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Mon, Jul 04, 2005

Memos From DiamondFest 2005 (Part Two)

DA42s Rule!

Extensive travels and a breakneck schedule have kept us from filing some more updates from our recent excursion to London, Ontario, for the second annual rendition of DiamondFest. But... with all of a few hours to catch our breath before we get on to working up a FULL flight test of the Eclipse 500, we'll attempt to get you up to speed.

Hold on... speedy ride ahead.

The big news and the focal point of a majority of the attention at this year's delightful gathering was, of course, the astonishing debut of the first new light twin in many years... and the first to truly maximize technology in each of three pivotal aspects -- Airframe, Engines, and Avionics. It's been a difficult genesis for the TwinStar... as the engines originally supplied for initial flight testing, ultimately, were not the engines that could be dependably certified. Cooling, exhaust and a number of other issues finally wound up having a negative effect on Diamond's attempt to produce a next-generation 200 knot twin.

But, Diamond persevered -- and while the DA42TDI Diesel powered twin is (for the moment) going to debut at about 170 knots cruise, that's one of the few low notes in what is otherwise an exceptional little airplane... one we've flown now a fair amount (including a good deal of single-engine work) and expect to fly even more before the month is out... both in Diesel as well as Lycoming formats.

But first, let's talk program updates...

Diamond's Peter Maurer, still as honest and self-effacing as ever, did a very well-attended briefing on the state of the DA42 that pulled no punches, noting that there have "certainly been some bumps in the program." A quick note here... It's a shame that this starts off with what might be perceived as a negative. The folks at Diamond are some of the most honest I know... but not every program does what is expected from the beginning and the myth of the aircraft that flies right off the drawing board is just that -- a myth. Development is a tough gig... and getting a dependable, certifiable bird often means making compromises.

So... Diamond is a victim of their own honesty in discussing early test results that could not be put into production if they wanted the engines to get certified and produce the degree of reliability a program of this magnitude demands. Yeah, we all wish the DA42 went 200 knots... but 170 knots at 10-12 gph (total fuel burn... NOT per side) is NOTHING to sneeze at. The Lycoming alternative will be a solid 180 knot airplane, while other future developments may flirt quite shamelessly with 200 knots (if Diamond can cajole Lycoming into producing a turbo-normalized variant of the IO-360 or Thielert ponies up some more horsies down the line). Mind you, they've learned a lot about diesel powerplants, having delivered some 150 DA40TDIs overseas and worked through the necessary teething pains that come with the introduction of radical new technologies. The Thielert DA40s are starting to build some solid buzz in Europe... especially for economy.

The state of the DA42 program is this -- deliveries have been underway for weeks now -- on the other side of the pond (from the USA). Thirty one planes have been delivered at the time of this report and this comprises a program that flew an aircraft just 55 weeks after the commitment to build the aircraft was issued. That's extraordinary. The first TC (a limited one, granted) came only 18 months after that. Current certifications have been issued by EASA and include both VFR and IFR day/night operations. All aircraft are being offered with Garmin's G1000 and no other panels are being considered for inclusion with this airframe... they seem quite happy with what they have, thank you. FAA certifications are expected to be announced at Oshkosh. Eventually, the DA42 will be certified for KNOWN icing... a major capability for a light twin. An oxygen system will be certified for the aircraft as well, but problems with original supplier, Mountain High, means that they are being replaced as a vendor. Air conditioning is also expected to be optionally available at some time in the future.

First North American deliveries, of Lycoming equipped aircraft, (for now... Diamond insists on having a Thielert service network built up before serious deliveries of the diesel birds -- VERY SMART) are scheduled for the first quarter of 2006. The first Lycoming powered DA42-360 may be seen in North America in just a few weeks at Oshkosh. By the third quarter of 2006, Diamond should be delivering 17 aircraft a month. The Diesel airplane will be certified for Jet A in North America and Jet A as well was Diesel fuel (which is refined to a different spec over there) in the UK.

A lot of attention is now being paid to the upcoming Lycoming version which is a bit faster than the Thielert, offers better single-engine capability, but lots more fuel burn. It will also sport a conventional throttle/prop/mixture control system instead of the single-lever FADEC associated with the Thielert. This is great for flight training, but not nearly as futuristic as the diesel. So, the Lycoming variant is to be seen as an older and more conventional technological variant for those who are not ready for Diesel and FADEC. The airplane is said to be a screamer... with excellent climb and cruise numbers (already quoted as being some 10-15 knots faster than the Thielert), and the possibility of a future turbo is an enticing one.

Next... FLYING the TwinStar


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