From the Cockpit Part 16: Diamond DA40
Editor’s Note: This is part sixteen of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.
Stepping away from last week’s rugged and utilitarian classic—The Beaver—Rankin gets behind the stick of something a little more futuristic—the Diamond DA40. A composite aircraft, the sleek and compact DA40 harkens back to week four of Rankin’s journey and the Sting S4. Composed primarily of carbon fiber, which can create shapes and curves impossible for metal frames, these planes represent the height of aerodynamism. And in the DA40’s case, the height of safety.
Flying out of Troy, AL, with Flight Instructor Micah Thompson of Trojan Aviation, Rankin took the DA40 for an hour-long cruise, banking and turning and getting a feel for the craft. A rather utilitarian training craft designed primarily for straightforward travel or cruising, aerobatics were out of the question, but the craft remained “a dream to fly,” he says, with responsive and smooth controls. Then they demoed the autopilot. “It blew my mind,” Rankin says. “The airplane flies itself.”
Throughout Rankin’s military experience, he’s had the opportunity to fly numerous craft with all sorts of expensive and advanced technology, just not usually the kind that takes control out of the pilot’s hands. The DA40 comes equipped with a Garmin G1000 avionics suite, complete with a state-of-the-art autopilot. Capable of more than just cruising, the autopilot can even nearly orchestrate a precision landing on its own. With the landing dialed in, the autopilot adjusts speed, descent and angle, only needing a human hand when the plane reaches minimum altitude. “Then you just click the autopilot off,” says Rankin, “and hand-fly it down the last couple hundred feet.”
And should the worst occur (or almost the worst) and the engine fails mid-flight, the DA40’s design allows the craft the uncanny ability to glide to the ground more gently than a parachute. An aircraft stalls when the nose is up and either the power fails or the lift over the wings becomes insufficient, leading the plane to fall from the sky. “Every other aircraft I know,” says Rankin, “if you do that, you’re going to depart flight and it’s not going to end well.” The DA40, on the other hand, can glide to the ground powerless as long as the nose is trimmed up. Some aircraft even come equipped with a parachute for the entire plane, and those, says Rankin, have a speedier rate of descent than a DA40 with the engine off and the nose up.
“That is unreal to me,” says Rankin, who remembers his first flights in aircraft with round dials and shaky frames. “It’s a real testament to how far things have come.”
For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.
Pictured: The Diamond DA40. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.