Wednesday, March 11, 2015

BaronPilot flies the DA42

Today I got to spend a few hours in a Diamond DA42. It's quite a plane! With it's modern composite construction it is very sleek and screams tech! This one had the obligatory G1000 setup and also a GFC 700 autopilot, full FIKI with TKS and Thielert diesel powered. This is an interesting, forward thinking and very capable airplane.  

Now I'm very biased towards Beechcraft because I love the way they look, how they are built, how they stand the test of time and I also love the way they fly... however I really like other planes too, and generally anything with wings and can get into the sky fascinates me. What struck me about the DA42 is that this is the first plane I've ever flown that I really liked and really hated at the same time.  

Hate: I'm a tall guy at just shy of 6'4". I can honestly say that even with the pedals all the way forward I barely fit, and by "barely" I mean I basically don't fit. If you are much over 6'2" I'm hard pressed to see how you could be anything less than slightly uncomfortable in this plane, at my height you're basically at the uncomfortable state and anything taller than me and you'd be miserable. My head hits the ceiling and the top of my shins hit the sharp edge of the base of the panel. In heavy turbulence I'd be seriously bumming. Here is a quick video:

Dislike: Width feels a little narrower than my Baron, but I don't know the dimensions... it was shoulder to shoulder for sure, and with the center stick there was no convenient place to put anything such as charts or an iPad or BoogeyBoard scratch pad. The front window is ridiculous you feel like you're looking out the slit of tank. How could they design the plane with that huge bubble canopy and then make such terrible forward visibility. The irony here is that if you're short enough to fit well, you probably can see even less over the huge panel. One of the things I love about Beechcraft's are the huge windows give a tremendous view and sense of space. I love my Citabria for the same reason.

Like: The DA42 is very quiet... gone is the deep rumble of a big bore Continental, replaced by a chatter if the little diesels and composite props. I liked the sound though and the engines felt solid. Gone is the mixture lever and the prop lever, this is FADEC, full authority to the computer... forget your APS class and your LOP debates! You set the power levers to a percentage of max power and thats it. We set 90% power at 6500 ft and were doing about 155 kts but now here's the kicker... 6.2 gallons per side! Crikey that's Bonanza efficient or better out of a twin. Okay I do actually like my extra levers though, but you've gotta give huge props to Diamond for progressing with diesel.

Dislike: I took the plane through some maneuvers like steep turns and I was surprised at how heavy it feels. It's 10X heavier in roll than my 55 Baron, really. I really expected light roll forces, but you have to muscle it to turn the sucker. It's got what I would describe as neutral static stability though, once you put it in the roll it stays there and is rock solid stable. It's just not that fun to maneuver it like I expected when I saw the fighter pilot stick control.  

Like: We picked up IFR and flew through some rain and clouds and it's rock solid in IMC. The GFC 700 autopilot is also the best AP ever, but even hand flying the plane is just stable. It also has long wings but really rode the bumps pretty smoothly.  

Dislike: The plane has a lot of adverse yaw and requires a lot of rudder pressure. We did a simulated engine out and the rudder pressure to straighten it out was tremendous. It was like being at VMC well over blue line until you put some serious leg strength into that rudder. On one engine at blue line it climbed at maybe 200 fpm, however it will keep that rate up up up since the compression ignition diesel will keep making full power at altitude like a turbo. Also the plane yaws when you put the gear down... I have no idea why, seemed strange to me but with drag comes yaw. The Baron is a cupcake to fly SE by comparison.  

Dislike: Limited baggage space for a twin, the nose baggage had the TKS reservoir and not much room for anything else. You could probably fit a small handbag in there but that's it. The back seats are big enough for two adults and behind that not much space at all for bags.

Hate: The seats are misery... after an hour I felt like I was sitting on a cement slab and I was ready to get out. They are rated for crazy G forces but man, they are NOT comfy. I was thinking about the 6 hour flight I did on Sunday in my Baron and how miserable I'd have been in this plane.  

Summary... it's a cool plane, FIKI and TKS and stable and miserly on the fuel.. so cool that Diamond is pushing forward with Diesels before anyone else really, and creating sleek and modern designs with the latest avionics and AP that are so efficient... albeit the plane I flew probably cost 800k+... that said, it's no Baron!

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