Best of the Best: Personal Aircraft
Diamond DA42 Twin Star
Twin engines double the fun of flying this four-seater.
When you are flying in an unheated preproduction aircraft, the midwinter skies 7,500 feet above Austria are hardly hospitable. Yet the thrill of gripping the floor-mounted stick and piloting Diamond Aircraft’s revolutionary DA42 Twin Star is enough to temper the cockpit’s chill and warm a pair of icy hands.
Several minutes ago, I began my test flight by climbing above clouds and the snowcapped Austrian Alps at a rapid 1,700 feet per minute. I am now conducting a simulated engine failure, a potentially lethal occurrence aboard a single-engine plane, though not in the DA42. It is powered by two Thielert Centurion 1.7 engines; on one engine, the plane continues to climb comfortably at a rate of 700 feet per minute, requiring only a light touch of rudder to keep the aircraft flying straight. The engine-failure exercise complete, I put the DA42 through a series of maneuvers under full power, including steep turns and slow flight. The tests reveal an aircraft that remains taut, stable, and well harmonized throughout its flight envelope, as well as a machine that is relatively easy to operate. (One lever per engine—instead of the standard three—controls mixture, pitch, and throttle.)
The production version of the $360,000 DA42 will begin delivery this summer. (More than 250 orders for the plane had been placed as of this spring.) The four-seat DA42, which cruises at 208 mph and peaks at 231 mph, carries a price half that of the Beechcraft Baron 58, one of its older twin-engine competitors. The Diamond’s thrifty Thielert engines, which are based on Mercedes diesels, sip only 5 gallons of fuel per hour.
The DA42 is equipped with a Garmin G1000 avionics system, which replaces standard dials and gauges with two flat-panel displays. One screen displays airliner-style flight instruments and engine gauges, while the other screen shows a moving map, weather and terrain displays, and positions of nearby aircraft. The two screens can be reversed to allow the passenger in the right-hand seat to fly the plane.
The DA42 is Diamond’s follow-up to its single-engine DA40. The company initially designed the DA42, which has a ceiling of 20,000 feet and a range of approximately 1,220 miles, as a modern but economical training aircraft for airline pilots. The plane would replace older models such as the Piper Seminole and Beech Duchess. “In two years,” says Diamond CEO Christian Dries, “everyone will learn to fly twins on DA42s.”
Diamond soon discovered that the twin-engine plane also appealed to private owners. Owner-operators who were considering high-performance singles such as the Cirrus SR22, the Cessna 182 Turbo, and the Socata TB21 wanted to sample an economical twin as well. Martin Volck, the DA42’s designer, believes that the twin’s safety features are particularly appealing to would-be owners, most of whom will pilot the planes themselves. “We believe in active safety, good handling qualities, low stall speeds, and good avionics showing traffic and terrain,” Volck says. “There’s nothing wrong with a parachute as a passive last-resort device, but it’s better to have a spare engine.”