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

Powered by a 125 hp Continental IO-240 engine, the Diamond DA20 cruises at a max speed of 138 knots and burns just six gallons per hour. Excellent visibility from a bubble canopy, enhanced ground effect of a low wing and joystick control are a few of the features that make the two-seater a great aircraft for training student pilots.  
It’s more than coincidence that the Eclipse shares many characteristics with the company’s Diamond Star, a popular four-seater that’s made a name for itself as a simple and fun family traveling machine. The Star is a logical step up from the Eclipse, exactly the way Diamond planned it. The panels are laid out almost identically, the interiors look almost like exact copies, and the two airplanes look very similar on the ramp.

One thing the two Diamonds don’t have in common, however, is IFR certification. The DA40 Star is IFR certified: The DA20 Eclipse isn’t. That’s because the DA20 doesn’t have adequate lightning protection. You can equip the Eclipse for IFR flight and train for the rating under the hood, but the DA20 isn’t approved for operation in actual IMC.

Both the Star and the Eclipse also share excellent in-flight handling, partially a function of the allegedly old-fashioned center stick. Perhaps for that very reason, the DA20’s formation manners are among the best. I’ve flown photo formation in a variety of airplanes, and the Eclipse is one of the easiest machines there is if you need to hold station 30 feet from a photo ship. It’s fast enough to stay with most photo platforms, the visibility is impressive and, to my mind, the stick is in an ideal position to allow good control in formation.

I’m aware that side sticks are all the rage these days, and I’ve flown my share of airplanes equipped with pitch/roll control sticks mounted on the sidewall (right up to and including the F-16). In general aviation applications, they offer a fun alternative to a conventional yoke, often with armrests that mold to your forearm and allow you to fly the airplane primarily by wrist.

Still, center sticks do offer a few advantages. A conventional joystick provides more mechanical advantage with the opportunity to put your bicep into play. Side sticks confine pitch and roll control to the outboard hand, regardless of whether you’re left- or right-handed. Did you ever try to fly a left side stick with your right hand? Highly unlikely.

The stick is one reason the USAF chose the Diamond C1 as its aircraft for the Initial Flight Screening contract with Air Force Academy cadets in Colorado Springs, Colo. The USAF evaluated students by placing them in the right seat, with their right hand on the stick and left on the throttle, fighter-pilot style. The concept is known as HOTAS, Hands On Stick And Throttle, and it relies on the fact that the vast majority of pilots are right-handed.

Another benefit of the Eclipse is its power. Like the Liberty XL-2, the Eclipse flies behind 125 hp, another reason the Air Force was induced to buy the C1 Falcon version for operation at Colorado Springs, elevation 6,200 feet. (These were essentially the same airplanes but with smaller fuel tanks to allow a better payload and a full set of flight instruments on the right side rather than the left.) There’s no turbo out front, but short of that, the C1 offers reasonable power on even a warm day in Colorado.

Labels: Piston Singles


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