Diamond Star DA40 Review

by Brad Pretzer

A single-engine, 4-place aircraft, the DA-40-180 is built by Diamond Aircraft and known as the Diamond Star. A complete listing of specifications shows this airplane to be a good mix of performance and economy. Aircraft most comparable to the Star are a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer; however, the DA-40 climbs and cruises faster than either of these. Diamond has retained some convention with this design but also incorporated modern materials, avionics, and design features.

Composite materials make this airframe stronger than aircraft constructed with traditional aluminum fabrication; though, not necessarily lighter. The rivet-free surfaces not only offer a sleek appearance, but also a slick airframe capable of 135 knots with the 180 hp engine. The long, slender wing is reminiscent of a glider's and provides a nearly 10:1 glide ratio. Turbulence of any amount is felt by the occupants and is constantly challenging the pilot. Consequently, as an IFR platform, any Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee outdoes the Diamond Star.

In order to achieve a cockpit capable of withstanding a 26g impact, the seats were not placed on tracks allowing movement back and fore, but rather bolted in place. To compensate, the rudder pedals are adjustable fore and aft. For the same reason, the seats cannot be reclined or adjusted for height. There is room for all but the tallest of pilots or passengers, but comfort is lacking. A two-hour flight seems to be a reasonable maximum one would endure without a break to stretch.

Lycoming's 4 cylinder - 180 horsepower engine is one of the most reliable and proven engines around. Diamond has used the IO-360-M1A and maintained its 180 hp at 2700 rpm. Fuel injection relieves the pilots of worries of carburetor ice and improves operation. Difficulties with induction icing and temperamental starting are problems that rarely manifest themselves. Low fuel consumption is an advantageous trademark of this excellent engine.

Replacing the standard collection of engine monitoring instruments is Vision Microsystems's VM 1000. This reliable and easy-to-read 5-inch by 5-inch LCD display replaces many dials that are typically scattered, seemingly haphazardly, throughout the panel. Pilots need look only in one place for a huge collection of information. Errors with parallax are eliminated and all indications have a graphical and numerical display. This unit offers more information than is conceivable with traditional analog gauges and does so in a panel de-cluttering, modern presentation. Soft, dimmable backlighting makes this easy to read at night as well as in direct sunlight.

Fuel quantity is measured in each tank via a capacitance device, so the indications displayed remain steady. In comparison, the float type fuel quantity measurement system used by Cessna, Piper and many others continually bounce between empty and full regardless of the fuel in the tank. Furthermore, the VM 1000 includes a fuel computer. The only reliable method to compute fuel remaining is by old-fashioned time keeping.

Incredible visibility is offered by the DA-40 as a result of its single piece, bubble-like Plexiglas canopy. Views of the countryside and other aircraft are possible in nearly 360 degrees. The long wing obstructs little when looking down and sights upward are degraded only by the amount of filth accumulated on the canopy. As with any Plexiglas windshield care must be taken when cleaning.

The greenhouse heating effect caused by this much Plexiglas is fantastic in the cooler months; however, nearly unbearable in the summer. The cabin seems to always be 20 degrees warmer than ambient regardless of the position of the noisy air vents. The heating system is paltry and substandard compared to any single-engine Cessna or Piper. If it is cold outside, you too will be chilled. This airplane is most comfortably flown in the morning or evening during the more temperate months.

Sight-seeing missons are unsurpassed in the DA-40. The control stick and responsiveness make flying this airplane very enjoyable. In contrast, turbulence combined with seat induced discomfort and poor interior climate control make this a marginal cross-country machine. Diamond has addressed the training market with the C1 and Eclipse, two seat versions of the Star. The Star seems best suited to the rental market. Strong consideration must be given to the higher-performance Cirrus SR20 as a purchased personal aircraft.