Diamond Goes Big

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I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Despite its reputation for stifling regulation, there’s more airframe and powerplant innovation coming out of Europe than from the U.S. If you’re interested in new airplanes, look east, not in your backyard. It’s not unreasonable to say Chinese money is funding at least some of this.

Consider this report from our remote coverage of Aero: “Diamond will produce the four-place DA50-IV and the seven-place DA50-VII with 230-, 260- and 360-horsepower Safran/SMA diesels.” There’s more developmental news in that little nugget than from the last three or four Sun ‘n Fun shows combined.

Let’s break down where Diamond is going with this. The DA50 emerged as a proof of concept in 2006 and Diamond CEO Christian Dries said it would be certified in 2010 or 2011. It was a five-seater and could accommodate a range of engines. Never happened. I think Diamond’s capital and interest got sucked into the dark hole of the now idled D-Jet project.

But the large cabin idea morphed into what is now Diamond’s premium diesel twin, the DA62, which despite a price tag north of $1 million, is selling well. The announcement at Aero revisits the single-engine idea with a host of engines that thus far, haven’t even been the bride’s maid, much less the bride. To me, that’s the most interesting part of the news.

The smallest version of the DA50 series, the IV, will use the SR305-230E. This engine has a stunning history of, shall I say, non-acceptance. Its appearance in the market in 1999—yes, 18 years ago—predated the arrival of the Thielert diesels which, to date, remain the most successful Jet A piston engines.

SMA continued to improve the engine and it continued to not find traction in the OEM market. An STC conversion for the Cessna 182 found some buyers, but the company never really promoted it much. Maule offered it in the M9, but that project stalled and more recently, Cessna announced in 2012 that it would offer the SR305 in the Cessna 182 JT-A. But that project stalled, too and now has no definite timeline.

Before it bought the assets of Thielert, Continental purchased a technology transfer agreement with SMA to produce a certified variant of the SR305 of its own. That was in 2010. Seven years later, still no marketable engine, although Continental’s Rhett Ross told us last week during a visit to Mobile that announcements are imminent. Will Diamond have any better luck? Maybe. It’s got more diesel experience—including manufacturing its homegrown Austro engines—than anyone else. I wouldn’t bet against Diamond.

The DA50-IV is intended for the training market and presumably would be a competitor with the Cirrus SR20. Not one to mince words, Dries said at Aero that Diamond has lost sales to Cirrus because its cabins aren't large enough because Americans are, well, too fat. Diamond also mentioned a 360-HP version of the DA50 and I take that to be the flat six-cylinder diesel SMA showed off at Aero in 2013. At the time, SMA said it was just getting into test cell work. By the way, while the -IV has fixed gear, the more powerful variants will be retractables. Haven't seen a new certified piston retrac for quite some time.

As for the Lycoming offering, Diamond CEO Christian Dries said it would be a 375-HP engine. If that potentiates, it will be the most powerful single-engine piston on the market today. I assume this engine will be some variant of the IE2 project Lycoming has been simmering since at least 2010. (No one has ever accused this industry of rushing things to market.) Recall that this is a fully electronic engine, with single-lever control and dual FADEC. Lycoming used the Lancair piston Evolution as the test bed for this engine and as we reported, Tecam picked it for the emerging P2012 Traveler mini airliner. It’s good to see it finally finding OEM interest.

Diamond also announced a turbine version of the DA50, using the Ukrainian Ivchenko-Progress AI-450S. This is a free-turbine design similar to the Pratt & Whitney PT6. So Diamond is going the direction of Piper and Daher in offering a high-performance turboprop single. But it’s not to be a cabin-class airplane, so I have no idea of the market appeal.

As for the piston versions, the market niche is twofold. One is the Cirrus-type buyer who wants performance, but a larger cabin, which the DA50 has. The second is the buyer of a Piper Saratoga or a Beechcraft/Textron G36. In other words, the six-place market. This is not a major segment. In 2016, Textron sold 25 G36s and Piper ended the Saratoga in 2009, although it did move 26 Mirage/Matrix airframes. That’s not quite the same class of airplane, but they are singles.

Could new powerplants and the option of a seventh seat stimulate the market? At least a little? I wouldn’t bet against it. I have a history of being wrong about Christian Dries’ sometimes wacky ideas. When the DA42 appeared at the Berlin Airshow in 2002, I thought the idea of pairing obscure diesel engines with a new airframe was nuts. When I reviewed the airplane, I questioned whether the engines were ready. It turned out they were not, but it got sorted out. The airplane has been and continues to be a good seller for Diamond.

Obviously, these will be expensive airplanes. I’m guessing around the million dollar or a little more mark. I’m further guessing that at this price point, they’ll find buyers in the multiple dozens just as other Diamond products have. If the company makes money at that volume and the untried engines deliver acceptable service, thus is a business plan born. I’m not going to whine about the price because doing so is a pointless playing of a record that broke 20 years ago.

But I will whine about one thing. Who dreamed up those hideous gold paint schemes Diamond showed in its Aero stand? My colleague from the U.K.’s Flyer sent me this photo and it isn’t easy on the eyes.

Comments (13)

As Piper stopped making the Saratoga in 2009, it is not surprising that they didn't sell any in 2016. Perhaps it would be fair to include the 206, but perhaps not since so many of its sales are for work use as opposed to personal family haulers.

Posted by: paul robichaux | April 7, 2017 10:05 AM    Report this comment

Geez. You're right. I forgot about that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 7, 2017 10:19 AM    Report this comment

I'm curious about the -VII 375hp personally. I'm "new" enough that FADEC doesn't offend me I guess. Useful load will count, of course, so even the 360hp could be interesting if the engine is sorted. It'd be kind of nice to be burning Jet-A with it's (typically) lower cost, instead of hoping the 100LL replacement doesn't cause a bit of sticker shock.

Posted by: Joe Servov | April 7, 2017 12:58 PM    Report this comment

I want to see performance numbers. What do they cost? Options? Useful load etc. My guess is nothing has changed. History suggests they're expensive, slow and don't have much useful load after you add a few options. Welcome to the world of diesel.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | April 7, 2017 2:33 PM    Report this comment

I'm with you Joe - FADEC and single lever can't happen soon enough. It would also be an enabler of that prop-world unicorn - autothrottles for that dark and stormy night when your curb feelers are out. Hey, a guy can dream...

Posted by: Larry Martin | April 7, 2017 2:43 PM    Report this comment

Thomas:

Horsepower is horsepower. I used to fly a 400 hp Comanche. Overtook a Baron one afternoon. Recent diesel versions of existing airframes have been underpowered because the OEMs chose to install underpowered engines. Piper went so far as to call their 155 hp diesel almost-a-Warrior an Archer. Diesel power ain't the problem.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | April 7, 2017 3:36 PM    Report this comment

Don't get me wrong Tom. Diesel's are great as long as you keep them on cars and trucks. It's when you try to make them fly that they fall short. It's just what I see. Currently, they are just to heavy for the power they put out.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | April 7, 2017 8:49 PM    Report this comment

"Currently, they are just to heavy for the power they put out."

I think the market would prove this statement true for conversions, but wrong for new aircraft. In both Cessna and Piper conversions, the diesel weight penalty is considerable. But in new aircraft like Diamond's twins and even the diesel DA40s, the design engineers around the weight so the payload isn't impacted,

Diamond's DA62 has a useful load of 1565 pounds compared to 1494 pounds for the G58 Baron. Last year, Diamond sold 64 diesel twins, against 62 gasoline twins by Piper, Tecnam and Textron. Diesel has 50 percent market penetration in twins, about 10 percent overall.

One reason is that diesel airplanes are seen as "world" airplanes because Jet A is a world fuel and avgas is not. The other is operability. The engines are smooth, quiet and easy to start. As the TBOs rise, operating costs decrease.Buyers seem to say they like that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 8, 2017 4:32 AM    Report this comment

Diesel engine LOGISTICS???

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 8, 2017 10:33 AM    Report this comment

Diesel engine "logistics" -- maybe this will answer your question. We've owned a DA42-VI with twin Austro AE300 turbodiesels for nearly 4 years.

Because Austros run on unleaded JetA, they use synthetic oils and require an oil/filter change only every 100 hours instead of 50 for avgas engines. No spark plugs to get fouled or to replace. In our experience, we've only had to "top off" the oil by adding a single liter/quart between oil changes. Gearbox oil is replaced only every 300 hours. Oil filters are genuine Mercedes (since Austro engines are based on Mercedes car engines.)

Oil/filter changes and annual inspections can be performed by our on-airport maintenance shop (I do oil/filter changes myself as an owner because they're so easy). For more significant maintenance items (e.g., high pressure fuel pump replacement every 600 hours), you can fly your plane to one of Diamond's Service Centers.

TBO has been extended to 1800 hours this week for both the DA42's AE300 (168hp) and DA62's AE330 (180 hp) Austro turbodiesels. Diamond promises that 2000 hour TBOs are coming.

Separately, to address concerns that diesels are too heavy and don't perform well: our newer DA42 climbs at more than 1000 fpm at max gross weight all the way to 18,000 feet. It can supposedly climb to 18,000 feet on one engine (not that I've tried this). Our plane cruises at 180 KTAS throttled back to 75% power (13 gph total) at 16,000 feet; 195 KTAS max cruise at 92% power (16 gph).

Posted by: DAVE PASSMORE | April 8, 2017 8:24 PM    Report this comment

Good testament Dave.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 9, 2017 9:35 AM    Report this comment

From what little experience I have with European regulators during the ASTM discussions, they do have tighter and stricter rules... but they also seem a lot more willing to talk things over with you and work with you to find a solution. If you have an interesting way of doing something, or a new idea, or anything they haven't considered before, they listen.

By contrast, the FAA's rules may not be as strict in some areas, but they are absolutely forged in inconel and they will not consider discussion. "Yeah, we don't know why that's in the rules and it doesn't make sense to us either, but it's the rule and we're not changing it" is more the FAA response. The FAA also seems quite happy to drown you in paperwork if you try to do something a little differently, or want something unusual, or simply just because.

In both cases, though, it still seems there's a little too much "big airplane" mindset being applied to little airplanes.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | April 10, 2017 5:59 AM    Report this comment

"Hideous" is a charitable description of that repulsive paint scheme. After looking at the pictures and watching a video of the planes, all I can figure is that the paint scheme is designed to keep you from seeing what the plane looks like. Either that or it's a gag-reflex test.

Posted by: Richard Montague | April 10, 2017 7:44 AM    Report this comment

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