Thursday, September 19, 2013

PIREP: A Shrink Flying in the sky with a Diamond (Apologies to the Beatles)

On September 6 and 13, I went up to KUGN to spend some time with one of the fine instructors at Skill Aviation in order to do some transition training with the Diamond Star DA-40.  All told, I spent about 4 hours in the airplane and about another three in ground school discussion of the aircraft.  Flying consisted of the usual suspects - steep turns, slow flight, stalls and take offs and landings.  I made sure to slip in a trip around the patch from the grass strip at Burlington (KBUU) as well as three approaches and a hold to demonstrate IFR competency and G1000 practice.  I always learn a ton from Jim when I fly with him, so it was definitely a good time. 

The Diamond Star is an interesting plane.  As you may know from my previous posts, I did nearly all of my private pilot training in the DA40's 2-seat little brother.  I expected this one to be far roomier, but I am not sure I'd endorse that conclusion.  It does afford the pilot and front-seat passenger a bit more elbow and knee room, but I think I need a few more hours in the plane before I can say that I feel comfortable with it.  The Arrow is more comfortable for my tastes, but I confess that this could be familiarity.  The control stick is always fun, though! 

One of the nice things that Skill puts together is a nice packet of "aircraft profiles" in order to help the pilot memorize how to set up the aircraft for various maneuvers or phases of flight.  Because I did my initial training here, this way of organizing information is quite familiar to me.  The Diamond Star's prop and manifold pressure settings are pretty different from the Arrow's (and from every other aircraft I've ever flown), so I continue to work these into my head.  I am used to dropping the MP to 17 inches to begin a descent in the pattern, but really the Diamond needs more like 11 or 12, and likes 13-17 for approaches - depending on the type of approach.  Of course, individual results vary depending on all those external variables that affect ground speed.

This particular plane is equipped with a non-WAAS G1000.  I have poured over the Sporty's video training on the G1000, have done a VFR transition previously in another aircraft, and even having solid knowledge of the Garmin 430 is very helpful.  The last bit helps with understanding the logic of how the system works, though it still takes time to figure out where one should hunt and peck.

So, how does it fly?

The DA40 is a very docile plane.  Strangely, one needs to rotate and get the plane flying much earlier than Vx, and one can expect some swearing from the stall horn.  I can't bring myself to get out of ground effect earlier, which is of course fine.  It is very responsive to control inputs and power changes, and will drop like a rock with full flaps and idle power... and like a bolder if one includes the forward slip.  I am still working on altitude hold in this plane - I would just get it set up and then my tasks or needs would change.  I had just gotten nice and stable, and Jim instructed me to remove my foggles so he could "do something."  Yeah... that something was another simulated engine failure.  We'd have lived each time, but even practice raises my pulse considerably. 

Other than feeling a tad cramped, there are two big gripes I have with the Diamond Star.

First, I really dislike the steering system.  It is a free caster-type system (just like the DA-20) and can be hard to keep moving straight.  One must be going fast enough for the rudder to be effective, but even that felt a bit unruly.  I was taxiing with proper crosswind corrections and full right rudder applied, and the darn plane still wanted to go to the left.  It took awhile to get used to that. 

The final gripe is how easy it can be to tail strike the aircraft.  Jim commented on my solid approaches to landing, which is because I work to find my target airspeed and a reasonable decent rate.  It comes from working through all the bouncy-trouncy Tigger landings I've experienced.  No, I didn't strike the tail.  On the ground, Jim pushed the tail to the ground. I was shocked to see that the attitude was only 10 degrees nose-high.  I guess I could flare a bit more as I tend to be a tad flat, but touchdowns were overall pretty gentle.

I am looking forward to taking this plane out for a little trip at some point to see how she flies on a short cross country.  It's about the most expensive plane I can fly at this juncture, so I must admit that it won't be my first choice to fly somewhere. 


  1. Cool! One thing about owning your own airplane is that it's harder to justify check outs in other airplanes like you're doing (at least, it does for me).

    My only (really minor) exposure to the Diamond Star came when I took a mountain flying course outside of Denver. The DA-40s were the school's preferred trainers for flying the Rockies. Of course, I wanted to do it in a PA-28 to learn the ropes in something relevant to what I normally fly. There was only one instructor at the school willing to go into the mountains in something other than a Diamond. That has to tell you something, right there.

    1. I often think that having just one plane that you know inside and out is the best way to fly. Although new planes provide challenge, keeping where things are straight can get "interesting."

      The club to which I belong is getting pretty large, and our two Pipers are very popular given the Aspen panels and G430s in each. Our other two planes are Skyhawks, and one of them does not even have a GPS at all. I'm not opposed to Skyhawks, but still... it's hard to get booked in a plane and having a few others gets me some additional options.

      It is cool, though...

  2. It took me a while, but the Diamondstar was eventually the plane I bought:

    I have now flown back and forth across the country in it sixteen times:

    Tyson Weihs, one of the co-founders of Foreflight, also bought one and wrote a nice piece about what he liked about flying it, but I can't find it and Google is being unhelpful. It's possible he picked a bad blog provider and it is gone for a while.

    Three gotchas in the plane:

    1. The visibility is AMAZING. It's like a helicopter. That also means that you cook like you are in a solar oven. Hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and those suction cup sunscreen circles are all your friends.

    2. The seats don't adjust. If you are uncomfortable after an hour you are going to be sad on a really long flight. I have gel seat cushions for me and the passengers have better cushions, but that doesn't mean you can recline the seat, which would be a nice improvement.

    3. The control stick is fun for the pilot. The wife (cough, co-pilot) would probably prefer a yoke. Or a removable stick (which Diamond promised on the DA50).

  3. Thanks for reading! Yes, your gotchas are all right on. It was 90 degrees on the first day I went out... and I knew it too. But, it's a very nice plane and one I'd consider owning should the opportunity (read: money) present itself.