we always knew they were too much airplane for the mission. If you rent a four-seater, you pay for the privilege of hauling those four seats through the sky, regardless of whether they’re all occupied.

The only certified 2-seat machines that could be construed as dedicated trainers are the American Champion 7EC Champ, the aforementioned Diamond DA-20 C1 and the Liberty XL2. The Champ came first and has been around for decades, but the trend has been away from tailwheels in favor of nosedraggers. The moral is that the early bird very well may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. (Yes, I’m aware there’s a long list of capable LSAs coming on the market for flight training at reasonable rental prices, but these aren’t yet readily available in most parts of the country.) The Liberty XL2 is the most recent addition to the class, premiering in 2005 and employing a FADEC version of the same engine installed in the Eclipse. By the end of 2009, Liberty had sold about 120 airplanes, so there’s no question they’ll be a factor in the training market for the foreseeable future.

At Oshkosh, I flew the C1 with Diamond demo pilot and instructor Rob Johnson, an old friend from several other flight evaluations and a confirmed C1 lover. Johnson is more than just a demo pilot, however. He actually purchased an Eclipse and uses it to instruct in and around London, Ontario, Canada, where the C1s are built. His knowledge of the Eclipse extends from the production line to the sky, and I can’t imagine a better check pilot on Diamond products.

The C1 Eclipse (Diamond had the model name on a real airplane long before the better-known VLJ) has been around since 1998, and it has consistently endeared itself to a decade of pilots. The type was introduced as a follow-on to the 81 hp Rotax 912-powered Katana. The C1 was offered with a Continental IO-240 engine rated for 125 hp.

Labels: Piston Singles


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