Chris Long visits Austrian company Diamond Aircraft Industries.
In almost every issue of CAT Magazine there is mention of a new tool for pilot training, be it a novel form of flight training device (FTD) or some clever software. One critical element which has so far had a little less attention has been the aircraft platform which is used to introduce new pilots to flight.
Just south of Vienna, Austria, is the town of Wiener Neustadt, where a state-of-the-art light aircraft manufacturer has been established for 34 years. Diamond Aircraft set out to benefit from the revolution in materials and manufacturing techniques, and has used those to produce platforms which have been designed with the future airline pilot in mind.
Originally set up in the 1980s, Diamond enjoyed considerable success with the Katana series in both the European and North American markets. In 1991 the company was acquired by the present primary shareholder, Christian Dries, who brought both long-term vision and the drive to turn that vision into reality. He believed that simplicity is key, and that with the appropriate use of these new materials, engines and avionics, a platform could be built which would provide the capability and performance desired by both the private pilot and the aspiring airline pilot.
Not only were the manufacturing skills to change, but the new engines were to be the first on the scene to be fuelled by Jet A-1, much more commonly available and cheaper than the high-octane aviation fuel which was used in the long-established and conventional light aircraft. The new engine would also introduce a single lever power control, as opposed to the multiple controls of an earlier generation of light aircraft, all of which reflects the quest for simplicity.
As might be expected, the first machine in this line was a single engine aircraft, the Diamond DA40, which rapidly found its niche both in flying clubs and flight schools. The natural progression to a twin-engine platform was introduced with the Diamond DA42. This latter aircraft, too, quickly found favour with training organisations and private flyers, and the widespread global sales reflected that.
As frequently happens with best-laid plans, there were challenges to overcome, and the new engine proved to be a little more unreliable than the ideal. Diamond solved the problem by undertaking to build the engine itself through a subsidiary. This took the same baseline Mercedes diesel car engine as before, but, learning from the accumulated experience of the original development, modified it and installed it in their latest aircraft, now designated DA40 NG (New Generation) and DA42 NG (latest version called DA42-VI). These are the mainstay of the production, which now totals more than 4,500 aircraft manufactured.
That manufacture is not standing still - as new methods and materials become available Diamond is keen to adopt suitable improvements. Gerhard Hüttinger, Quality manager, says that originally “classic” layup moulding was used, but now Vacuum Assisted Process (VAP) Injection Moulding is employed in some stages, and the requirement for IFR flight saw the introduction of Lightning Resistance Carbon in the DA42, together with the TKS Anti-Icing system. Other developments include the option of weather radar, air conditioning and oxygen systems for sustained flight at higher altitudes. The comprehensive equipment levels with TCAS and autopilot functions complete the package which provides the tools for a very effective introduction to real world commercial operations.
Training Frequently the customers have maintenance teams who are highly experienced on an earlier generation of light aircraft. A glance at the current FAA mechanic qualifications shows the emphasis on older technologies.
Aircraft mechanics who have finely honed skills on an older generation of engines now have to learn how to operate the equipment which supports the new generation of engines. Whereas the skills of diagnosis and fixing problems with previous generation engines had been perfected, the new engines with their laptop testing systems, demand skills closer to those of an auto-mechanic - experts who are well versed in new technology.
Avionics The choice of avionics was again driven by the notion of simplicity coupled with the training to foster skills which would be the lead in to current mainstream airline aircraft. The Garmin 1000 suite was selected for ease of operation and the rapidity with which it can be assimilated. The idea is that the new pilot can start to develop the awareness of what the systems were doing and what modes were active at any one time, so that the underlying understanding (not just robotic mode selection) can then be enhanced when more complex systems are introduced on commercial aircraft.
Flight Training Device With the aircraft increasingly being selected for the ab-initio training fleets, often with syllabi that demanded considerable time on FSTDs, it became apparent that there was a demand for a device which accurately reflected the performance and handling characteristics of the aircraft. In 2005 Diamond decided to construct their own FSTD and set up a separate company, Diamond Simulation, to answer that need. However, unlike fly-by-wire aircraft, there was no intrinsic performance database. Diamond therefore used their test pilots to carry out 69 hours of flight time to collect the detailed performance and handling characteristics which were then integrated into the database that would be used to load the new device.
This FSTD is also manufactured in Wiener Neustadt, across the street from the aircraft assembly line. Indeed the cockpit framework is taken directly from the aircraft production line, and the device itself features equipment identical to the aircraft it is designed to replicate.
Driven by the thirst for innovation which is the underlying philosophy at Diamond Aircraft, the aim was not simply to create a basic FNPT2 (EASA), but to add functionality where distinct benefits could be identified. Consequently the device can be customised to match client requests to extend the capability from FAA Level 5 to FAA Level 6.
To match the MPL training capability, the FSTD can edit weather inputs for microburst and windshear. In support of Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT) there is a capability of providing extreme attitudes such as 110 degrees of roll and 90 degrees of pitch, which can be introduced over a three second interval or instantaneously. There is even a generic spin demonstration capability, and, if specified, a video debrief function can be installed. The visual database is derived from Jeppesen worldwide, with in-house creation of airfields used by individual customers. Gerd Steinkamp, Senior Project Manager Business Unit Simulation, says that the projection system, too, can be adapted to customer needs. Whilst the baseline is a cylindrical projection system which gives a 200 x 35 degree field of view, some customers, for instance CTC at their Phoenix, Arizona base, expect a spherical projection system with expanded field of view. Whilst the normal production rate is for 12 units per year, 2014 saw 20 units delivered; the total of FSTDs now delivered numbers over 130 worldwide.
Next Steps Given the two primary strands of the Diamond Aircraft progression in aircraft and its FSTDs, it is no surprise that developments underway extend the capability in both of those areas. The aircraft perspective has seen the start of production of the next twin engine aircraft - the DA62, one of which has just been delivered to the first customer, and the potential to use the DA42 NG as a platform for Special Operations, called DA42 MPP (Multi-Purpose Platform), has already seen the delivery of DA42 NGs with an apparently infinite range of sensors customised to the client’s needs. An optionally piloted vehicle, based on a DA42 NG has also flown.
Adam Vissing, CIO and VP Flight Simulation, is enthused about the level of research and development which continues in Diamond Aircraft. Much of that R&D takes place at the Diamond facility at Frankfurt Egelsbach (the largest general aviation airfield in Germany). He is working with his team on an FSTD which is based on a spherical projection system which can accept either a DA40 NG cockpit or a DA42 NG cockpit, with a simple and quick changeout system. Vissing believes that this will be the smallest device of this format yet produced, and consequently would not require an excessive amount of space to greatly enhance the training effectiveness of the FNPT2 capability.
Promotion A continuing theme in the training industry is the apparent lack of attraction that the industry has to the bright school leavers who are so much sought after. Perhaps some of the dated equipment in use may be a deterrent to those seeking a high tech challenge. However, the combination of composite materials, new engine solutions and adaptive avionics represents the style of aircraft which are now available for the training community. The variety of sleek and, above all, modern looking and capable aircraft now arriving at training organisations around the world represents the future much more graphically. The image of a forward-looking industry is much better projected by such aircraft, and the range of aircraft built by Diamond Aircraft in Austria most certainly does that very convincingly.