There Are Affordable Airplanes: The Katana Is One

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As editor of Aviation Consumer, I receive a small trickle of e-mail decrying the demise of general aviation. The details of these notes vary, but the theme is always the same: The manufacturers have ruined the industry by tilting toward big-ticket, high-priced new models that only a select few can afford. Or the oil companies have done the same by price gouging on avgas. Or maybe it's the speculators, who have driven up fuel prices by bidding up future contracts. Pick your theory.

But even in the worst of markets—and the current GA market is soft but hardly disastrous—there are always some bright spots. One of these, which we're reporting on in the October issue of Aviation Consumer, is Diamond's DA20 Katana/Eclipse/Evolution series on the used market. (You can get a free look at the full article by clicking here.) These airframes debuted in the U.S. a little over a decade ago to moderate sales success.

Why they didn't sell better is one the minor puzzlements of GA marketing. The airframe is thoroughly modern with well-crafted composite construction, the cockpit—while not exactly spacious—is comfortable enough and the visibility is terrific. With its center stick, the airplane is easy and fun to fly. While the early models with the Rotax 912 were underpowered and a nuisance to service in the U.S., the follow-on C1 models with the Continental IO-240 have proven a winner.

For anyone looking for an affordable fun flyer that sips gas while delivering decent speed, the DA20s are good bets. They're neither LSA compliant nor IFR certified, but they're easily affordable by a sole owner and two or three owners in a partnership could manage the care and feeding of one for pocket change. And speaking of pockets, the DA20 occupies one as one of the better values in GA for pilots looking to stay in the game without worrying too much about how to afford it. The used market in the U.S. is tilted about six or seven to one in favor of the Continental-powered C1 version and, depending on year, these sell in the $70,000. There are about 50 of the Rotax-powered A1's in the U.S. and these are still supportable and sell for as little as $35,000 to $40,000.

Either way, these are worthy airplanes for the recreational flyer and definitely worth considering.

Comments (5)

I've flown a DA20 and had a great time- relatively fast, great visibility, low fuel consumption.

One response to the Aviation Consumer article mentioned composite props delaminating in the rain- is that true?

It's also very hard to find used planes for the prices you list. At the moment the low prices on DA20-C1s on aso, controller, and trade-a-plane are $82K, $99K, and $109K, and the $82K has a run-out engine. Most are $130K+.

Might stick with an older Mooney until the market goes back up.

Posted by: jack test | October 3, 2008 3:10 PM    Report this comment

I've owned the precursor to the DA-20, a SuperDimona motor glider, for over 9 years now. It too is powered with the Rotax 912. I may be a bit biased, but it is a great aircraft! Not only does it sip 4.5 GPH in powered cruise, but I also have the option of shutting the engine down and soaring with 28-1 glide ratio. On any day with decent thermal activity flights of up to 3 or more hours are easily accomplished, while logging tach time of as little as .3 hours. So, I can log 3 hours of flight time with a fuel burn of less than one gallon.

I do think the prices quoted in the article are a bit optimistic. Most of the Katana Xtremes or Super Dimonas I've seen listed for sale in the past year or so run from $100k to about $130k.

Posted by: Ward Burhanna | October 6, 2008 11:37 AM    Report this comment

My wife and I bought one of the early models of the C1's after completing our private pilot training in the A1's.

Adding the Continental IO-240 made a world of difference to this airframe and greatly increased the utility.

We have put over 1,000 hours of fun flying in ours with one trip racking up 1,683 nautical miles. All in all we couldn't be happier with our purchase.

Maintaince has been just the routine stuff, tires, tubes, batteries, brake pads, oil and filters.

We see better figures than you report in the Aviation Consumer article, both in airspeed and fuel burn. For flight planning I use 125 Knots TAS but usually see 133 Knots TAS. Fuel burn is consistantly 5 to 5.3 gph at our normal crusing altitute of 10,500 to 11,500'.

The Sensenich wood prop will suffer in in rain if you keep your RPM high. I have never seen one delaminate but it will erode and become pitted. Limit your RPM's to 2200 or less and you shouldn't have a problem.

Other pilot friends always comment on the fantastic visibility and how much fun it is to fly. Everyone seems to love the center stick as well, even if they have only flown with a yoke in the past.

Floating on landing is something all new C1 pilots do. Fly it by the book numbers and your landings will soon become squeekers.

I recently read that Diamond Aircraft has just built the 1,000th model of the Katana/Evolution/Eclipse series. I'm glad to see this great plane is finally getting the attention it richly deserves.

Posted by: Ric Lee | October 6, 2008 3:46 PM    Report this comment

We have owned a DA-20-A1 for about three years now. Generally, it has been a great airplane. My son and daughter both soloed in the Katana. My son recently got his Private Pilot license on his 17th birthday in the airplane.

We have had an issue with overheating that Diamond has been unable to cure, but they have promised a fix in the near future. The later serial number Rotax 912's seem to be the problem, but no one knows for sure.

It is a fun airplane to fly, 4.5 gallons of unleaded auto gas per hour and low maintenance costs. Parts from Diamond are expensive and the Rotax parts (due to the exchange rate) are even more.

The A1's that come up for sale do not stay on the market very long.

Posted by: Keith Ellis | October 7, 2008 9:05 AM    Report this comment

I was lucky enough to buy a classic Katana (A1) last spring for around $40,000. Most of the North American Rotax Katanas have been sent to Europe where their great fuel efficiency is appreciated even more.

They tend to sell fast. There is a Rotax Katana for sale now on www.controller.com.

Posted by: David White | October 8, 2008 3:13 PM    Report this comment

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