All photos me too, copyrighted
Whenever I happened to catch a Diamond Star rolling down Lučko’s rough, uneven runway, I’d always felt sorry for the little thing. Pitching and rolling and yawing like it was out of control, it had suddenly seemed fragile and very much out of its element – a sword at the proverbial gun fight, an aircraft that really should steer clear of all but the smoothest surfaces… in essence, and despite the type’s incredible underlying toughness and depth of engineering, almost an accident waiting to happen…
However, a casual stroll down the display line at the 2011 Paris Air Show would quickly prove my impressions wrong :). Sitting in the open away from the big jets and fighters was an oddly different, beefed-up, more purposeful looking Star – not quite like any I’d ever seen before. Its information board, largely ignored by passers-by, identified it simply as the DA-40 Tundra Star. Intrigued, I’d naturally stopped to take a look… 🙂
While it is no PC-6, the Tundra Star does look more than capable of handling the average dirt strip. It certainly does seem to be a nearly ideal mix for the owner who operates out of an unpaved runway, but desires the economy of the Diesel and the sophistication and cruise performance of the clean carbon-fiber Star...
One of the Tundra Star's party pieces is its engine, Diamond's own Austro Engines AE300 Diesel, spinning a three-blade constant speed prop. Developed in response to Thielert's Centurion 2.0, the AE300 is also a 2.0-liter automotive Diesel engine converted to run on Jet A - however, unlike the Centurion, the AE300 produces 168 HP (33 more) and can maintain this power all the way to 10,000 ft thanks to an improved turbocharger. Once settled into the cruise, it burns just 5.5 USG/h at 75% power (also a note about the HP rating: while 135 and 168 HP seem ludicrously small amounts for a four-seater, what actually matters here - and in every other prop - is the torque... and few engines have more of it than a turbo-ed Diesel 🙂 )
Another noticeable change was the new bubble canopy, previously seen only on the company's Airborne Sensing fleet. As well as improving overall visibility in tight spots, the new canopy also permits taller people - like myself - to finally sit comfortably up front 😀
Like many modern light aircraft, the new-generation DA-40 has been fitted with LED nav and strobe lights, which significantly increase the aircraft's visibility in the air - but also, at the same time, noticeably reduce electrical consumption. This light cluster also includes the landing lights (visible to the right), which provide much better illumination than the old - and frequently temperamental - light bulbs 🙂
But the bread and butter of the Tundra Star is located under the fuselage :). The type's normal pavement tires have been replaced with large low-pressure units, which go a long way to absorbing the bumps of uneven runways. Their greater diameter has also added to ground clearance, while the increased contact surface has reduced the aircraft's surface loading, allowing it to operate from soft, damp or muddy strips (where the mud scrapers come into their own)