Diamond DA40

Whether for training or traveling, the DA40 has modern ergos, efficiency and a stellar safety record.

DA40 XLS

Photo courtesy Diamond Aircraft

Given its European roots, Diamond came at the DA40’s design as sort of a hybrid between the sleek glass gliders the company started out producing when it was Hoffmann Flugzeugbau and more traditional aircraft U.S. customers are accustomed to. This yielded what we think can arguably be called a world airplane.

There’s a lot to like in a DA40. The canopy provides superb visibility, the speed is impressive—newer models are even faster—and handling is just plain fun. When we fly a DA40 after a hiatus, we marvel at the control harmonization and how easy it is to land in gusty crosswinds.

Don’t let the exterior fool you. The DA40’s cabin is roomier than it looks, plus it has control sticks instead of panel-blocking yokes.

Even better, the wreck reports—what few there are—don’t reveal anything horrible about the DA40, save for a few horrible outcomes when DA40 pilots do silly things. Still, the DA40 seems to have the best safety record of any aircraft we researched.

History of The Line

Hoffmann Flugzeugbau began life in 1981 in Friesach, Austria, producing the H36 Dimona motorglider, a popular recreational airplane in Europe. Ten years later, Christian Dries and family took over Hoffmann and in 1992, it launched an effort at the North American market by opening a new plant in London, Ontario, in a converted World War II aircraft factory.

DA40 Cockpit

Diamond—then called Dimona—got its feet wet in the U.S. market by importing the Austrian-built DV20 Katana. In 1995, it began building Rotax-powered DA20-A1s in the London plant and selling these into what was then a lukewarm market for new trainers. By the time the company changed its name from Dimona to Diamond in 1996, it realized that both the North American and world markets had room for a composite four-place airplane.

In 1997, Diamond announced the DA40 Diamond Star at the big European show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, with the prototypes powered by the Rotax 914 and Continental IO-240. But the airplane clearly needed more power. In 2000, the DA40-180 was certified with the Lycoming IO-360 and a year later, production began in the London plant. Sales were initially brisk, especially to the trainer market which, increasingly, was turning to Cessna 172s for new training aircraft. Many flight schools found would-be students weren’t as price-sensitive as they once thought and wanted the option of two additional seats, which the Katana couldn’t provide. When it initially appeared in the 2000 model year, the DA40 sold for $189,900, typically equipped.

Initial deliveries of DA40s were equipped with dual Garmin GNS430s and BendixKing KAP140 autopilots. In 2004, Diamond announced that new Stars would have the Garmin G1000 EFIS system and that same year, Diamond announced a joint venture to sell and build DA40s for the Chinese market, primarily for training in that country’s burgeoning airline sector. Knowing it had found a niche, in 2005, Diamond announced the DA40-FP, a fixed pitch-only version of the airplane, with the carbureted Lycoming O-360. This model was aimed specifically at the training market. The FP’s base price at the time of introduction was $187,800.

DA40 Steam Gauges

In 2006, the DA40XL appeared, which was basically just packaging of high-end options, such as the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, Power Flow exhaust system, a composite three-blade MT prop, a 110-pound gross weight increase, electrically adjusted rudder pedals and a premium interior.

The airplane was clearly aimed at the upscale owner-flown market, which Cirrus was having good success serving. Fully equipped, the XL model sold for $329,000.

In late 2007, yet more versions of the DA40 appeared, the XLS and the CS. The XLS has a wider, higher canopy and a luxury interior while the CS is essentially an la carte model with a constant-speed prop that lets flight schools configure it with interiors and other options. The base price of the CS was $259,950, while the XLS base was $334,950, or over $380,000 fully loaded.

Construction

DA40 Interior

When Diamond bought Hoffmann, it paid attention to the company’s core expertise: building clean, strong glass structures. This is definitely reflected in the DA40’s construction, which is built along the same lines as the two-seat Katana/Evolution/Eclipse series.

The fuselage is constructed of wet layup material in two halves that are bonded together longitudinally, with the vertical stab as part of the assembly. The T-tail is attached separately, as are the wings which, unlike the Cirrus aircraft, are two separate pieces joined at the fuselage center section. The wings themselves are laid up top and bottom in vacuum molds, then bonded together after the internals are installed.

The spar is a massive twin carbon-fiber spar layup between which the fuel is stored in removable aluminum cells. The fact that fuel is exceptionally well protected may explain why Diamond aircraft have shown no tendency toward post-crash fires.

DA40 Storage

The cabin and cockpit is best thought of as a bathtub arrangement with a wraparound canopy in the front and a hinged rear hatch for the backseat occupants. The canopy hinges at the front, rather than the rear, as on the DA20. The rear hatch is on the airplane’s left side and is equipped with a pin release for emergency egress. As with most of the modern composite aircraft, the DA40 has spring steel gear and a castering nosewheel, with steering via differential braking. The gear attach point loads are carried into the center section through attachments on the spar.

Unique among the big three composite lines—Cirrus, Columbia/Cessna and Diamond—the DA40 has center sticks with push-pull rods for elevator and ailerons and cables for the rudder. Rather than sliding seats, the DA40 has pedals that can be repositioned to adjust legroom. Trim is both electric and manual—there’s a trim rocker on the sticks and a center console wheel—and is activated by cables to an anti-servo tab on the horizontal stab.

Baggage Tube

Engines, Systems

Diamond kept it simple when it came to the powerplant: Lycoming’s 180-HP IO-360 has proven reliable and inexpensive to overhaul, at the expense of giving up some smoothness to six-cylinder Continentals. It’s also fairly light, an advantage in an airframe as light as the DA40. Gross weight in early models was 2535 pounds, while newer ones are 2645, compared to 2450 pounds for the Cessna 172 and 3050 pounds for the Cirrus SR22.

In 2014, Diamond brought the DA40 NG to market. Equipped with the 168-HP Austro AE300 diesel engine, the current Aircraft Bluebook shows a 2015 model retailing for $435,000. The engine has an 1800-hour TBO and a $30,000 typical overhaul cost.

Systems wise, the Star has all the required new-age glitz. The fuel system has right/left/off settings, only one step down from the ideal off/on system for minimizing fuel-related accidents. However, as there have been no fuel-related accidents reported on Diamond Stars in the U.S., we’re hardly one to complain. The fuel selector is on the center console. One of the airplane’s operating limitations includes a requirement to keep the fuel load balanced.

As is the fashion, the DA40 is an all-electric airplane, with no vacuum system. It has a single battery, but also a single alternator, although there’s a battery backup for the electric gyros.

One of the DA40’s strongest suits is the fabulous visibility afforded by the wraparound canopy; nothing else in GA comes close. But what plastic giveth, plastic taketh away. The cockpit can be boiling hot in the summer, although an opaque shade along the top of the plastic bubble helps. Air conditioning is an aftermarket option in the DA40s. However, the canopy can be opened during taxi and is equipped with partial-open latches. The heating and ventilation, once airborne, are good. In early models, the panel air vents emitted a noticeable and irritating howl, although some owners have found their own fixes for this.

Performance, Payload

When we reviewed the first production model DA40 in 2002, it blew away the competition, mainly the Cessna 172 and 172SP and the Piper Archer, both entry-level four-placers. Only the Tiger comes close in older designs, although the Cirrus SR20—also entry level—is faster by about 10 knots or so on 20 more horsepower. It easily kept up with the 200-HP Piper Arrow. The early Stars toot along all day on 9.5 to 9.8 GPH at speeds up to about 140 knots. Subsequent models, say owners, are about 10 knots faster and, for the DA40 XLS, Diamond claims a 158-knot top speed with a 150-knot cruise on 10 GPH.

With its long wing and relatively high aspect ratio—reflecting its sailplane heritage—the Star is a terrific climber, even when loaded. Moreover, it leads the league in short-field capability, easily hopping off the runway in 1200 feet or less with a heavy load. At 2535 pounds (2645 for newer models) gross, the Star is light; at 14 pounds per HP, its power loading puts it in the middle of its class. (The Cirrus has power loading of 15.25 lbs/HP, while the Cessna 172 is lower, at 13.6 lbs/HP.) Nonetheless, any competent pilot should be able to comfortably operate a Star out of 2000-foot runways, at reasonable density altitudes.

Payload-wise, the Star is really a three-place airplane with baggage space, even at the higher gross weights. Useful loads are in the 850-pound range, although some owners report less.

So with the tanks full, it can carry about 600 pounds—three people with some bags. There’s a 10-gallon extended-range fuel tank option that further reduces cabin load.

In early Stars, the baggage compartment was a bit of an afterthought, accessible only through the cabin by tilting the rear seats forward. The area itself was quite shallow. This was later redesigned, and now the rear seats fold forward to essentially turn the backseat into one huge baggage bay.

The Star’s weight-and-balance envelope is relatively benign, narrowing a bit toward the gross weight limit. Early models tend toward forward rather than aft CG. Offloading fuel is always an option to stuff in more payload, but the airplane carries only 40 gallons usable to begin with, so its range is hardly exceptional. The 10-gallon extended range option helps, but owners complain it narrows the CG envelope, something that needs watching. The newer XLS models come with 50-gallon tanks as standard equipment.

Ergonomics, Handling

Entering the Star’s cockpit requires hiking up onto the wing and stepping down into the well of the cabin. It’s a bit of a practiced art, requiring gripping the canopy’s tubular hinges to gain purchase, both for ingress and egress. Not easy, perhaps, but you get used to it.

The rear seat passengers simply step through the hatch and into the rear cabin, which is quite spacious. (Watch the opened rear hatch, though—it’s just the right height to bonk an unwary head.)

The front seats don’t slide fore-and-aft, but the rudder pedals adjust. A 6-foot-5-inch owner reported that, while a little cramped, the pilot’s seat has adequate room for him. Rear-seat passengers enjoy adequate footroom, thanks to footwells. With the adjustable rudder sets, the front seats have good legroom for such a small aircraft. As noted, cockpit visibility is nothing short of fabulous—the best of any GA airplane, other than the Katana/Evolution/Eclipse series.

Of all the GA airplanes we’ve flown and tested, the Star ranks at the top as being the most fun to fly. It’s not quite as well balanced as a Bonanza, but it has no bad habits, and pitch and roll forces are light and easy to manage with the stick. Slow flight and stalls are non-events and even deep into the stall, the airplane simply mushes and could probably touch down that way in a survivable impact. Flaps have little or no effect on trim condition, but neither are they as effective as the barn doors on a Cessna 172.

Landing a Star isn’t particularly difficult, but the sight picture over the nose requires some acclimation to avoid too-high flares. Flown into the flare faster than about 65 knots, the Star will float; slower is better.

DA40 In Hanger

Maintenance, MODS

Typically, airplanes new to the market (although at this point the DA40 has been around for a while) evidence characteristic maintenance weaknesses at some point. But historically the Star has done well in this regard. The Lycoming IO-360 is one of the most reliable four-cylinder powerplants available; we heard no complaints from owners about it, save for a few owners who had problems with electric fuel pumps.

Some owners complained of early teething problems with the Garmin G1000. We also heard plenty of complaints about Garmin being slow to produce software upgrades for non-WAAS aircraft. The early Star’s weak landing lights are a point of contention. We found only four ADs against the airplane, one requiring replacement of the rear hatch retaining bracket, one requiring inspection of the nosegear pivot axle, one requiring inspection of the universal joint on the fuel switch and the last requiring a one-time fuel system inspection.

As for aftermarket mods, there aren’t many. Florida-based Premier Aircraft (also a Diamond dealer) offers the Cabin Cool air conditioning system, the PowerPlus standby alternator system and a stylish and functional interior upgrade package. There’s a also a custom exterior striping package, plus for better climb and couple extra knots in cruise, a Hartzell ASC composite propeller is available. Contact www.flypas.com.

DA40 Accidents: Astonishingly Few

Every month for the Used Aircraft Guide, we pull up the most recent 100 reported U.S. accidents for the type of airplane we are reviewing. It’s usually no big deal—even if we have to go back 20 years, there are almost invariably well over 100 accidents for a given type, even if most are of the fender-bender variety.

That’s not the case for Diamond’s DA40 Star. We looked back to the year of the DA40’s certification, 2000, and found 18 reported accidents in the U.S. out of what we conservatively believe to be approximately 800 airplanes. In our opinion, that’s nothing short of stunning. Six of the accidents were runway loss of control (RLOC) events—one on takeoff—and one was an overshot landing. We consider those to be run-of-the-mill accidents and the low number a tribute to good ground manners on the airplane’s part during takeoff and landing. When we first flew the airplane shortly after it came out, we noted how well it handled strong crosswinds—the absence of landing accidents bears out our observation.

With so many airplanes flying, we assumed we’d see at least 10 stupid pilot trick impacts against terra firma or power lines. There have only been five. One hold-my-beer-and-watch-this sort was buzzing boats on a lake at dusk and hit the water; one was maneuvering at low altitude and crashed; an instrument pilot shot an approach to several hundred feet below minimums and hit power lines and trees; and a pilot who decided to fly in icing conditions picked up so much that when he finally decided to descend and find a place to land, he stalled the airplane at 1000 feet AGL and survived the crash. The DA40 again demonstrated excellent crashworthy design when an optimist with a load of passengers decided to fly low and search for elk. All went well until they turned into a blind canyon. Unable to turn around or climb over the terrain, the pilot stalled the airplane into the rising terrain. Two passengers walked away with minor injuries; the other two had no injuries.

There were two VFR into IMC crashes. One non-instrument pilot made the decision to take off into fog—at night. He was able to climb to his cruising altitude and call ATC for flight following before he said he was in trouble. The airplane spiraled into the ground. The other pilot tried to scud run through IMC and hit terrain.

There was one midair collision and one birdstrike.

Despite having an amazingly low accident rate, the DA40 is not invulnerable—it does need the amount of runway set out in the performance section of the POH for takeoff. A pilot with a full boat of passengers started his takeoff roll on an uphill grass runway with obstructions at the end. The POH data indicated that the airplane would need 1570 feet to clear a 50-foot obstruction on a takeoff from level pavement. In this case, the airplane apparently beat its book performance as it hit the tops of trees and a set of power lines a mere 1,150 feet from the beginning of the takeoff roll. It just didn’t beat book by enough to satisfy the demands of the person in the left front seat.

DA40 Takeoff

Owner Feedback

I purchased a 2008 DA40 XLS in January 2013, after cross-shopping with a newer Cessna 182T and an upgraded model 35 Bonanza. I am based at RHV in San Jose, California, and currently have 1750 delightful hours in this aircraft, which just passed 2000 hours of flight time. Most of our flights are under 400 miles with longer annual excursions to Seattle, Baja and Oshkosh. The sweet-spot altitudes are between 8000 and 11,000 feet and on trips we plan for 140 KTAS at 8 GPH.

My 2008 has the Garmin G1000 with the GFC700, making it an excellent platform for coastal IFR to low minimums. We average about 45 IMC approaches each year. I much prefer the standby instruments located at the top of the control panel, rather than down by the knees.

My goal was to buy a safe, practical and fun IFR aircraft that carries three adults, with low enough operating costs that my inner cheapskate would not inhibit flying. Our ownership experience has greatly exceeded expectations, and I fly more often than originally planned. The purchase was a one-time gouge in our finances, but at this point it costs less to fly for an hour than a trip to the hardware store, plus it’s safer than an hour on winding roads in our Mazda Miata and way more fun.

The only significant downside to the DA40 is the limited useful load, at roughly 850 pounds. But with 140 KTAS on 8 GPH, 30 gallons of 100LL works for two couples and day packs. It has outstanding visibility for sightseeing and traffic detection, plus everybody in the aircraft loves the view. The flip side of the glorious view is heat buildup while on the ground, but latching the canopy slightly open until just before takeoff makes this manageable. The controls are responsive and nicely balanced. I suspect the benign handling contributes to the DA40’s stellar safety record. The aluminum fuel tanks between carbon-fiber wing spars resist post-crash fire.

I’m sure that an airframe parachute would provide bonus marketing points (especially with all-important non-pilots), but with an already best-in-GA safety record, I personally don’t think that the cost in weight and maintenance makes sense. In my view, all of the DA40 fatalities in North America are due to colossal pilot error. The few fatalities are due to what-were-you-thinking mistakes.

Maximum speed is 155 KTAS, but nobody regularly pushes it that hard given the increase in engine heat, plus fuel consumption jumps 25 percent compared to the slower and more typical 140 knots. If speed is at the top of your agenda, buy a different airplane. Still, the DA40 has good climb rates all the way into the teens.

The center stick intrudes in usable space, but I greatly prefer a stick with actual (not spring-loaded) feedback, and love flying the DA40 by hand. The seat height is not adjustable, but cushions from Oregon Aero (www.oregonaero.com) work very well.

My DA40’s financial summary since 2013 (roughly 1700 hours) is $4.55 per hour ($7750 total) in repairs, which includes self-inflicted wheelpant damage after landing on a poorly plowed runway. I also replaced the Duke’s fuel pump with a Weldon pump, replaced the Sky-Tec starter, resealed the Hartzell propeller and replaced the G1000 MFD because of a defective SD card slot.

All other maintenance is around $16,000 total. I do my own oil changes and replace the tires and brakes. Owner-assisted annuals are roughly $1550, insurance is $2600 per year with $2 million smooth coverage, while navigation data and SXM subscription is $1400 per year.

Upgrades include AeroLED Pulsar MSP strobe and position lighting and a Plane-Power alternator, which provides higher output at idle power and kills the low voltage alerts in the G1000. I also installed the Electroair electronic ignition. Combined with the GAMI fuel injectors, the engine runs extremely smooth at LOP.

DAN (www.diamondaviatiors.net) is an excellent source of information. DAN is not affiliated with Diamond Aircraft, and is a remarkably flame-free environment. DAN was instrumental in my decision to buy a DA40. I was able to get balanced and detailed information in order to make an informed decision.

I think the DA40 is an aircraft that more people should consider. Recent models with the G1000 and GFC700 autopilot are pricey, but older DA40s are an excellent value. The airframe is not life-limited, plus the Lycoming IO-360 is robust and ubiquitous. I physically don’t fit in a pre-2008 model (long torso), otherwise I would have seriously considered an older plane.

Chris Bennett
San Jose, California

I’ve owned my 2003 DA40 for about eight months, but have been flying it for over five years. My criteria as a first-time aircraft owner who is not mechanically inclined and would be operating the aircraft on a retirement income were, in order: safety, efficiency, maintenance, useful load, comfort and other considerations.

My mission is regional (150- to 300-NM) Angel Flights and personal travel with three people or dogs in light IFR. I chose the DA40 because it came out the best by far on these criteria and it’s simply fun to fly. Statistically, the DA40 is the safest GA aircraft flying, both by accident rate and fatal rate. It has a low stall speed, no difficult landing characteristics, is very stable and has never had a post-crash fire. Mine cruises at 135 knots at 7.9 GPH LOP, which is 17 NMPG or almost 20 MPG.

The Lycoming IO-360 engine is as close to bulletproof as you can get and the aircraft has simple systems to maintain. By adding the stronger main landing gear, the useful load is now 945 pounds, which equates to 705 pounds with full (40 gallon) tanks. Absolute comfort is not its strength, but it’s still acceptable. The cockpit is small, but relatively wide and the canopy and back door provide easy access.

It’s comfortably warm in winter, but can be hot in summer. The long wing does means some bumps in turbulence. Finally, the DA40 offers panoramic views, as well decent downward visibility since the pilot sits ahead of the wing. All in all, I’ve been satisfied so far.

Bernie Seward
via email

Ever since buying a Super Decathlon in 1995 I’ve been saving for a four-place airplane that would be a better cross-country machine. The Cessna 172 and 182 were either too expensive or not very available with updated avionics, plus they were too ordinary. I looked at a 2004 Grumman Tiger AG-5B equipped with a Garmin GNS530 and GNS430 and made a couple of bids for it. I liked the fact that it had good radios and a carbureted version of my Decathlon and I liked its canopy access and its extra speed, but I didn’t like that it hadn’t been flown much at all for almost a year. When the seller wouldn’t reduce the price as much as I thought reasonable and there weren’t other comparable Tigers available, I looked at the Diamond, which I had never flown.

My 2008 DA40 had only 500 engine hours and was loaded. It had the G1000 suite with WAAS and Garmin SVT synthetic vision, GFC700 autopilot, traffic alerting, airbags, three-blade MT propeller, Power Flow tuned exhaust system, plus the same fuel-injected IO-360 as my Decathlon. I was thoroughly seduced by the looks of the airplane. I bought it in April of 2015 and have flown it about 175 hours since.

I love the wonderful ground visibility with the large canopy as well as being able to step down into it from both sides, rather than sliding into it sideways. It can be hot inside the cabin, but being able to lock the canopy partway up is a lifesaver on the ground and the air vents work well in the air. It is plenty warm for flying at temperatures below freezing, too.

I don’t like a non-steerable nosewheel, but I’ve lived with it before and I do love the low maintenance and lack of nosewheel shimmy. It does make it pretty difficult for one person to move it backward into a hangar, including the fact that it is offset from the center and wants to “jackknife,” so I have an electric tug that does a nice job, even with a 40-foot-wide hangar door—and the 38-foot-plus wingspan.

The airplane came with power jacks for Bose headsets, which I very much like, but they are on the sides of the fuselage rather than in the center, so they are a hassle to get out of the way when stepping in the cabin. It may be the quietest plane I’ve flown and the seats are very comfortable for me.

With its cushioning landing gear, the DA40 may be the easiest plane to land that I’ve flown (among dozens as a 6000-hour pilot and CFI) and a complete contrast to the Decathlon, which delights in returning one back into the air with almost any excuse. Doing stalls, I gave it every chance to try to depart, but the stall strips must really work because it refuses.

The wheelpants help give it efficient cruise speeds, but are made of light fiberglass and susceptible to damage. One was damaged when the tire went flat and another when a taxiway wasn’t properly cleared of hardening snow. Fortunately, the paint shop on the field did a fine repair. I don’t want to taxi over rough grass.

I have the 50-gallon fuel tanks which I like, but they give a small useful load when full and they do reduce the allowable loading range.

The first annual inspection I dealt with cost $1093 and the second was $1480, with the additional cost due to removal and inspection of the Power Flow exhaust. No significant issues were found on either annual. I paid $3181 last year for full insurance coverage on both the Diamond and the Decathlon, at the age of 78.

Will Hubin
via email

CabinCool Air Conditioning

Based on our extensive Diamond sales experience, here are some things buyers should consider when looking for a used DA40. First, consider that a 2017 DA40 is north of $450,000. There are a wide range of used model prices ($150,000 to $450,000), which gets you into a modern aircraft no matter the vintage. The 2000 to 2003 vintage DA40 may be for the budget minded. These airplanes have round gauges and are generally priced between $100,000 to $125,000.

Worth mentioning is that you shouldn’t dismiss former training aircraft. If purchased right, these DA40s are good candidates for refurbishment and are generally priced at least 10 percent less than an equivalent non-training aircraft.

The 2004 to 2006 are early Garmin G1000 DA40 models and are generally priced between $140,000 and $170,000. But you should consider that these older G1000 systems may require sizable upkeep, including flat-rate component exchange or factory repairs due to age.

The 2007 DA40 XL models have the desirable GFC700 integrated autopilot, Power Flow exhaust system, three-blade propeller and are generally priced in the $180,000 to $200,00 range.

The 2008 to 2010 DA40 XLS have WAAS G1000 systems and might be priced between $225,000 and $260,000. A new interior was introduced in the 2013 DA40 XLT.

Insurance for a DA40 is relatively inexpensive compared to other models, and even student pilots generally don’t faces challenges getting insured.

Upgrading an older G1000 DA40 to WAAS will be a sizable expense. Typically this is around $25,000, while mandate-compliant ADS-B upgrades range from $3000 to $10,000, depending on the equipment and the capability.

You’ll ideally want to purchase a DA40 that has been maintained by an authorized Diamond service center. Do an exhaustive check of the aircraft logbooks to ensure all ADs and service bulletins have been complied with, while looking hard for evidence of damage history and noting who did the repairs. Luckily, there are limited ADs on the DA40. Nosegear struts and main spar skin bonding are important ones.

As for inspections, the Power Flow exhaust inspection is required yearly or every 500 hours, the 1000-hour inspection can run $5000 to $6000 and the 2000-hour spar bridge inspection is relatively minor at a few hundred dollars, generally.

One of the great features of the composite DA40 is that periodic washing and waxing can keep it looking new for a long time, while the airframe is fairly tolerant to damage.

Cathy Ahles, Premier Aircraft Sales
Fort Lauderdale, Florida