We’ve watched the evolution of the Diamond DA40 series with interest. Our first reaction to what would become the Diamond Star was to be less than impressed. We thought the canopy was a marketing ploy that would make emergency egress difficult, and the cabin looked small and uncomfortable.
Then we flew it. The canopy provided superb visibility, the speed was impressive—newer models are even faster—and handling was just plain fun. We liked the control harmonization and how easy it was to land in a crosswind.
The cabin proved to be roomier than it looked with control sticks instead of panel-blocking yokes, even if they did have to be used with the wrong hand.
Given its European roots, Diamond came at the DA40’s design as sort of hybrid between the sleek glass gliders the company started out producing when it was Hoffman Flugzeugbau and more traditional aircraft U.S. customers are accustomed to. This yielded what we think can fairly be called a world airplane.
Diamond DA40 History
Hoffman Flugzeugbau began life in 1981 in Friesach, Austria, producing the H36 Dimona motorglider, a popular recreational airplane in Europe. Ten years later, Christian Dries and family took over Hoffman and in 1992, it launched an effort at the North American market by opening a new plant in London, Ontario, in a converted World War II aircraft factory.
Diamond—then called Dimona—got its feet wet in the U.S. market by importing the Austrian-built DV20 Katana. In 1995, it began building Rotax-powered DA20-A1s in the London plant and selling these into what was then a lukewarm market for new trainers. By the time the company changed its name from Dimona to Diamond in 1996, it realized that both the North American and world markets had room for a composite four-place airplane.
In 1997, Diamond announced the DA40 Diamond Star at the big European show in Friedrichshafen, Germany, with the prototypes powered by the Rotax 914 and Continental IO-240. But the airplane clearly needed more power. In 2000, the DA40-180 was certified with the Lycoming IO-360 and a year later, production began in the London plant. Sales were initially brisk, especially to the trainer market which, increasingly, was turning to Cessna 172s for new training aircraft. Many flight schools found would-be students weren’t as price-sensitive as they once thought and wanted the option of two additional seats, which the Katana couldn’t provide. When it initially appeared in the 2000 model year, the DA40 sold for $189,900, typically equipped.
Initial deliveries of DA40s were equipped with dual Garmin GNS430s and Bendix/King KAP140 autopilots. In 2004, Diamond announced that new Stars would have the Garmin G1000 EFIS system and that same year, Diamond announced a joint venture to sell and build DA40s for the Chinese market, primarily for training in that country’s burgeoning airline sector. Knowing it had found a niche, in 2005, Diamond announced the DA40-FP, a fixed pitch-only version of the airplane, with the carbureted Lycoming O-360. This model was aimed specifically at the training market. The FP’s base price at the time of introduction was $187,800.
In 2006, the DA40XL appeared, which was basically just packaging of high-end options, such as the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, Powerflow exhaust system, a composite three-blade MT prop, a 110-pound gross weight increase, electrically adjusted rudder pedals and a premium interior.
The airplane was clearly aimed at the upscale owner-flown market, which Cirrus was having good success serving. Fully equipped, the XL model sold for $329,000.
In late 2007, yet more versions of the Diamond DA40 appeared, the XLS and the CS. The XLS has a wider, higher canopy and a luxury interior while the CS is essentially an la carte model with a constant-speed prop that lets flight schools configure it with interiors and other options. The base price of the CS was $259,950, while the XLS base was $334,950, or over $380,000 fully loaded.
Diamond DA40 Construction
When Diamond bought Hoffman, it paid attention to the company’s core expertise: building clean, strong glass structures. This is definitely reflected in the Diamond DA40’s construction, that is built along the same lines as the two-seat Katana/Evolution/Eclipse series.
The fuselage is constructed of wet layup material in two halves which are bonded together longitudinally, with the vertical stab as part of the assembly. The T-tail is attached separately, as are the wings which, unlike the Cirrus aircraft, are two separate pieces joined at the fuselage center section. The wings themselves are laid up top and bottom in vacuum molds, then bonded together after the internals are installed.
The spar is a massive twin carbon-fiber spar layup between which the fuel is stored in removable aluminum cells. The fact fuel is exceptionally well protected may explain why Diamond aircraft have shown no tendency toward post-crash fires.
The cabin and cockpit is best thought of as a bathtub arrangement with a wraparound canopy in the front and a hinged rear hatch for the backseat occupants. The canopy hinges at the front, rather than the rear, as on the DA20. The rear hatch is on the airplane’s left side and is equipped with a pin release for emergency egress. As with most of the modern composite aircraft, the DA40 has spring steel gear and a castoring nosewheel, with steering via differential braking. The gear attach point loads are carried into the center section through attachments on the spar.
Unique among the big three composite lines—Cirrus, Columbia/Cessna and Diamond—the DA40 has center sticks with push-pull rods for elevator and ailerons and cables for the rudder. Rather than sliding seats, the DA40 has rudders that can be repositioned to adjust legroom. Trim is both electric and manual—there’s a trim rocker on the sticks and a center console wheel—and is activated by cables to an anti-servo tab on the horizontal stab.
Diamond DA40 Engines and Systems
Diamond kept it simple when it came to the powerplant: Lycoming’s 180-HP IO-360 has proven reliable and inexpensive to overhaul, at the expense of giving up some smoothness to six-cylinder Continentals. It’s also fairly light, an advantage in an airframe as light as the DA40. (Gross weight in early models was 2535 pounds, while newer ones are 2645, compared to 2450 pounds for the Cessna 172 and 3050 pounds for the Cirrus SR22.)
Systems wise, the Star has all the required new-age glitz. The fuel system has right/left/off settings, only one step down from the ideal off/on system for minimizing fuel-related accidents. However, as there have been no fuel-related accidents reported on Diamond Stars in the U.S., we’re hardly one to complain. The fuel selector is on the center console. One of the airplane’s operating limitations includes a requirement to keep the fuel load balanced.
As is the fashion, the Diamond DA40 is an all-electric airplane, with no vacuum system. It has a single starting battery, but also a single alternator, although there’s a battery backup for the electric gyros.
One of the Diamond DA40’s strongest suits is the fabulous visibility afforded by the wraparound canopy; nothing else in GA comes close. But what plastic giveth, plastic taketh away. The cockpit can be boiling hot in the summer, although an opaque shade along the top of the plastic bubble helps. Air conditioning isn’t an option in the DA40s; it lacks the power and payload. However, the canopy can be opened during taxi and is equipped with partial-open latches. The heating and ventilation, once airborne, are good. In early models, the panel air vents emitted a noticeable and irritating howl, but this has since been quieted down.
Diamond DA40 Performance and Payload
When we reviewed the first production model DA40 in 2002, it blew away the competition, mainly the Cessna 172 and 172SP and the Piper Archer, both entry level four-placers. Only the Tiger comes close in older designs, although the Cirrus SR20—also entry level—is faster by about 12 knots or so on 20 more horsepower. It easily kept up with the 200-HP Piper Arrow. The early Stars toot along all day on 9.5 to 9.8 GPH at speeds up to about 140 knots. Subsequent models, say owners, are about 10 knots faster and, for the DA40 XLS, Diamond claims a 158-knot top speed with a 150-knot cruise on 10 GPH.
With its long wing and relatively high aspect ratio—reflecting its sailplane heritage—the Star is a terrific climber, even when loaded. Moreover, it leads the league in short-field capability, easily hopping off the runway in 1200 feet or less with a heavy load. At 2535 pounds (2635 for newer models) gross, the Star is light; at 14 pounds per HP, its power loading puts it in the middle of its class. (The Cirrus has power loading of 15.25 lbs/HP, while the Cessna 172 is lower, at 13.6 lbs/HP). Nonetheless, any competent pilot should be able to comfortably operate a Star out of 2000-foot runways, at reasonable density altitudes.
Payload-wise, the Star is really a three-place airplane with baggage space, even at the higher gross weights. Useful loads are in the 850-pound range, although some owners report less.
So with the tanks full, it can carry about 600 pounds—three people with some bags. There’s a 10-gallon extended-range fuel tank option that further reduces cabin load.
In early Stars, the baggage compartment was a bit of an afterthought, accessible only through the cabin by tilting the rear seats forward. The area itself was quite shallow. This was later redesigned, and now the rear seats fold forward to essentially turn the backseat into one huge baggage bay.
The Star’s weight-and-balance envelope is relatively benign, narrowing a bit toward the gross weight limit. It tends toward forward, rather than aft CG. Offloading fuel is always an option to stuff in more payload, but the airplane carries only 40 gallons usable to begin with, so its range is hardly exceptional. The 10-gallon extended range option helps, but owners complain it narrows the CG envelope, something that needs watching. The newer XLS models come with 50-gallon tanks as standard equipment.
Diamond DA40 Ergonomics and Handling
Entering the Diamond DA40’s cockpit requires hiking up onto the wing and stepping down into the well of the cabin. It’s a bit of a practiced art, requiring gripping the canopy’s tubular hinges to gain purchase, both for ingress and egress. Not easy, perhaps, but you get used to it.
The rear seat passengers simply step through the hatch and into the rear cabin, which is quite spacious. (Watch the opened rear hatch, though—it’s just the right height to bonk an unwary head.)
The front seats don’t slide fore-and-aft, although they do recline slightly. A six-foot-five-inch owner reported that, while a little cramped, the pilot’s seat has adequate room for him. Rear-seat passengers enjoy adequate footroom, thanks to footwells. With their adjustable rudder sets, the front seats have good legroom for such a small aircraft. As noted, cockpit visibility is nothing short of fabulous—the best of any GA airplane, other than the Katana/Eclipse/Evolution series.
Of all the GA airplanes we’ve flown and tested, the Star ranks at the top as being the most fun to fly. It’s not quite as well balanced as a Bonanza, but it has no bad habits, and pitch and roll forces are light and easy to manage with the stick. Slow flight and stalls are non-events and even deep into the stall, the airplane simply mushes and could probably touch down that way in a survivable impact. Flaps have little or no effect on trim condition, but neither are they as effective as the barn doors on a Cessna 172.
Landing a Star isn’t particularly difficult, but the sight picture over the nose requires some acclimation to avoid too-high flares. Flown into the flare faster than about 65 knots, the Star will float; slower is better.
Diamond DA40 Maintenance
Typically, airplanes new to the market evidence characteristic maintenance weaknesses at some point. But the Diamond DA40 has done well in this regard. The Lycoming IO-360 is one of the most reliable four-cylinder powerplants available; we heard no complaints from owners about it, save for a few owners that had problems with electric fuel pumps.
Some owner complained of early teething problems with the Garmin G1000. We also heard complaints about Garmin being slow to produce software upgrades for non-WAAS aircraft. The early Star’s weak landing lights are a point of contention. We found only four ADs against the airplane, one requiring replacement of the rear hatch retaining bracket, one requiring inspection of the nosegear pivot axle, one requiring inspection of the universal joint on the fuel switch and the last requiring a one-time fuel system inspection.
Diamond DA40 Owner Feedback
I grew up flying three different airplanes: a Cessna 172, a Beechcraft Sundowner and a Piper Archer. Today, I have owned my DA40 for a little over a year and have flown just under 100 hours. I fly whenever I can, even if it’s just to go around the pattern. I keep trying to find a reason not to love this airplane. My girlfriend and I have flown all over the southeast. Hands down, the DA40 is my favorite airplane and I will be a DA40 owner for a long, long time.
I love the sleek appearance of the airplane. It’s very roomy in the cockpit and the passengers are quite happy in the backseat. But one of the best features is the almost limitless view from the canopy. It’s like a Disney ride; the view is breathtaking. Landing the DA40 is a breeze. Just hold back on the stick until the runway reaches up and pulls you out of the air.
This is the same airplane that many flight schools use to get pilots through their instrument rating. It’s a great regional cross-country airplane. You can cruise easily at 132-140 knots, but I’m a gas saver. I cruise at 122 knots, while burning 8 GPH. The Lycoming IO-360 M1A is an almost bulletproof motor, in my estimation.
The three-blade MT prop is very smooth and a lot quieter than a two-blade Hartzell. Also, the three-blade reduces the vibration while shutting down. I just had mine rebuilt for $4500 and it was well worth it. It now has seven more years or 1800 hours of expected life. In my first year of ownership, nothing has broken, nothing has fallen apart and my airplane runs better than it did when I bought it.
The upkeep on a newer airplane— particularly a composite—is a lot less than some may think. Diamond just dropped the rudder cable AD last year. That was a big one. So far we have very few ADs to comply with compared to other manufacturers.
At annual, like any other airplane, we have a squawk list to deal with. Mostly, it’s little things. To compare my DA40 to anything else in its class, upkeep is going to be less expensive for the most part.
Doug Robertson, via email
I purchased a 2008 DA40 XLS in January 2013 after cross-shopping with a newer 182T and an upgraded Model 35 Bonanza. I am based at RHV in San Jose, California, and currently have 280 delightful hours in this aircraft. Our trips include one across the U.S., four to Portland, Oregon, 30 landings at Lake Tahoe, plus numerous Bay tours.
My goal was to buy a safe, practical and fun IFR aircraft to accommodate at least three adults, with low enough operating costs that my inner cheapskate would not inhibit flying. I’m very pleased to report that our first full year of DA40 ownership greatly exceeded my hopes. The purchase was a one-time gouge in our finances, but at this point it costs me less to fly for an hour than a trip to the hardware store costs. It’s safer than an hour driving on winding roads in our Mazda Miata—and way more fun.
The only significant downside to the DA40 is the limited useful load, which in our aircraft is roughly 850 pounds. I dream that Diamond will apply the same energy to weight-reduction on the DA40 that it has on the DA42. But with an economy cruise of 135 knots burning 7.5 GPH, 30 gallons of 100LL is good for two couples and day packs.
The flip side of the glorious canopy is dealing with heat on the ground, but unlatching the canopy slightly open until just before take-off makes this quite manageable. The DA40 has no ice protection, but I wouldn’t fly a single anywhere near ice. I’m sure that a parachute would provide bonus marketing points (especially with all-important non-pilots), but with an already best-in-market safety record, I personally don’t think that the cost in weight and dollars makes sense. It’s interesting to note that the two DA40 fatalities in North America are due to colossal pilot error. The few fatalities are due to what-were-you-thinking mistakes. There’s not a single incidence of a pilot making an innocent (but fatal) mistake of stalling and spinning while turning on final, for example. This was important to me when I chose the DA40. I think that I fly well, but I don’t want to have an off-day and kill my family.
The DA40 generally only sees 155 knots of true airspeed, maximum, but my planned normalizing supercharger modification from Forced Aeromotive will probably increase this to 165 knots, while increasing the high-altitude climb rate.
On the other hand, if speed is the only item on your agenda, I suggest buying a different airplane and living with the trade-offs. While the center stick control intrudes on useble space, I greatly prefer a stick with actual feedback, as opposed to being spring-loaded, and love hand-flying the DA40.
The seat height in the aircraft isn’t adjustable, so I suggest buying Oregon Aero seat cushions. Still, there’s outstanding visiblity in all direction from all seats. This pays off for traffic-spotting and sightseeing.
I think the GFC700 autopilot and G1000 integration is excellent, and especially like the go-around switch on the throttle. I also like that the standby flight instruments are conveniently located at the top of the instrument panel.
As for financials from 2013, maintenance was $12.05 per hour, including new tires. I perform my own oil changes and participate in the annual inspection. Repairs were $2500, or $11.85 per hour due to self-inflicted wheel pant damage. My advice is don’t land the airplane on runways that are poorly plowed. I also replaced the Duke’s fuel pump with a Weldon unit. The Duke’s pump is one of the few known weak points in the OEM equipment.
Insurance was $2200 for $2 million smooth for a 200-hour pilot without an instrument rating. Data subscriptions—including the G1000 and XM Weather—was $1300. Incidentally, I just completed the 2014 annual inspection, which included refurbishing the magnetos, for a total cost of around $1500.
As for upgrades, I’ve installed AeroLED Pulsar NSP strobe and position lights. These only draw 2 amps, are several pounds lighter than OEM lights and are crazy bright. I also installed a Plane Power high-output alternator, which stifles the voltage alerts from the G1000 and reduces weight by a couple of pounds. As I said,
I’m planning on moving forward with the supercharger upgrade.
Diamondaviators.com (aka DAN) is an excellent source for information on the DA40 Star. This site is not affiliated in any way with Diamond Aircraft and is a remarkably flame-free environment. DAN was instrumental in my decision to buy a DA40. I was able to get balanced and detailed information in order to make an informed decision. My user name on DAN is Chris B, in case you want to hit me up for advice. I’d be happy to host someone for a flight, show off the upgrades, provide more details or answer questions.
To summarize, I think the DA40 is an awesome aircraft that more pilots should consider. Recent models with the G1000 and GFC700 autopilot are pricey, but I believe that 10-year-old DA40s are an incredible value. The airframe is not life-limited and the Lycoming IO-360 engine is robust and ubiquitous. I physically don’t fit in a pre-2008 model (I have a long torso), otherwise I would have seriously considered an older plane.
Chris Bennett, via email
I advise people on buying aircraft, using a multi-criteria scorecard to weigh and compare a variety of factors that need to be considered. But when asked to pick an overall best plane, my immediate answer is the plane I bought: the Diamond DA40.
The safety record, performance and price yields a plane with a tough-to-beat value. Unless you’re doing a lot of mountain flying where a parachute might be desired, I think the DA40 is generally better than a Cirrus. The front-end cost to buy a plane with a parachute, fly it and pay for the repacking is expensive.
The DA40 so-called powered glider, with its high-G-impact seat, give me confidence that I could put this plane down safely almost anywhere. If it had a parachute, I’d be very unlikely to use it.
The safety record of the DA40 yields low insurance costs. I paid $1800 per year to insure myself and three other rental partners. I think the G1000 avionics suite in my 2004 DA40 is a great system. I am surprised that the plane doesn’t sell at a more premium price given its overall top value.
The long wingspan can be a hangar problem—it is a tough, close fit for a 40-foot door—but that’s easy to solve with a winch and painted lines.
I went to the Air Force Academy as a private pilot, but studying hard as a cadet caused my eyesight to go bad, and I was rejected from pilot school and never flew fighters. While my pilot classmates have long been flying desks, I’m flying a fantastic aircraft.
Dr. Drew Miller, via email
My pilot-wife and I owned a DA40 XLS model for four years as our first aircraft before recently trading up to a DA42 twin. During that time we flew our Virginia-based DA40 up and down the East Coast, to Oshkosh multiple years and across the U.S. to California and back.
We chose the DA40 because of its sleek modern composite design, advanced avionics (in 2008, ours was one of the first G1000 aircraft with Synthetic Vision), plus Diamond’s exemplary safety record.
The DA40 is very much a pilot’s airplane due to the outstanding visibility out the bubble canopy, combined with the feel of the stick and pushrod-controlled ailerons and elevators. The handling is very docile and forgiving with no bad habits, which made the plane ideal for us as relatively inexperienced pilots. The plane is so easily controlled that I later learned to fly our DA40 in tight formations with other Diamonds—a real thrill.
While it’s possible to cruise at an honest 150 knots in smooth air, the sweet spot for cross-country flights is to fly around 8000-9000 feet, burning 9 GPH rich of peak and seeing 145 knots true airspeed. The long wing—with its sailplane-derived airfoil—produces more than 1000 FPM climb rates at lower altitudes. The plane often seems to levitate on takeoff and yaws a bit in bumpy summer conditions, but it helps to use the rudders to dampen the oscillations.
There are only two design flaws that we wish Diamond would fix. First, on most DA40s the nose wheel and fairing will rotate crooked to the right or left immediately after takeoff, causing a 5-knot speed decrease unless tension on the castering nosewheel is adjusted correctly. This is a trial-and-error process.
Second, the instrument panel air vents roar loudly when open, and it is necessary to keep them open to stay cool in the summer. The noise is due to an outside air resonance across the fuselage NACA intake, akin to blowing across the opening of a glass jug. Both of these issues could potentially be addressed with some simple aerodynamic tweaks.
Over the course of four years, we had our share of maintenance issues, but most were firewall-forward. The constant-speed MT propeller blades delaminated and the prop hub had to be rebuilt to fix oil and grease leaks, the starter failed and the Powerflow exhaust risers developed hairline cracks due to slip joints not being treated with anti-seize compound at each annual. But the rest of the aircraft was essentially trouble-free, reflecting Diamond’s excellent build quality, fit and finish.
Multiple maintenance shops are qualified as Diamond Service Centers with extensive DA40 experience, and the folks at Diamond’s Canadian factory (where our plane was built) are quite responsive to parts orders and owner questions.
One maddening item is that because DA40s—like all of today’s automobiles—but unlike most aircraft, are metric, it is often difficult to obtain nuts or bolts from aircraft maintenance shops. Our aircraft was occasionally grounded until metric-sized aircraft hardware could be shipped from Canada. Of course, the reliable yet ancient-design Lycoming engine in the DA40 isn’t metric. I used to tell people we flew a George Jetson aircraft with a Fred Flintstone engine.
Given Diamond’s superior safety record, insuring a DA40 is straightforward even for relatively inexperienced pilots. Before my wife and I were instrument rated, we were easily able to obtain $1 million smooth coverage for a DA40 with $250,000 hull value for about $2500 per year. It later cost only a few hundred dollars more to add our student pilot daughter to the policy. As a newly minted CFI, I soloed my daughter in our DA40. How’s that for a vote of confidence in the aircraft?
Dave Passmore, Leesburg, Virginia
I’m a proud owner of a 2005 Diamond Star with the G1000 avionics. I’ve raced gliders since I was 15 years old and in 2009 decided it was time for a change. I got my private pilot certificate with instrument rating and a DA40. I flew it 140 hours last year and plan to tour the southwest with my family. The DA40 is safe, efficient, and has the visibility of a glider and low maintenance costs. It also costs less to insure than my last glider, at $1600 per year.
Nilton Renno, Ann Arbor, Michigan
This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Aviation Consumer magazine.