WE FLY: DI­A­MOND DA40 NG

There’s more to like than ever be­fore in this diesel-pow­ered sin­gle built in Canada.

Flying - - CONTENTS - By Stephen Pope

If you haven’t looked at the Di­a­mond DA40 lately, you’re in for some sur­prises. For starters, the ga­so­line ver­sion isn’t even in pro­duc­tion. That’s right, if you want to buy a new DA40 to­day, it’s diesel or noth­ing — at least un­til next year, when the Ly­coming IO-360-pow­ered DA40 XLT re­turns. And al­though the diesel ver­sion, known as the DA40 NG, for “next gen­er­a­tion,” first ap­peared way back in 2002, the cur­rent it­er­a­tion has un­der­gone so many de­sign en­hance­ments and im­prove­ments that it doesn’t seem fair to call it the same air­plane. Di­a­mond DA40 NG 2.0 seems like a more apt name for this eco­nom­i­cal four-seater that fi­nally ap­pears ready to be taken se­ri­ously in the U.S. mar­ket — and might even help res­ur­rect it.

Pow­ered by a wa­ter-cooled 168 hp Aus­tro four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel, the DA40 NG is a sis­ter prod­uct of the ga­so­line-pow­ered DA40 XLT that has been pop­u­lar with new air­plane buy­ers for many years — that is, un­til a pro­duc­tion hia­tus when the com­pany came un­der con­trol of new Chi­nese own­er­ship last year af­ter its sale by the Dries fam­ily of Aus­tria. Pro­duc­tion of the Di­a­mond air­craft line is be­ing trans­ferred from Europe to North Amer­ica at Di­a­mond’s fac­tory in Lon­don, On­tario. Be­cause there was only so much ca­pac­ity within the com­pany to han­dle such a her­culean un­der­tak­ing while si­mul­ta­ne­ously tran­si­tion­ing air­planes to the new Garmin G1000 NXi avion­ics sys­tem (which re­quires ad­di­tional cer­ti­fi­ca­tion work), Di­a­mond’s new own­ers de­cided to get the Lon­don pro­duc­tion lines for the DA40 NG, DA42 and DA62 up and run­ning first be­fore cir­cling back to the ga­so­line DA40.

That’s OK, be­cause the DA40 NG is prob­a­bly the air­plane you’ll want to own if you’re in the mar­ket for a sin­gleengine Di­a­mond. Boast­ing de­cent per­for­mance, ex­cep­tional op­er­at­ing eco­nom­ics and mild-man­nered han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, the NG is a per­fect first air­plane that out­classes many other fac­tory-built pis­ton sin­gles in its price range. It wasn’t al­ways that way. Di­a­mond first brought the DA40 NG to the U.S. mar­ket in 2009, but the com­bi­na­tion of a low use­ful load, sus­pi­cions of diesel power, poor euro ex­change rate and strug­gling econ­omy con­spired to dampen the mar­ket for what was a good air­plane, but per­haps not a great air­plane. So, where did Di­a­mond go right?

The com­pany went back to the draw­ing board to reimag­ine the DA40 NG as an air­plane that the de­sign­ers be­lieved could ap­peal to U.S. buy­ers, who have yet to em­brace diesel power with the same fer­vor as cus­tomers in other parts of the world — and who still re­mem­ber the mess that was caused in early Di­a­mond diesel DA42s with the in­sol­vency of en­gine sup­plier Thiel­ert. A lot of air has passed over the em­pen­nages of Di­a­mond air­planes since the Thiel­ert de­ba­cle, though, and the re­sult of the push to build new DA40 NGs in Canada is an air­plane that now firmly be­longs in the “great” cat­e­gory.

Flight schools in China are lin­ing up to add fuel-ef­fi­cient DA40 NGs to their bur­geon­ing fleets, but should pi­lots in the United States con­sider buy­ing one? The short an­swer is yes, and the rea­son is sim­ple: the DA40 NG’s en­gine is

spec­tac­u­lar. Hun­dreds of DA40 NGs are ex­pected to be de­liv­ered to the Chi­nese flight-train­ing mar­ket in the com­ing years, mean­ing U.S. buy­ers can ex­pect to ben­e­fit from the ef­fi­cien­cies brought by a steady flow of air­planes rolling along busy fac­tory floors.

The DA40 XLT and DA40 NG are so dif­fer­ent that they’re pro­duced un­der sep­a­rate type cer­tifi­cates, and there’s much to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the two for dis­cern­ing po­ten­tial pur­chasers. Apart from the en­gines, the ma­jor dis­tinc­tions be­tween the models are the NG ver­sion’s wider land­ing-gear stance and big­ger tires, taller tail, all-new wheel pants, re­shaped cowl­ing and the ad­di­tion of large winglets, which al­lowed en­gi­neers to shorten the NG’s wing­span by a foot, from 39 feet 2 inches to 38 feet 2 inches. If you’re look­ing to fit your new Di­a­mond in a 40-foot hangar, there’s no ques­tion which air­plane you’ll want. The DA40 NG fits, and the XLT, well, re­ally doesn’t.

THE DIESEL DIF­FER­ENCE

The air­planes fly dif­fer­ently too, as I found out dur­ing a demon­stra­tion with John Arm­strong, a Di­a­mond dis­trib­u­tor and the founder of Life­Style Avi­a­tion, a com­pany that of­fers buy­ers an at­trac­tive path­way to air­plane own­er­ship through a pro­gram called Di­a­mondShare. For my demo flight, Arm­strong and I met up at Plant City Air­port in cen­tral Florida to spend an af­ter­noon smash­ing bugs just be­yond the east­ern edge of Tampa’s Class B airspace. I have a fair amount of time in DA40s, and al­though the fam­ily re­sem­blance is ob­vi­ous, it’s clear that the NG and XLT are very dif­fer­ent ma­chines. Hav­ing now flown both, there’s no ques­tion in my mind that the NG is the su­pe­rior air­plane.

Ob­vi­ously, the big­gest dif­fer­ence is what’s un­der the cowl­ing. Aus­tro En­gine is a sub­sidiary of Di­a­mond Air­craft In­dus­tries that was sold, lock, stock and bar­rel, last year to Wan­feng Avi­a­tion In­dus­try, one of 60 sub­sidiaries of the Wan­feng Auto Hold­ing Group, a mas­sive Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate that’s just eas­ing into the gen­eral avi­a­tion mar­ket. (Orig­i­nally, Wan­feng had pur­chased a 60 per­cent in­ter­est in Di­a­mond’s Cana­dian oper­a­tion in 2016 be­fore buy­ing the en­tire com­pany.) The four-cylin­der Aus­tro AE300 tur­bod­iesel that pow­ers the DA40 NG is ac­tu­ally a stock Mercedes OM640 diesel en­gine, of which the Ger­man lux­ury car­maker has pro­duced more than a mil­lion units for its small A- and B-class cars. So you know the re­li­a­bil­ity is at least as good as prod­ucts from es­tab­lished air­plane en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers, and prob­a­bly even bet­ter, if we’re be­ing to­tally hon­est.

The big ad­van­tage of the two­liter AE300 over the Ly­coming IO-360 is the diesel’s fuel ef­fi­ciency, and that’s say­ing some­thing, con­sid­er­ing the Ly­coming four-cylin­der IO-360 ga­so­line en­gine is one of the most fuel-ef­fi­cient en­gines ever pro­duced for the gen­eral avi­a­tion mar­ket. On our demo flight, max con­tin­u­ous power at 9,500 feet yielded a fuel burn of 8.2 gph and a cruise speed of 150 ktas. Pulling the power lever back to econ­omy cruise set­ting pro­duced a miserly 5.1 gph fuel burn at 126 ktas. Max en­durance of the DA40 NG stretches

to more than seven hours, an in­cred­i­ble fig­ure, con­sid­er­ing the fuel tanks hold only 41 gal­lons, 39 of them us­able.

What struck me about the AE300 en­gine is how smooth and quiet it is, both on the ground and in flight. To demon­strate the joys of op­er­at­ing the well-man­nered diesel, Arm­strong sug­gested we keep the canopy open dur­ing en­gine start. All that’s re­quired to get the three-blade MT pro­pel­ler spin­ning is to set the power to idle, switch the elec­tri­cal mas­ter on, en­sure the glow plug light is off and turn the ig­ni­tion key to start. The en­gine fires in­stantly, just like a car en­gine. The AE300’s com­puter brains, known as the elec­tronic en­gine con­trol units, man­age fuel flow and in gen­eral act just like a fadec on a jet en­gine. There are two EECUs per en­gine, each with bat­tery backup. Af­ter I twisted the key to start the en­gine, I was sur­prised by the agree­able thrum em­a­nat­ing from ahead of the fire­wall. If you re­mem­ber diesel car en­gines from the 1970s that idled like some­one un­der the hood was shak­ing a cof­fee can full of mar­bles, you’ll be stunned by how quiet the Aus­tro en­gine is, even com­pared with the Ly­coming en­gine in the DA40 XLT. The AE300 purrs like a friendly kit­ten.

Af­ter per­form­ing the run-up, which re­quires flip­ping a switch be­tween the A and B chan­nels of the EECU rather than per­form­ing a mag check (as the en­gine’s rpm mag­i­cally ad­vances and re­tards with­out the pi­lot ever need­ing to touch the power lever), we pre­pared to de­part straight out from KPCM’s Run­way 10. I was struck that the DA40 NG re­quired quite a bit more right rud­der on the take­off roll than the ga­so­line ver­sion and that ro­ta­tion speed is about 10 knots faster, about 69 kias ver­sus 59. Climb rates cer­tainly weren’t jaw-drop­ping but we saw 600 to 750 fpm con­sis­tently all the way to 9,500 feet. Ma­neu­ver­ing the DA40 NG through a se­ries of ag­gres­sive 50-de­gree steep turns, I noted that the lat­eral con­trol feel is heav­ier than in the DA40 XLT, ow­ing to those big winglets.

Other­wise, the DA40 NG flew pretty much like ev­ery other Di­a­mond I’ve pi­loted. The stick be­tween the pi­lot’s legs feels just right, and the avion­ics,

which were good be­fore, are even bet­ter now thanks to the up­grade to Garmin G1000 NXi, fea­tur­ing faster pro­ces­sors and crisper dis­plays to go along with added ca­pa­bil­i­ties. I was ap­pre­cia­tive on this hot spring day for air con­di­tion­ing in this air­plane, an op­tion that re­ally should be one of the first boxes a buyer ticks be­fore they hand over the de­posit check. The DA40’s large canopy, with the wing po­si­tioned slightly aft of the pi­lot, pro­vides ex­cel­lent vis­i­bil­ity, but the down­side is that the large green­house makes for a hot cabin en­vi­ron­ment on warm days. Elec­tric air con­di­tion­ing keeps things cool and com­fort­able for taxi, and lets the pi­lot se­lect the per­fect tem­per­a­ture in cruise.

FLY­ING THE DA40 NG

I was sur­prised that Di­a­mond chose not to bring the XLT’s ex­cel­lent in­te­rior to the NG, but quickly be­gan to warm to the more Spar­tan in­te­rior in the air­plane I flew, not­ing its many crea­ture com­forts. Lack­ing are the XLT’s car­bon fiber and burled wood in­te­rior ac­cents and sup­ple leather seats with “in­frared con­trol tech­nol­ogy” to keep them cool even in di­rect sun­light, but the more ba­sic NG in­te­rior is com­fort­able and even sleekly min­i­mal­ist. What I loved about the seats was the abil­ity to re­cline them through in­fi­nite ad­just­ments, all the way to nearly flat. In a pinch, the DA40 NG would be a cozy place to spend the night on a ramp wait­ing out bad weather.

Cruis­ing at 9,500 feet, I slipped my head­set off to gauge the am­bi­ent sound level in the cock­pit and was grat­i­fied to find that the diesel in flight is much qui­eter than the ga­so­line en­gine in the XLT — and a mere whis­per com­pared to the big Con­ti­nen­tal six-cylin­ders I’ve been fly­ing in Cir­rus SR22s. In fact, the cool air whoosh­ing through the four over­head vents in the ceil­ing seemed to be adding just as much noise in the cabin as the en­gine.

Did I men­tion I love the en­gine? Aus­tro has done a mas­ter­ful job of tak­ing a stock au­to­mo­bile diesel and adapt­ing it to gen­eral avi­a­tion use, de­vel­op­ing a re­duc­tion gear box that de­creases prop rpm to 2,400 at max con­tin­u­ous power ver­sus the 4,500 en­gine rpm that cars are de­signed to run at. The tur­bocharger pro­duces full power all the way up to 10,000 feet, and then the power curve drops off quickly at higher al­ti­tudes. A down­side of diesel en­gines, of course, is their weight, which is gen­er­ally more than a com­pa­ra­bly sized ga­so­line en­gine. Thiel­ert tried to re­duce weight by us­ing an alu­minum block, but the AE300 has a cast-iron block, which is heavy, yes, but also al­lows the en­gine to be over­hauled, while the Thiel­ert en­gines had to be re­placed. Cur­rent TBO of the AE300 is 1,800 hours, with no need for in­spec­tions or main­te­nance of the re­duc­tion gear box as was the case with the Thiel­ert en­gines, which were of a dif­fer­ent de­sign.

Base price for the DA40 NG is around $430,000, ver­sus $390,000 for the DA40 XLT when last Di­a­mond of­fered it, while the well-equipped air­plane I flew was slightly un­der $500,000. Max take­off weight of the NG is higher than the XLT, at 2,888 pounds ver­sus 2,646 pounds, for a use­ful load of a re­spectable 950 pounds. Take­off and land­ing dis­tance are a bit longer than in the ga­so­line ver­sion, though the book says the DA40 NG can get off the ground and climb to 50 feet us­ing 1,936 feet of space, so that won’t be an is­sue for most buy­ers.

Af­ter play­ing around for a while in the skies above cen­tral Florida, we tried some power-on and -off stalls, which are be­nign and eas­ily man­aged in this air­plane. Di­a­mond sales­peo­ple like to point out that a fully stalled DA40 will crash land un­der con­trol at a slower ver­ti­cal rate of de­scent than a Cir­rus go­ing down un­der its BRS para­chute. They never men­tion the hor­i­zon­tal speed com­po­nent when mak­ing the com­par­i­son, but hey, it’s just a joke any­way — I think.

Fi­nally, it was time to head back to the air­port, where I ex­e­cuted the RNAV WAAS LPV ap­proach to Run­way 10 with the au­topi­lot cou­pled. Click­ing the au­topi­lot off at 500 feet, I hand-flew the rest of the way in a gusty cross­wind. The sight pic­ture on fi­nal and dur­ing the round out to flare is slightly dif­fer­ent in the DA40 NG than the XLT, but it will take pi­lots no time at all to get com­fort­able land­ing the diesel Di­a­mond.

DI­A­MONDSHARE

Back on the ground, I asked Arm­strong how the mar­ket has been do­ing, not just for the DA40 NG but for the DA42 and DA62 twins as well. He said the phone is start­ing to ring again af­ter a slow stretch of years, adding that in­ter­est in the Di­a­mondShare pro­gram is grow­ing

as the econ­omy con­tin­ues to re­bound. The DA40 NG, he ex­plained, fits well with what Life­Style Avi­a­tion is try­ing to ac­com­plish with Di­a­mondShare. The pro­gram’s pur­pose is to help new air­plane buy­ers jus­tify the ex­pense of sole own­er­ship by spread­ing the costs to other pi­lots who lease time in the air­plane. The idea was to make buy­ing a new air­plane an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive to pur­chas­ing a used air­plane. Still, Arm­strong stressed, Di­a­mondShare isn’t for buy­ers who can’t af­ford to own a new air­plane, nor is it for mem­bers who are look­ing to save money com­pared with rent­ing or join­ing a fly­ing club.

The way the pro­gram works is fairly sim­ple. An air­craft buyer pur­chases a new Di­a­mond DA40 and makes it avail­able to three pi­lots who lease 100 hours of flight time per year. The monthly mem­ber­ship cost for those pi­lots is cal­cu­lated by adding up the cost of fi­nanc­ing, hangar and in­sur­ance (the “carry costs” of own­er­ship) and di­vid­ing that num­ber by three. For the DA40 XLT, the fig­ure works out to $1,000 per month. The slightly more ex­pen­sive DA40 NG is $1,100 per month. There are also lo­ca­tion sur­charges tacked on for bas­ing an air­plane in a large metro area like New York City. In a metro area, the typ­i­cal monthly sur­charge would be any­where from $100 to $400, Arm­strong said, for a to­tal monthly cost of mem­ber­ship rang­ing from $1,200 to $1,500. The only ad­di­tional cost for mem­bers is fuel.

The ben­e­fit to the owner is that the air­plane is es­sen­tially free be­cause the three Di­a­mondShare mem­bers pay for pretty much every­thing it costs to own the air­plane, with­out fac­tor­ing in de­pre­ci­a­tion and the cost of rou­tine main­te­nance and re­pairs. Schedul­ing is done on­line, with mem­bers agree­ing to limit the to­tal num­ber of reser­va­tions they make at any one time. Overnight trips and longer-du­ra­tion travel are al­lowed. Arm­strong said there has never been an is­sue with air­craft schedul­ing since the pro­gram started. I was a mem­ber of Di­a­mondShare in 2012 and 2013 in a new DA40 based at Cald­well Air­port in New Jer­sey and can con­firm it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence, blend­ing many of the ben­e­fits of own­ing a new air­plane with none of the has­sles. My af­fil­i­a­tion with Di­a­mondShare ended only when the air­plane owner moved away to an­other state. I would jump at the chance to be­come a mem­ber once again in the fu­ture.

I’m hope­ful I’ll get my chance. The Di­a­mondShare pro­gram ap­pears to be in growth mode af­ter a slow cou­ple of years as the econ­omy lan­guished. With un­em­ploy­ment way down and GDP way up, air­craft-buy­ing ac­tiv­ity is in­creas­ing. Af­ter ini­tially rolling out the Di­a­mondShare pro­gram to pi­lots on the East Coast in 2011, Life­Style Avi­a­tion has ex­panded the con­cept na­tion­wide. With the pop­u­lar­ity of the DA42 VI and DA62 twins, Arm­strong is adding those air­planes to Di­a­mondShare as well. The pro­grams are struc­tured the same, al­though the monthly mem­ber­ship costs are ob­vi­ously higher. Arm­strong said the cost to be a Di­a­mondShare mem­ber in the DA42 is about dou­ble the cost of the DA40 pro­gram, while a DA62 mem­ber pays about three times as much. Arm­strong said his goal is to make Di­a­mondShare avail­able in ev­ery ma­jor metro area across the coun­try.

With such ex­cep­tional prod­ucts as the back­bone of his net­work, I wouldn’t bet against him suc­ceed­ing in do­ing just that in rel­a­tively short or­der. The time for diesels to go main­stream in Amer­ica is long past due. The price premium to pur­chase a diesel-pow­ered air­plane is can­celed out by the sav­ings in fuel over the long run. And what an en­gine the AE300 is. There are plenty of brand-new gen­eral avi­a­tion air­planes that I wouldn’t con­sider buy­ing, and the de­liv­ery fig­ures re­flect the fact that I’m not alone in my think­ing. But the DA40 NG isn’t one of them. It’s a thor­oughly mod­ern gen­eral avi­a­tion air­plane that is fun and sat­is­fy­ing to fly, goes rea­son­ably fast, sips jet fuel, comes equipped with the very lat­est tech­nol­ogy and looks fab­u­lous from any an­gle. I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing more of them on the ramps of GA air­ports all across Amer­ica soon, and maybe even get­ting the chance to fly one reg­u­larly.

Like its ga­so­line-pow­ered cousin, en­try into the DA40 NG is de­cid­edly civ­i­lized.

THE RE­SHAPED WINGLETS, WHICH HOUSE THE NAV LIGHTS, AL­LOWED FOR A SHORT­ENED WING­SPAN.

THE DA40 HAS BEEN UP­GRADED ALL AROUND WITH BRIGHT AND LONG-LAST­ING LEDS.

THE DA40 NG’S SLEEK NEW NOSE­WHEEL CON­TAINS A FULL-SIZE TIRE.

The front seats in the DA40 NG’s chic but util­i­tar­ian in­te­rior fold nearly flat.

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