Farnborough Air Show

Diamond polishes future plans

 - July 21, 2010, 9:37 AM
Diamond plans to build a follow-on to the DA42 that has fly-by-wire controls and two 270-hp diesel engines.

Diamond Aircraft founder and CEO Christian Dries yesterday revealed plans to develop a fully aerobatic, tandem two-seat military trainer version of the D-Jet that he said will have ejection seats and sell for less than $3 million. 

Engineers will start on a prototype immediately after the D-Jet’s certification, now expected to occur by the end of next year. Dries said Diamond has held discussions with ejection seat maker Martin-Baker about the project and estimated it would take about a year to produce the prototype. Diamond is also searching for a partner on this project, he added.

The D-Jet is a four-place, single-engine personal jet with a fuselage made from carbon fiber. Diamond has been flight testing the airplane since 2006 as it prepares to sell the very light jet for around $2 million a copy.

Dries said Diamond is also considering developing a military unmanned version of the D-Jet for high-altitude surveillance. The company has been flight testing a UAV version of its DA42 diesel-powered twin in Israel with partner Aeronautics Defense Systems.

Diamond has sought to insulate itself from the economic downturn by turning to the military and air transport markets as sales of light general aviation airplanes waned. “We were hit twice during the downturn,” Dries noted, explaining that the collapse of diesel engine maker Thielert dealt the Austrian company a setback just as the financial turmoil in the U.S. was starting.

In 2007 Diamond created a new company, Austro Engines, to develop diesel powerplants to replace the Thielert engine. The first result of that effort is the AE300, a four-cylinder turbo diesel based on a Mercedes-Benz design and certified by European and U.S. authorities in 2009. Dries said Austro Engines is now working on a 270 hp V6 engine due to be certified by the middle of next year and will soon start development of a V8 turbo diesel.

With the engine setback solved, Diamond is turning its attention to the military surveillance and UAV markets. Diamond now offers the DA42 MPP (mutli-purpose platform) designed for carrying cameras and other sensors. Diamond is also considering an “OPA” version of the DA42, which stands for “optional pilot aircraft.” This version would essentially be a UAV that can be modified in about four hours to permit a pilot to fly it through controlled airspace.

So far Diamond has completed about 400 hours of flight testing of the UAV Twin Star in Israel with no incidents or accidents, although it should be pointed out that all of the takeoffs and landings so far have been controlled remotely by humans. Fully autonomous flights are scheduled to start soon.

In an effort to take advantage of technology under development for the UAV program, Diamond is studying what Dries called the Future Small Aircraft Program, a follow on to the DA42 with twin 270-hp diesel engines and fly-by-wire flight controls with automatic envelope protection. Dries termed the safety benefit of such automation as a “digital parachute”–a subtle swipe at competitor Cirrus in the U.S., which sells airplanes equipped with full-aircraft parachutes. 

Diamond has also announced or partnered on several “green” aviation initiatives, including flying a DA42 here at Farnborough that is powered entirely by algae-based biofuel. Dries praised the alternative energy source for being 100-percent carbon neutral, containing no sulfur and producing more energy than an equivalent amount of kerosene-based jet-A. He said about 42,000 square miles (a little larger than the area of Austria) would be needed to grow enough algae to satisfy all of aviation’s current fuel needs. That may sound like a lot of space, “But if you spread this over 2,000 locations around the world it would be quite attainable,” he said.