Revivals From Diamond And Flight Design
The Chinese owners of western aviation infrastructure—Cirrus, Continental, Mooney, Diamond—generally remain low key, as in invisible. So, it was unusual yesterday when Diamond’s Austria CEO, Liquin (Frank) Zhang, conducted the company’s press conference at Aero. He gave a brisk overview of Diamond’s parent, Wanfeng Auto Holding, a $30 billion closely held Chinese conglomerate.
Confident and concise, he rattled off all the numbers and explained how Diamond fit into the larger picture of a company that made its chops in the automotive and heavy industrial manufacturing sectors. Still, my friend Ed Hicks, editor of the U.K.’s Flyer magazine, and I were lamenting the absence of Diamond’s former owner, the irrepressible and unpredictable Christian Dries. He sold the company to Wanfeng in 2017.
For shock value alone, Dries was unmatched and we always went into a press conference expecting the unexpected. Perhaps a submarine-launched diesel twin or a fully autonomous electric tilt rotor or … well, we just never knew. But kudos to Diamond for staying the course and reviving the DA50, Diamond’s large single-engine project.
And the DA50 is big. Stand next to it in the hall, and it’s about the size and feel of a Bonanza A36. I wouldn’t be surprised if the airplane has more cabin volume. For power, Diamond is using Continental’s new CD-300, another diesel engine adapted from the automotive world. This time it’s a V-6, with electronic fuel injection, geared of course, and four valves per cylinder.
Diamond has been here before. Recall that it stunned the Berlin airshow in 2002 with the appearance of the DA42 aimed at a twin market that was all but moribund and it violated a cardinal principle in aviation: Never marry an untried engine to a new airframe. When the Thielert diesel engines developed teething pains, Diamond paid the price in both money and lost prestige. It recovered and true to form, Dries launched his own engine company, Austro, in 2006.
Is it repeating the mistake, eschewing some good engine choices for this class of airplane—the Continental TSIO-550, for example, or Lycoming’s IE2 engine? If Dries were around, he’d deflect such fears and forge ahead relentlessly, dismissing the whiny scribes for even mentioning it.
I suspect Wanfeng will do the same. Next question. And that would be does the world need such an airplane? Whether it does or doesn’t, my experience with Diamond makes some things predictable. The DA50 will probably sell for about the $1 million mark, it will cruise at something like 215 knots at altitude and will carry four people and a bunch of baggage, or five or six on shorter trips. The diesel will give it a 15 percent advantage in fuel burn and the company will reliably sell between 40 and 60 a year, worldwide.
If you don’t believe that, just extrapolate the success of the $1.3 million DA62 twin, of which Diamond has sold more than 120, a few more than I expected. A key question for me is what the CD-300’s initial TBO will be and how would-be buyers will react to it. Look for a video tour of the airplane in our unfolding Aero coverage.
Another revival is Flight Design, a German company with manufacturing in Ukraine that has achieved some success with the CTLS light sport. As I reported, they’re rejiggering that product a little and introducing a new four-place model called the F4.
At the press conference, I initially thought Flight Design has abandoned the C4 it originally announced in 2011, but the company’s Matthias Betsch said no, that airplane remains on a low simmer. The F4 is really a stretched version of the CTLS airframe. When Rotax announced the 135-HP 915iS, we speculated that it would ignite development in new airframes and here we are.
The F4 will be certified under the revised CS23 standard so—theoretically—it will be quicker, easier and cheaper to rush through the hurdles. Maybe. Both Flight Design and Diamond aspire to have these new airplanes certified by the 2020 timeframe, but injecting a dose of realism here, let’s says 2021 or 2022.
Although they’re at opposite ends of the size spectrum, these two airplanes have one thing in common: They’re unusually well sorted out aerodynamically. The CTLS is one of the best flying LSAs on the market, with none of the feather-light control weight that plague many airplanes in this category. If the company carries that through to the F4, it will presumably have the same qualities. Diamond has been similarly adept at tweaking the handling, such that the DA-62 is an absolute thrill to fly. We’ll see if they do the same with the DA50.
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