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Little Gem

Little Gem

At the outset I want to stress to our readers that I am a very rusty pilot. Very. While aviation was my first career, it’s been a good 11 years since I’ve been at the controls of an aircraft and there’s quite a big difference between a Tornado F.3, the last aircraft I flew professionally and today’s subject, the Diamond DA62.

When I reflected on this and internally reviewed my credentials to conduct this air test on your behalf it dawned on me that perhaps this isn’t a bad starting point, as the type of pilot who would buy and operate a DA62, the biggest twin in the Diamond fleet, is likely to be a non-professional aviator. Therefore if I can fly and navigate this aircraft, it’s highly likely anyone can! I am happy to say that in my limited experience of flying GA aircraft, the DA62 was one of the easiest and most intuitive aircraft I have ever flown.

Getting Started

I met Fernando Villalon, my pilot for the day at Hawker Pacific in Bankstown. He’d very kindly let me off the hook with any flight planning prior to embarking upon our sortie or the need to roll the aircraft out of the hangar. Fernando has over 750 hours of experience on Diamond aircraft  and possesses one of those wonderfully unique GA backgrounds, having retired as a corporate high flyer he has embraced his passion for flying later in life. In addition to his duties at Hawker Pacific, including ferry flights around the region, he is also a Class 1 instructor keeping local pilots up to date with their instrument ratings. I immediately felt comfortable with his capabilities!

The flightplan was fairly straightforward, departure from Bankstown to Mudgee via Katoomba (KADOM), where we were landing to pick up our photographer for the day, Australian Aviation’s own Mark Jessop. Onwards to Temora VFR for a few meetings, then back VFR via Mudgee to drop Mark off before landing back in Bankstown. Fuel tanks were full at 86 US gallons (326 litres) which was ample for our flight which included four departures and approaches. The only notable thing about the day was the temperature, with 43 degrees forecast at Mudgee and Temora. There was no doubt I’d be testing the aircraft’s hot weather performance!

Preflight

Walking towards the aircraft the first impression I had was that this is a very different looking aircraft. But to be honest, I quite liked the bulbous look of the fuselage as it trails away to a back end more reminiscent of a helicopter, albeit with a T-tail! The raked winglets round out what is a very unique and purposeful looking airframe, almost cool looking in the Big Bang Theory sense of the word.

The powerplants also looked a bit different, again the word that immediately came to mind is bulbous, due to the size of the liquid cooled Austro AE330 turbodiesel engines encased in their composite nacelles. Diamond has led the way in the application of avtur-burning diesel engines in aircraft. Derived from the Mercedes-Benz B-Class’s diesel engine and modified for use with cheaper and more accessible avtur, each AE330 is rated to 180hp (135kW). In discussions with a number of GA pilots it’s obvious that these powerplants are a game-changer and perfect for more remote flying as avgas becomes increasingly harder to find.

The aircraft sits tall on very rugged looking landing gear and climbing onto the wing with hands full of flight kit, headsets, water and snacks (it was a long day) proved to be extremely simple.

Once on the wing it was simple to unlock the gull-wing doors with a single hand and the door swings well clear of the cockpit to allow the pilot easy access to the seat. I liked the design feature where the edge of the seat pan can be folded back toward the seat allowing more room for the pilot to step through to place a foot on the cockpit floor and I immediately thought this aircraft would suit a BIG pilot. Two doors on each side means there is no climbing over backseats or over the PIC seat to get into the aircraft.

The walk around is very simple thanks to the ergonomic design of the aircraft and within five minutes the fuel and oil were checked, hatches closed and locked and I was comfortably seated in the right-hand seat. I have to admit it was nice to see a stick vs yoke in the cockpit, I always find flying with a stick more intuitive than the yoke, or maybe it’s just the flashbacks the stick invokes to the glory days of my early career.

Once seated behind the controls, setting the pedals couldn’t have been easier with the press of the pedal button by my right knee moving them electronically to just the right position, I really felt part of the aircraft and very comfortable prior to engine start and I am happy to report that this feeling remained throughout the day in all flight regimes.

The aircraft I was flying in today was the fully optioned model and you couldn’t help but think you were sinking into the cockpit of an AMG Mercedes or an M model BMW. Leather trim on the seven seats (including the rear bench seat for two passengers which is also an extra) and airconditioning make the interior welcoming for pilots and passengers alike.

To manage adverse flight conditions and keep those passengers and the pilot safe the aircraft was also equipped with a weather radar, integrated oxygen system and TKS known icing protection system (FIKI). Fernando confirms the efficiency of this system as he has experience with the usage of them in real icing conditions.

Start up and Taxi

The DA62 is possibly the easiest aircraft to start I’ve ever come across. MASTER AV – ON, wait for the Garmin G1000 to fire up, Engine Master – ON, wait a few seconds for the glow plug light to go out and push the ENGINE – START button. Repeat and very quickly both AE330s were quietly rumbling with all the gauges in the green. As the flightplan had already been uploaded earlier by Fernando (what a luxury!) it wasn’t long before we taxied to the run?up bay. While Fernando managed this aspect of our journey out of Bankstown, I did have the opportunity to manage this phase of the flight from Mudgee and Temora.

Like any new aircraft it takes a few seconds and bit of goosestepping to get a feel for the rudder pedals’ effectiveness on the ground. Visibility out of the cockpit is brilliant and the airconditioning in warm weather was far more effective than I was expecting, sparing me the ‘wet back’ effect prior to line up that is my usual companion on any aircraft I’ve flown thanks to the stinking hot cockpit environment. The aircraft is equipped with nose wheel steering, however I found myself using brakes and power to negotiate the aircraft around the apron – the DA62 was very well behaved.

True to Diamond’s pedigree the run up was…simple. This is thanks to the incorporation of an engine management system. No pitch levers, no mixture, no magnetos, just two throttles, which you don’t need to manipulate for the run-up! Just hit both the test button, one for each engine and within 30 seconds engine RPM checked, props checked and we’re ready to go.

Takeoff

Once lined up on the runway centreline at Mudgee, I checked the trim tabs, in the right-hand seat you need to use the trim wheel, in the left-hand seat the trim is on the stick and I noted a little right trim set on the yaw tab. As I eased the throttles forward to 100 per cent the aircraft accelerated quite comfortably even with the temperature showing 42 degrees, while it became apparent that the yaw trim balances a tendency for the aircraft to pull left under power and needed a touch of right rudder to keep the aircraft tracking the centreline.

I gently pull back on the stick at 75kt, set a climb attitude of five degrees and we climb away comfortably, raising the gear quickly after confirming a positive climb rate, powering back to 95 per cent, selecting flap up as we accelerated through 90kt. Upon raising the flaps there is a notable ‘wallow’ or “sink” sensation, but watching the rate of climb on my second departure there is no accompanied loss in altitude, then I accelerate out to our climb speed of 110kt. We climb out at 1,000ft/min and more quickly than I was expecting we level out at our cruise altitude of 8,000ft.

The Diamond is a very easy aircraft to load up and go with a MTOW and a max landing weight of 2,300kg – allowing a takeoff distance of 480m /883m, landing distance of 441m /779m.

Cruise

This aircraft is born to cruise! At top of climb Fernando brought the range display up on the G1000 10in display and it was comforting to note that our max endurance was over 11.5 hours and our range rings highlighted a max range extending to the East Coast of the NZ South Island, with reserves!

It’s during this part of the flight regime these incredible engines come into their own. En route to Mudgee and Temora the aircraft accelerated to a cruise speed of 165kt TAS with 75 per cent power set and our total fuel burn was a measly 15 USG/hr (57 litres/hr).  On the return trip to Mudgee we cruised back at an even thriftier 12USG/hr with power set at 65 per cent and the cruise speed settling back to 155kt TAS.

Heading back into Bankstown the warm weather had generated enough convection to allow storm clouds to build and to ensure we beat them home we set max continuous power of 95 per cent, accelerating the aircraft to 182kt TAS and a thirstier, though still impressive 19 USG/hr (72 litres/hr).

This aircraft was also equipped with a fully-integrated GFC700 Autopilot, yaw damper and electronic stability and protection system (EPS) and we utilised this technology throughout the flight through the G1000. Let’s just say, if I could figure out the autopilot on the first leg of our flight, anyone can.

Often in an air test we forget one of the most important elements of a passenger aircraft, the passengers themselves! Mark is a tall and lanky chap, the kind of fellow you’d instantly think is going to need to be crowbarred into your average light aircraft. The Diamond successfully ticked all the boxes for the passenger experience with Mark who was sitting directly behind the pilots and when asked to describe his two hours of cruising in the aircraft he responded “plush, smooth and relaxing” with ample leg room in the forward seats.

Granted, this starts to get a bit tight in the back row if you option the aircraft out for the bench seat at the rear of the aircraft bringing the total to seven seats.

General Handling

As a fully composite airframe I did notice a difference between the ‘metal’ twins I had flown previously, principally Barons and the ubiquitous Duchess. The Diamond seemed smoother, quieter and more comfortable with the added bonus of the EMS managing all the synchronisation issues that form part of light twin flying.

Control loads on the stick are firm, though balanced and the aircraft provides great feedback to the pilot, especially this one who hasn’t needed to push a rudder pedal in flight unless it was in an air combat mission! Power is extremely easy to set using the throttles and when something goes “wrong”, in this case a simulated engine failure, the aircraft was very easy to handle after feeling the indications of the failure through the seat of the pants and applying a small amount of rudder to square the aircraft up.

The final check conducted during the flight was the aircraft’s stall characteristics which we tested at 7,500ft. As we decelerated to the stall the aircraft kindly reminded us with its disembodied voice to lower our landing gear and as we reached the stall at 63kt the right wing dipped slightly as did the nose, around five degrees. With the simultaneous application of power and a slight lowering of the nose the aircraft accelerated, and we climbed back to our cruising altitude after a loss of about 120ft.

Importantly for infrequent aviators the ESP assists the pilot by preventing them from getting into a stall or placing the aircraft in a position where the aircraft is over-banked  (greater than 45 degrees AoB) or placed in an unusual attitude. If required the ESP system can be overridden by the pilot by the application of more force to the control column.

Approach and Landing

Each of our approaches was a breeze, at TOD we set a 500ft/min rate of descent into each airfield before flying a visual approach to land. On one of our approaches I had the opportunity to test the G1000 and the aircraft’s performance in the terminal area after Fernando set us up for a RNAV approach into RWY 05. Setting a terminal area speed of 130kt I had great situational awareness as we descended into the initial approach fix and subsequently down the full approach.

Passing 2,000ft I disengaged the autopilot and continued the descent. I’ve never flown an aircraft without a gear speed limit before and while leaving the power set I lowered the landing gear at 130kt, which had little effect on my attitude and the aircraft decelerated comfortably to around 95kt on glideslope.

The aircraft was very stable, requiring only minimal power inputs all the way down the approach including the lowering of full flap, allowing the aircraft to decelerate to its threshold speed of 90kt.

A gentle 5kt crosswind from the right required only a touch of aileron and rudder in the flare while the throttles were brought back to idle while making a small check back on the stick, around ½ inch, arresting the rate of descent and allowing the aircraft to settle gently on the runway.

The landing distance with very light braking was around 1,000ft or half the length of Runway 05.

The Golf Club Test

The Diamond is an ‘all seasons’ aircraft possessing the ability to comfortably fit two golf bags, three at a squeeze without disturbing the five passengers during the warmer months and four sets of skis for the trip to Mt Hotham or Queenstown during winter. Although with a trip of that range you’d need to be aware of the inability to take a comfort break in the confines of the cabin in anything other than single pilot operations!

Want One?

The Diamond DA62 I had the opportunity to fly was fully optioned with an asking price around A$1.7 million, with basic pricing for a new DA62 starting at US$1,135,000  ex Canada. If I had to take an extra option as a leisure pilot, I would definitely add the airconditioning mod at a cost of around US$20,000 – it worked perfectly on what was a very hot day.

In all I was quite taken with the whole look and feel of the Diamond. It is well designed from a pilot and passenger’s perspective and the manufacturer has taken on board all the lessons learned from its GA predecessors. It’s a disrupter in today’s GA market and there is no doubt with a combination of innovative power plants, composite construction, a partnership with Garmin and modern glass cockpits these aircraft from Austria will influence the market for some time to come.

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