In a class of its own: Diamond’s D-JET touted as a “personal time machine”

“Is this an elegant airplane or what?”

With those words, Marion Blakey, FAA administrator, introduced Diamond Aircraft’s newest model, the D-JET, at this summer’s AirVenture.

Those words must have been music to the ears of D-JET’s creator, Christian Dries, Diamond’s CEO and a 7,000-hour pilot who’s passion is creating the planes he wants to fly.

“The D-JET is a vision of Christian’s that started 12 years ago with the Katana,” said Earl Boyter, vp of sales with Premier Aircraft Sales in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which represents Diamond in the Southern states. “This is one of the most innovative planes to come out in years.”

PLJ, not VLJ

Touted as a “personal time machine” in marketing literature, the D-JET is a five-seat, single-engine jet powered by a Williams FJ33-4 engine. But don’t call it a Very Light Jet.

“The D-JET is the world’s first practical personal light jet — a PLJ,” said Dries.

“If you look at VLJs or other miniaturized versions of bizjets, they are designed to fly at high altitudes and higher mach numbers,” added Peter Maurer, Diamond Aircraft’s president. “They are often small airplanes that sacrifice comfort. We see the PLJ as a subset of VLJ.”

From the start, Diamond officials focused on three key factors in designing the D-JET: practical performance, low cost and high comfort. Always in the forefront of the design, as well, was the target pilot for the D-JET: A 500-700 hour pilot who now now flies a Malibu, a Cessna 421, a Bonanza, or a Cirrus SR22, Dries noted during a break at this summer’s AirVenture.

Just getting Dries and Maurer alone for a few moments was difficult, as the D-JET mock-up was mobbed by fly-in attendees who wanted a chance to sit in the cockpit and talk to the men behind the jet. But people weren’t just talking. In the first two days of AirVenture, they were pulling out their checkbooks. “We took 24 orders on the first day and 30 on the second – and that was before the jet flew in!” one salesman noted.

The jet, which had 30 hours on it when it flew to Oshkosh, is expected to be certified in both Canada and the United States. The company hopes to make first deliveries in mid-2008. Order book now stands at well over 100.

Many of those orders were placed by people who own their own companies, Dries said. Those customers may already own corporate jets, operated by two pilots, but want some “owner independence,” as well as a smaller jet for trips to their weekend houses or short business trips, he added.

“The airplane is designed to be operated very easily,” he said. “That is important.”

The FADEC-controlled engine is started with the push of a button. “In a few seconds, everything is running in the green,” Dries said. “The FADEC will sense if anything is wrong and shut off the engine. When you fly a big piston airplane, like a 421, there is a lot to do. Many airplanes have six powerplant control levers. The D-JET has just one lever, so the pilot can concentrate on flying and instruments. There’s no engine management — just noisy or not noisy.”

A lot of thought went into pilot workload, Blakey noted during the D-JET’s debut at AirVenture. “This will enable a lot of people to move into the jet arena,” she said.

The glass cockpit, called the “best cockpit ever” by Diamond officials, was designed by Garmin. It features 12-inch dual Primary Flight Displays (the largest available) and a centrally mounted 15-inch Multifunction Display (MFD), Garmin’s GFC 700 fully integrated automatic flight control system, glare shield mounted autopilot controller and a center console mounted FMS controller. The system features dual AHRS, dual magnetometers, dual GPS, dual Com, dual Nav, Mode S transponder, and dual audio panels.

“It is a nice big cockpit, which increases situational awareness,” Dries said. “Everything important is on the screen, including the autopilot. We think it is extremely easy to fly.

Obviously, while easy to fly, there is a lot of technology behind the jet. “People must know what is behind it in case it fails,” he added.

Diamond officials are in discussions now with a company in the U.S. that will provide training for new owners. “Because the D-JET is jet powered, it requires a type rating,” Dries noted, adding a D-JET simulator is expected by next year to aid in transition training for owners.

Diamond officials take pride in the company’s accident rate, which has consistently been among the lowest. The commitment to safety began at the initial design, when company officials sat down and asked what type of pilot they were building the jet for – and realizing that a high-performance aircraft isn’t for everyone.

“When you look at accident statistics, a big factor is what kind of aircraft were they flying?” Maurer asked. “A docile, four-seat aircraft is more appropriate for the average skill pilot than a high-performance single. If you gave every driver a high performance car like a Ferrari, the accident rate would naturally go up. Our goal with the D-JET was to build a jet that requires ordinary skills to operate safely.”

That phenomenon is playing out now in the aviation world as a spate of MU-2 crashes in the last few years have some people calling for the entire fleet to be grounded, while the FAA just released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would create new pilot training, experience and operating requirements for MU-2 pilots.

“One of the more effective airplanes ever built was the MU-2 Solitaire, but it has a high accident rate,” said Dries, who has more than 1,000 hours in the MU-2. “These planes need a lot of skill to fly. A small mistake is your last mistake.”

The D-JET, he noted, is the same speed as an MU-2, “but flies as easy as a Cessna 182 with retractable gear.”

‘FIRST YOU PASS OUT,THEN YOU PASS AWAY’

Keeping the D-JET easy — and safe — to fly was a motivating factor behind the decision to certify the jet to 25,000 feet.

“That makes it extremely safe,” Dries said. “Operating at FL250 and lower is, in our opinion, more appropriate for most private pilots. There is a world of difference between FL250 and FL410, with regard to stability and performance margins, safety, system criticality and complexity. Because of the lower required cabin pressure, we can produce a lighter airframe, resulting in a higher useful load, and we don’t expose our customers to the potentially critical high altitude depressurization.”

“You have to ask who are the pilots currently flying at 41,000 feet?” added Maurer. “There aren’t very many: airline pilots, military pilots” – “and sometimes Bruce Bohannon,” Dries chimed in – “but mostly professional pilots. It’s a completely different experience flying at 41,000 feet than at 25,000 feet.”

If problems occur at FL250, pilots have several minutes to react. But at FL41O, where there are only seconds of useful consciousness, “first you pass out, then you pass away,” Dries noted.

The intense commitment to safety is apparent in even a casual conversation with Dries and Maurer. But also apparent is the evident passion for flying the men share, as well as mutual respect.

Maurer was quick to point out how Dries has expertise not just in designing airplanes, but in flying them. A pilot for the past 32 years, Dries has flown “basically everything that moves,” Maurer said. “He’s designing the airplanes that he wants to fly.”

So what’s Dries’ favorite plane to fly?

“The D-JET,” he says with a smile. “I hope the D-JET becomes a class of its own.”

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