First Thoughts on the Diamond Katana DA20

The Diamond Katana DA20 A1 is a light trainer and comparable to the Cessna 150, but the similarities stop there.<!--more--> The Katana has a low-wing, tandem-seat, carbon-fiber/plastic composite airframe, and has numerous advantages including a constant speed prop, control sticks (think fighters), and a greater usable payload.

There are two trainer variants of this aircraft, the DA20 A1 and the DA20 C1. Diamond began producing the A1 in 1994 as an improvement to the DV20, which in turn was a development of the HK36R motorglider. Flight schools found the 80HP powerplant to be lacking, and Diamond responded with the C1 variant in 1998. The C1 crams a 125HP engine into the same frame as the A1, and gives the aircraft an extra 34 knots of cruise airspeed.

I flew an A1 for the first time last week at OAS, and although the weather was not perfect and false horizons made things tricky, the plane definitely gets my approval. One thing to pay attention to, coming from the 150, is a much smaller and lower engine cowling, giving a mistaken belief that the plane is in a nose-down attitude, and causing the pilot to pitch up. I did exactly this several times, and only caught the mistake because the VSI showed an unexpected 300 ft/min climb.

The constant speed prop was something I was apprehensive about simply because of the extra layer of complexity. In practice, though, the correct prop RPM is a simple function of the phase of flight: full fine for takeoff/landing/airwork, and a coarser setting for cruise. The end result is a very quiet cruise, with the prop's 1900-2000 RPM hiding the fact that the engine is spinning at 2400. Cruise is also made better by the beautiful overhead canopy which significantly improves visibility.

The plane features auto-leaning dual carburettors, and it is nice to not worry about the mixture. Unfortunately, from what I saw on this flight it seems that the system is not perfect, and the engine required carb heat to reduce roughness at a certain power setting.

Finally, the stick control is very nice compared to the yoke found in the Cessna 150, and reduces muscle fatigue due to its proximity to the pilot. All in all, the Katana DA20 made my flight very enjoyable, and I feel confident about picking it up quickly.