You don’t need to spend much time with a Diamond DA40 to recognize its glider roots, which the company started out producing when it was Hoffmann Flugzeugbau. From the long efficient wings to the stretched-out seating and well-executed ergos, the four-place DA40 is sleek, efficient and has timeless good looks.
The DA40 has a small fuselage, but don’t let the exterior fool you. The aircraft’s cabin is roomier than it looks, plus it has control sticks instead of panel-blocking yokes, which makes the cockpit a better place to be.
Best of all, the composite DA40 is mild mannered. It handles stiff crosswinds with ease, plus the accident reports consistently rank the airplane more favorably than others in its class if the pilot brings the A-game. The DA40 could very well have one of the best outcomes for post-crash fires of any small GA airplane—we’ve yet to hear of one melting.
Flash back to 1981 in Friesach, Austria, where Hoffmann Flugzeugbau began 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.
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 reliable 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. Today, that 2000 model-year DA40-180 Star has an Aircraft Bluebook average retail value of $85,000.
Initial deliveries of DA40s were equipped with dual Garmin GNS 430s and BendixKing KAP140 autopilots. In 2004, Diamond announced that new Stars would have the Garmin G1000 integrated avionics 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.
In 2006, the DA40-XL 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 à 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.
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 was 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.
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 (the TTx is gone, of course) 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.
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.
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 run around 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 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.
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, so slower is better.
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 and Diamond 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.
There’s also the Forced Aeromotive supercharging mod (www.forcedaeromotive.com), and while we’ll look at supercharging in a separate article, the kit for the Diamond is $30,150. Yielding max continuous true airspeed of 164 knots at 8500 feet and far better climb at higher altitudes, downtime for the upgrade is roughly 16 days and adds 18 pounds.
There’s also removable Jet Shades (www.jetshades.com) to keep the DA40’s cabin cooler in flight.
We flew our much loved Citabria for a few years before we decided to buy a Diamond Star DA40. We moved to Florida and the two-seat Citabria could only carry one of our visiting guests at a time, so we wanted something small, slow and economical to take three people up at a time for some low-altitude sightseeing flights here in the Florida Keys. We also wanted to be able to carry more/heavier loads than the Citabria could so the Diamond fit that bill very nicely. I’d already sold my complex high-performance Trinidad because it was hangared in Connecticut and I wasn’t available to fly it after moving to Florida.
The back two seats of the DA40 conveniently fold forward for storing even somewhat large baggage. The Trinidad had an odd-shaped baggage door, although it would take considerable poundage in that area. The gullwing passenger door on the left side of the DA40 makes it easy for loading for larger people or cargo. I also like the large forward-lifting front canopy. The view is about as good as glider’s. Being a low-wing airplane as my Trinidad was makes for convenient fueling. No more hauling and climbing up the ladder for each wing refueling for this 72-year-old lady as was necessary with the Citabria. The DA40 has a stick, like the Citabria.
The Trinidad has a wider cabin compared to the DA40. Luckily, I’m a small woman and my husband is about 175 pounds, so it isn’t a big problem for us. It would be a squeeze for two 250-pound men, but so would any other small piston airplane. The DA40’s rudder pedals are adjustable while the seat is fixed. Being a small pilot I’ve used a seat and back cushion when flying the Trinidad, the Citabria and the DA40. I really do like the ability to keep the DA40 canopy latched opened about one inch while taxiing. I didn’t have that feature in the Trinidad. In the Citabria, I had to open the window when taxiing in the hot climate. The DA40 requires a lot of right rudder as you gain speed on the runway.
When we purchased our 2005 DA40 I was used to flying our Pilatus PC-12NG. Oh, no—it seemed like a step backward having throttle/prop/mixture controls that I’d had in the Trinidad. I was spoiled by the PC-12 simplicity in having just a power lever to deal with. Fortunately our DA40 has the Garmin G1000 with lean assist mode, which I find helpful. It’s taken a while for me to get dialed in to my exacting standards on fuel flow/temps, but I’m now comfortable with it. The Trinidad handled turbulence very well compared to the lighter Diamond. Still, I don’t find the ride in the Diamond Star noticeably bumpy.
Landing the Trinidad with its trailing link landing gear made every landing look good. The Diamond Star has fixed gear, which isn’t quite as forgiving. When landing with only one notch of flaps, be prepared to float quite a bit. Even with full flaps, it seems to float some unless you are right on target with speed. And I admit to often being a bit faster than that. Full flaps on final approach with both the DA40 and the Trinidad means you will come down very fast if you don’t keep enough power.
The DA40 is more economical than the Trinidad and less economical than the Citabria. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s been a love affair in each case. (But as we know of any love affair, there’s always something less than perfect to manage.) Currently, the DA40 fits the bill nicely for what my heart desires at this point in my life. However, my next Diamond Star will have a touch of red paint to spice it up.
Susan Simmons – Marathon, Florida
When I was finally in a position to purchase an airplane I wanted to pick a model that I would still want 20 years down the road. I wanted my first plane to be my last plane so I picked the DA40 because it seemed to fit that bill. I loved the modern looks, comfortable seating and modern avionics, which aren’t so modern any more. The visibility is great here in the Pacific Northwest because we tend to have a lot of cloud cover, but on very sunny days and in warmer climates the great bubble canopy can be a heat problem.
On the Diamond Aviators forum (www.diamondaviators.net) it’s obvious that there is a good bias for the DA40 as being the best in its category, but there is always room for improvement. On one specific thread I recall someone asking “How can you make the most perfect airplane more perfect?” The answer was clearly to have more power up higher. I recall one uncomfortable flight climbing to clear a mountain pass with the seats full, although easily under gross. At about 10,000 feet I was barely able to get 400 FPM at a reduced speed that was causing my CHTs to exceed 400 degrees. That flight made a big impression on me. So when a year later I received a mass mailing advertising the Forced Aeromotive supercharging mod for a Cessna 206, I asked if there would be a mod to supercharge a DA40. My Diamond ultimately became the guinea pig for a seven-year project (new record?), which resulted in an STC to put a belt supercharger on the DA40’s IO-360. The most perfect plane is now more perfect and has more utility.
In those seven years, my plane was not often available since it spent most of its time in Denver, Colorado, and I live in Vancouver, Washington. I’ve owned two other planes in that time. First a Just Highlander, which opened my eyes to the fun of STOL operations, and then a Glasair Sportsman, which I still own. I was thinking that once the supercharging STC was completed that I would sell the Diamond and be done with it. But when the DA40 came back home and was tucked into the hangar and I started to fly it, I remembered why I love the DA40 so much. Great lines and it fits like a glove. I love the long wings, the handling, the view, the center stick and the rear door.
The cargo area is really quite generous especially with the rear seats folded down, but it would be so much better if Diamond had made the seats fold down flat and latch with hard-point tiedowns—much like the old country squire station wagons of old. I really like the Sportsman as it better fits my mission and the joy of owning and maintaining an experimental (EAB) fits me as I have trouble leaving well enough alone and I enjoy making changes. But after 13 years of ownership (purchased new in 2006) the DA40 continues to be my first-love airplane, and I struggle to decide which plane I’m going to part with as I really don’t need two planes
As for mods, I’m an early adopter and am continuously tweaking. The first mod was the Power Flow exhaust. It made a noticeable difference from the first takeoff. It’s now standard equipment and most planes have been upgraded. Next came the Electroair electronic ignition. I really appreciate the electronic mag but am not a great fan of its multiple components, plus I had some trouble with it early on but it’s worth having. I upgraded the landing/taxi lights to HID (huge improvement) though there are probably LEDs now that would be even better. Next was LED nav/strobe wingtip lights to replace the Whelen flash bulb lights. I installed a RAM ball mount on the panel to hold my iPad mini, and now the iPad sits just in front of the pilot’s air vent, which keeps it cool. The last mod was the supercharger.
Currently I am in the process of installing the Garmin GTX 345R for ADS-B In/Out. The traffic will show on the G1000, but the software will have to be upgraded (when pigs fly) before the weather will display on the G1000. So I’ll still retain a Stratux ADS-B receiver and my iPad for displaying weather. Down the road I might get a set of pricey Jet Shades for the cabin/canopy.
Also being installed is a taller landing gear, which became available in 2007. The tail skid on my DA40 is 18 inches from the hangar floor when loaded with full fuel and no people or cargo. It’s reported that a newer DA40’s tail skid is around 24 inches from the floor. Since I operate out of a 2500-foot grass runway this will make a big change as I am limited in flare and rotation. It’s common to have to pull weeds from the tail skid. Speaking of sod runways, I have to leave the main gear wheel fairings off as they have been cracked more than once on the soft ground. The nosewheel on these planes continues to get canted after takeoff, which causes the need for rudder pressure. It’s a known issue and has been largely figured out by folks on the forum. One owner is working on a fix that installs a small aerodynamic fin on the nosewheel fairing.
The Garmin G1000 integrated avionics suite looked really great (and still is in many respects) when new, but because it is not being updated it’s very quickly been eclipsed. I now wish mine was one of the earlier round-gauge aircraft as they are so very easy to update. My Sportsman has an AFS-5600 and Avidyne IFD540 installed. It has a fraction of the components yet flies circles around my non-WAAS G1000.
I’m convinced that integrated avionics are perfect in commercial aircraft that fly constantly and will be worn out before the avionics get old. However, for GA, discrete components make much more sense in so many ways. I think the industry needs to take a close look at its efforts to sell more planes by making them near impossible to update. I think it’s a marketing Catch-22. Why would an airframe manufacturer keep updating the avionics of older planes when that reduces the number of new planes it might sell? It might even hurt sales of new Diamond models given the history of the DA40’s avionics being left behind. I believe one answer is to get rid of the integrated suites—like the aging G1000–—in favor of retrofit systems.
Brock Steiner – via email