Diamond's Katana trainer has become a familiar sight at many airports around the world. The svelte composite two-seater has even inspired many to become pilots just by its looks alone. The smooth lines and flip-up canopy bring forth to prospective pilots the look and feel of a sports car.
But while the Katana makes a good primary trainer, it is not certified for IFR flight. Many students are forced to abandon their familiar Katana trainer and step into IFR-approved Cessnas and Pipers. Sure, flight schools can fly simulated IFR in VFR conditions, but when actual IFR prevails, the Katana is effectively grounded.
It is for this reason that the Katana has not been a popular choice for individual owners. Not being able to punch through a fair-weather cloud or a thin layer to on-top conditions greatly reduces the airplane's usefulness as reliable transportation.
The principals of Diamond's manufacturing facility at the foothills of the Austrian Alps south of Vienna are well aware of the issues surrounding the Katana's place in the market. In 1997, Diamond announced plans to introduce a four-place, IFR-certified airplane. Today, Diamond's vision has come to fruition in the form of the Diamond Star, or DA40-180. Sharing the clean lines and sports-car look of its smaller sibling, the DA40 brings two more seats, IFR certification, and an exciting new entry to the popular certified four-place single market.
Powerplants have always been a hot issue with Diamond Aircraft. Its decision to use Bombardier's 80-horsepower Rotax 912 in the Katana was precedent-setting, yet not completely successful. The Rotax proved reliable when maintained well; however, individual mechanics and those at large flight schools were forced to learn an entirely new engine and were often left scratching their heads at some issues regarding the comparably oddball engine.
With the DA40, Diamond did the right thing and asked Katana users what engine they would like to see in the new DA40. Overwhelmingly, the response was the fuel injected, parallel-valve, 180-hp Lycoming IO-360 like that installed in the new Cessna 172SP and a fuel-injected version of what powers the New Piper Archer III. But instead of a fixed-pitch propeller, the Diamond Star will have a three-blade, constant-speed prop. Like the 172SP, the DA40 is likely to find itself used as a trainer much of the time, which lends itself well to the durable Lycoming IO-360. When used for personal trips or for cross-country training flights, the engine will pull the airplane along fast enough so as not to produce too many yawns or too much time on the Hobbs meter. Diamond expects production DA40s to zip along at 147 knots at 75-percent power. At that power setting, the Lycoming will consume about 10 gallons per hour, which produces good fuel economy for a fixed-gear, four-place trainer.
Diamond also is taking input from customers regarding avionics and other instrument panel gear. As of now, the DA40 will come with a stack of AlliedSignal Bendix/King avionics with a PS Engineering audio panel and intercom. A choice of lightning detection equipment from Insight or BFGoodrich is to be offered. A Bendix/King HSI will face the pilot, as will an all-in-one Vision Microsystems VM1000 engine monitor. Besides displaying EGT and CHT for all cylinders, the VM1000 monitors manifold pressure, rpm, and fuel status in the DA40's two 19.5-gallon (usable) fuel tanks. Under the cowl, Unison's Lasar electronic ignition system will adjust spark advance in all Diamond Stars.
With the standard fuel tanks filled up and an average fuel burn of 10 gph, you can expect a DA40 to take you about 450 nm in a windless world with IFR reserves. With the 52-gallon optional tanks, you can add another 1.3 hours onto the endurance for nearly 650 nm of uninterrupted travel. Perhaps the best part is that Diamond expects production DA40s to be true four-seaters, capable of carrying four adults and full fuel. A small baggage area resides behind the rear seats, and a large tube protrudes into the empennage for storage of long items like skis or golf clubs. All baggage can be accessed from the cabin.
To more easily satisfy strict crashworthiness requirements, the DA40's seats are fixed. Diamond has made the rudder pedals easily adjustable to accommodate pilots of varying sizes. The result of this engineering allows DA40 occupants to sustain a 26-G forward impact and a 21-G downward impact. Three-point inertia-reel harnesses are found at every seat.
Diamond invited AOPA Pilot to evaluate the DA40, briefly interrupting an aggressive test program that puts the airplane through hundreds of touch-and-gos a day. Upon our arrival at Wiener Neustadt's Ost Airport, it was no surprise to see the DA40 performing "circuits." It had already logged more than 40 landings that day when we arrived by 10 a.m. The Best-Tested Aircraft, or BETA, program was designed to put the airplane through the paces as if it were actually in the training environment. “We are doing this testing now, so that flight schools do not encounter any problems in the field," said Michael Feinig, Diamond's vice president of sales and marketing.
With its 39-foot wingspan, the DA40 spends little time on the runway during takeoff. Using half flaps, the DA40 normally rotates at about 60 kt, which was achieved in about 700 feet on this 10-degree-Celsius day with a density altitude of 500 feet.
With the composite, three-blade propeller pulled back to 2,500 rpm for noise abatement, the DA40 climbed at 1,000 feet per minute. The high-aspect-ratio wing provides a good rate of climb all the way to 10,000 feet, where the airplane was still climbing at 600 fpm.
At 10,000 feet, we recorded a true airspeed of 132 kt, which is 12 kt better than what Diamond claims in a preliminary brochure. At 6,000 feet, full throttle, and 2,400 rpm, we saw 139 kt, which falls shy of the brochure's claimed 147 kt cruise speed. These numbers place the DA40 in its own class between the 172SP/Archer III and the Cirrus SR20.
Since the DA40 will likely be used as a trainer, we leveled off to try some stalls. Power-off stalls were not as docile as those in a 172 or Archer but plenty tame for a student to grasp the concept. Rudder effectiveness is limited at such slow airspeeds when there is no thrust blowing over the tail, but ailerons were effective throughout the stall, thanks to the DA40's upturned wing tips. The DA40 can be held in a level stall attitude by using large rudder inputs and some aileron, but the prototype eventually departed controlled flight by rolling off on the left wing. Recovery was a simple matter of releasing back pressure to lower the nose and righting the airplane with rudder and aileron while adding power. Full-power departure stalls were easily brought under control as well, with little or no altitude loss.
Approaches are flown at 65 to 70 kt and slipping works well to salvage botched attempts. Cross the fence at anything more than about 60 kt, and the DA40 will float down the runway like a Mooney. As with any airplane, it takes a little getting used to, but if anything, the DA40's floating will reinforce a student's need to learn airspeed control.
Like Diamond's Xtreme motorglider, the DA40 will have a glider-tow package available. Feinig hopes the DA40 will be an airborne "jack of all trades" by offering many opportunities for its owner to utilize all of the airplane's capabilities. For example, if a particular windy Saturday grounds student flights, the DA40 could be used to loft gliders all day or tow banners around a local sports event. Feinig sees the DA40 turning a profit for its owner every day, if he desires. And with IFR certification, the DA40 doesn't have nearly as many excuses to not be in the air.
If the prices stay where they are, the DA40 represents an excellent value in the four-place single market. Few other new airplanes can provide this kind of performance for so little money. This trait, combined with the "real-airplane" status achieved by IFR certification and four seats, will make the DA40 a serious contender in this crowded market.
Diamond Star: Katana Plus Two
Peter A. Bedell, AOPA PILOT, January 2000