Going the Extra Mile
Diamondstar DA-40XLS Flight Report
The long-winged Diamond DA-40 has been steadily entering the market in the four-seat fixed-gear general aviation aircraft long dominated by the Cessna 172. With sleek and sturdy composite construction, the DA-40 has been capable of showing a clean pair of heels to the competition.
Diamond has not been resting on its laurels, but has been continuously improving the DA-40. I was eager to fly the latest version, the DA-40XLS.
I met up with the XLS on the ramp outside US Aero at Long Beach Airport in Southern California. The day did not seem promising for our mission, with a thick overcast blanketing the area, but Rob Stewart, my pilot for the day, and US Aero Territory Manager for Diamond aircraft in the South Western USA, was not dismayed. With a full avionics fit and integrated autopilot, the DA-40XLS was fully IFR capable, and the inclement weather would give us a chance to see the advantages of the system under instrument conditions.
A walk around of the sleek composite aircraft revealed a number of obvious differences from the previous generation of DA-40s I had flown. The most noticeable was the 3-bladed scimitar MT propeller, driven by the familiar 180 HP IO-360, now coupled to a distinctive chromed Powerflow exhaust. Although the rated HP is still 180, the improved efficiency of the Powerflow exhaust gives better climb rate and cruise speed.
High aspect ratio always promises aerodynamic efficiency for the wings. Based on the Diamond sailplane heritage, the wings on the DA-40 also sport small winglets which further improve the aerodynamics of the wing. On the safety side, the long and efficient composite wings have double spars which also protect the aluminum fuel tanks. Tank capacity is increased to 50 gallons in the two wing tanks.
The sleek fuselage provides adequate capacity for the four-person cabin.
Stewart pointed out that in the XLS the whole cabin was higher and wider, with a larger cabin area. The canopy sides bulge out further to give more elbow room.
This gives better headroom and more room for the occupants. I am over six feet tall and it must be admitted in flying the earlier Diamond DA 20 Katana and the DA-40 had found the cockpit size rather constricting.
One aspect of the DA-40 I had always liked, in addition to the entrance either side for the front seaters, is the huge gull-wing door on the left hand side for the rear seat occupants. Having first-hand experience of the contortions required when climbing into the rear seats on other aircraft with only two doors or (horrors) only one door, good rear-seat access has always been high on my requirements list. There is extra baggage space behind the rear seats. If the mission calls for no rear occupants, the rear seats fold flat, and bulky or long items can be carried in this flying SUV.
The characteristic T-tail of the DA-40 is unchanged.
It was time for us to board. We started with the canopy open. The canopy incorporates the windshield and is hinged at the leading edge. I found it an exceptionally easy entrance to the left seat, using the step at the leading edge of the wing to climb up onto the wing walkway then step down into the cockpit. Meanwhile Stewart mirrored my actions to slide into the right seat.
Entry to the DA 40XLS is exceptional. The canopy hinges open, with the front seaters stepping up the leading edge of the wing and then down into the cockpit. Entry to the rear seats is via a huge door on the left hand side of the fuselage. The sturdy fixed gear with its speed pants is low drag, while the castoring nosewheel provides the ability to maneuver easily on a crowded ramp.
The cockpit is roomy and luxurious, with leather seats and trim. The twin sticks are built into the seats, so freeing up the all important view of the various panels and controls.
The instrument panel is dominated by the two screens of the Garmin G-1000, although it was to be revealed that this was not the standard G-1000 capabilities that I had been flying for the past couple of years in other aircraft. This system is fully integrated with the GFC-700 autopilot, and is WAAS capable. We were to demonstrate this during the flight.
The cockpit is by any standards luxurious, with leather upholstery and finished with plenty of polished wood ...... just think BMW.
I particularly like the electric adjustment of the rudder pedals. The seats do not adjust, but the pedals can be driven through an impressive range.
Ergonomically, the cockpit is comfortable and just feels right. The short sticks are unobtrusive but effective, with each stick containing the usual trim, radio and autopilot disconnect buttons.
Airbags are built into the seat harness for extra safety, and a hefty roll cage protects the occupants. The DA-40XLS is built for survival.
Once strapped in, it is a simple process to go through our pre-start checks, bring down and lock the canopy in its partially-open position with the lever near my left elbow and then start the engine.
The center console has the fuel selector together with the trio of engine control levers with the Throttle, Prop and Mixture. A trim wheel is inset into the console in addition to the electric pitch trim.
I use the usual procedure for starting the IO-360, priming first, then mixture back while I key the starter, and then forward on the mixture lever once the engine fires.
ATIS confirms the ceiling at 1200 feet over the field, with the maritime layer persisting as an overcast south of us to the coast and out to sea.
Stewart calls up Clearance Delivery and requests an IFR departure to VFR on top.
Our answer is a rapid-fire response:
“Diamond 695DS is cleared to PADDR intersection. After takeoff maintain runway heading to 800 feet, then left turn to 200 degrees to intercept LAX 145 radial to PADDR
Departure freq 124.65. Climb and maintain 3,000 feet. Report reaching VMC on top
Expect Further Clearance 10 minutes after takeoff ”
The Bose noise-canceling headsets give us crystal-clear comms.
Now switching to ground control we are cleared to taxi to runway 25L via Taxiway Foxtrot to Delta intersection. The SAFETAXI display on the MFD shows the various designations on this complex airport. I have no problem turning from ramp to taxiway with the castoring nosewheel.
As on previous DA-40s, we taxi with the canopy cracked open for ventilation, with the rear edge up a foot or so. On a normal California sunny day it’s a very good way of keeping the temperature down to acceptable levels.
At intersection Delta I turn into the runup area, and complete the standard engine and control checks. I cycle the prop.
With all in order in the engine department, I lean the mixture and set up our simple flight plan from KLGB out to PADDR on the Garmin 1000. I set up a target altitude of 3000 feet on the G1000.
On my PFD I tun in the LAX VOR frequency of 113.6 and the 145 radial from LAX.
Then I input our squawk code.
Stewart shows me a nice touch. This is the Takeoff/go around button on the throttle which biases the flight director bars 7 degrees up to give the correct climb attitude….. another example of Diamond going the extra mile.
I complete my pre-takeoff checks, which includes lowering takeoff flap.
We wait a few seconds for IFR release. A Jetblue A 320 lands on the intersecting runway 30 and noisily crosses in front of us.
“Diamond 695DS is cleared for IFR Departure as requested and cleared for takeoff on 25L from intersection Delta"
I complete my check list: Lower and lock the canopy, All doors are closed and locked,
Flaps set for takeoff, Strobes and landing light on, Trim set, mixture forward and a final visual check that final approach is clear.
A touch of power moves us past the hold-short line onto the runway. I line up and push the throttle forward. Some right rudder is needed to keep straight, as expected.
I rotate at 63 knots,followed the FD cue on my PFD for the 7 degree nose-up pitch, and accelerate to 80 knots for our initial climb. With flaps up and trimmed out, our climb rate settles at over a thousand feet a minute
At 800 feet I turn left to 200 degrees. Once on course I engage the GFC 700 autopilot , with Heading mode selected and 3000 ft as our target altitude.
By now moisture is streaming back over the canopy.
We plunge into the mist, and the ground below disappears. I simply have to monitor the PFD as the autopilot maintains our attitude as we climb through the cloud deck. The MFD map display confirms that we are tracking towards the coast. At two thousand feet I get an audible warning that we have one thousand feet to go to our target altitude. By twenty three hundred feet the clouds thin, then we are speeding through the tops of this maritime cloud layer and emerge on top into brilliant sunshine. A minute later feet we cancel IFR and start checking for traffic, as we are heading into the busy Long Beach practice area. The Traffic Information System (TIS )uses radar returns from the radars which blanket the LA Basin and we have 3 or 4 targets displayed in our map view on the MFD, with one actually holding at PADDR in front of us. The traffic is also displayed on my PFD, with the correct orientation, either below, above or at our level, giving a good cue where I need to look to spot the bogies.
I scan the sky to confirm the traffic and am struck once more with the amazing visibility from the cockpitwith the extensive transparencies. At the same time I am aware of the extra headroom and elbow room in the revised cockpit. No banging my headset on the roof or side-window in the DA 40XLS.
The synthetic vision (SVT) also depicts, in addition to the aerial traffic, the rocky coastline of Catalina, hidden under the cloud deck in front of us.
I select PATHWAY on my PFD soft key to produce a line of boxes tracing our path out to sea to PADDR intersection.
As we reach 3000 feet we intercept the line of rectangles.
Due to the density of traffic ahead, we curtail our leg outbound and reverse course back to the coast, climb to 4000 feet and I reacquaint myself with the DA 40s handling in medium and steep turns, then slow for a stall series with and without power which confirms the innocuous behavior I remember from earlier DA-40s. Behavior clean and with flap is fairly innocuous. Full aft stick results in the DA-40XLS just sitting there with the nose bobbling up and down. Stalling in the turn under power in other aircraft can sometimes be dramatic. Not so in the DA-40XLS. In turning flight with the stick full aft, and stall warning blaring, we were now into buffet, in turning flight and still under complete control. No problems.
With its sleek lines and efficient high-aspect ratio wing, the four-seat DA-40XLS cruises at 150knots TAS on the 180 HP of the IO-360. This equates to about 16mpg while eating up the
distance at over three miles a minute. The composite construction results in a smooth airframe. Fuel capacity has been increased to 50 gallons in a pair of wing tanks.
Handling with the short stick is a pleasure. The ailerons and elevators use rods and the rudder uses cables. Control inputs and the resulting maneuvers are smooth and precise.
By this time, we are heading north to the coastline on the mainland where the rapidly thinning cloud has broken to reveal the slate-gray Pacific now visible below us.
Stewart points out the long horizon line and flight vector on the PFD which help with SA during maneuvers.
I embark upon a series of medium and steep turns from cruising speed. The G1000 certainly helps in maintaining the correct attitude. I realise that I'm really having fun flying this aircraft as I reverse from a right to a left bank, keeping altitude locked on 3000 feet.
Then, as I am pulling into a steep left turn , Stewart looks across the cockpit, past me and says, ”Let me have it for a minute, you might want to look down there” I relinquish the stick and turn my head to the left, looking down to the surface of the Pacific. Down below the left wingtip as we turn is the streamlined shape of a blue whale, eastbound at 3 knots. On cue the whale spouts, and a cloud of vapor drifts back over the whale. It’s a majestic and impressive sight. I muse that maybe the FAA should consider “ turns around a whale ” rather than the more prosaic turns around a point for us California-based pilots...before I return to my pursuit of perfection in the steep turn.
It's time for the speed run to see how fast we can go. I set up 75% power and we accelerate to 150 knots without fuss. It's an impressive number for any fixed gear four-seater.
I look at the latest capabilities of the avionics We have an impressive list of capabilities, with satellite data link, WAAS, TAWS-B for terrain avoidance, and the TIS traffic capability.
To try out the system I push the NRST softkey on the PFD , which identifies the nearest airport as Torrance. While the radios switch to TOA frequency, the synthetic vision on the PFD displays the rugged coastline, marks and identifies the airfield as TOA on the perspective view on the PFD, and, more importantly, shows that there is a hill (Palos Verdes Hill at 1500 feet) in between us and the airport (we have TERRAIN selected on the MFD and PFD for extra insurance.)
As I head towards the hill, now clearly visible out of the canopy, as we near the coast the terrain on the PFD and MFD goes yellow as our vertical clearance decreases. It would go red and I would get an audible TERRAIN, PULLUP audio warning as we closed on the hill.
That's enough to convince me that the system works, and I pull round out to sea again.
We head eastbound over the Pacific, for a look at the approach capability of the system.
Rather than the usual ILS approach into Long Beach, we choose to sample the WAAS capabilitiy of the system and select the RNAV (GPS) Zulu approach for Runway 30.
Stewart brings up the Approach chart on the MFD so that I can review the approach and set the minimums on my PFD
I switch to Socal on 124.65 to request the RNAV (GPS) Zulu for Runway 30 at Long Beach and we are vectored over DRIFY, heading 120 degrees, and down to 2400 feet while we input the procedure for the approach. We will do this all on autopilot. I input the 290 feet minimums for the LPV mode of this WAAS approach. The system will effectively generate localizer and glideslope inputs which replicate the usual ILS signals, and heads us for the Initial Approach Fix at ALBAS . With APPROACH mode selected the autopilot turns us at ALBAS, heading north east, in over the coast near Huntington Beach, finally turning us at OYSUP to the final approach course of 301,with LPV mode presented on the HSI.
Once established we switch from SOCAL to the Tower on 119.4
I set up speed at 80 knots and approach flap configuration.
The glideslope becomes active and automatically directs us into a descent. I reduce power. We are at 1600 feet at the FAF of GUNEY and we come down to the DA of 290 feet (we get an audible warning-female voice “Minimum altitude”) while I monitor the approach.
Synthetic vision gives a perspective view of the runway and even identifies the runway in this case RW 30.
At minimums I disconnect the autopilot and land. It's all commendably simple and accurate.
I'm impressed. Diamond has coupled good performance with a safe, rugged aircraft with avionics that are comparable to that found on a bizjet. And it's undeniably fun to fly.
After landing, SAFETAXI comes into play again. I am grateful for the depicted plan view of the field on the MFD as we are directed by ground control through a maze of taxiways. We hold momentarily for traffic before we can cross 25L again, then finally are cleared back to the US Aero Ramp .
Specifications of the Diamond DA-40XLS:
Engine Lycoming IO-360-M1A
With Power flow Tuned Exhaust 180HP at SL
Propeller 3 blade constant speed composite MT
Fuel 50 gallons
Weights Max takeoff weight 2645 lbs
Useful load 860 lbs
Span 39 ft 6 inches
Length 26 ft 5 inches
Height 6 ft 6 inches
Cabin width 45.5 inches
Cruise speed at 75% power:150 knots at 10 gph
Range at 75% power (45 minutes reserves) 720 nm
Max speed (KTAS) 157 knots
Best rate of climb at SL 1120 fpm
Service ceiling 16,400 feet
Takeoff ground roll 1175 feet
Landing ground roll 1155 feet
Landing over 50 ft obstacle 2093 feet