Airplane Review: Diamond DA-40

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(Photo courtesy of Diamond Aircraft)

I don’t usually care too much what plane I fly, so I have only been flying Diamond DA-20s in Canada to keep my proficiency. They cheap, fairly new, fun to fly, beautiful, and have unbeatable safety record. They don’t fly very fast or very far, but I don’t really care about those because it’s just the plane I fly locally every few weeks to not forget how to fly.

But I thought it would be nice to also get checked out on a 4-seater, because it would be nice to be able to carry a few more people once in a while.

Cessna 172 is out, because I hate Cessnas with a passion. I have flown Cessnas a few times, and every time I felt like I was flying a school bus. And school buses don’t fly very well.

Sure, they are very stable and very forgiving, but they also don’t do very much. Plus, the visibility from the cockpit just plain sucks, with an instrument panel that blocks 3/4 the view.

So no Cessnas.

There aren’t many other 4 seaters available at Boundary Bay Airport where I fly out of, but the FBO I fly with happen to also have a Diamond DA-40, which is the “bigger brother” of the DA-20 I am used to, so I decided to give that a try. That’s quite possibly the second best decision I ever made in my life (after not doing drugs).

It’s a very modern design based on glass fibre (but pilots don’t really have to worry about that much – that’s the maintenance guy’s job), T-tail, otherwise fairly standard.

The Numbers

On paper, this plane is fairly respectable –

Maximum cruise at 140 kt (85% power at 2000 ft density altitude), and apparently can go up to 150 kt at 100% power – and the powerplant is rated for continuous operation at 100% power.

800 lb useful load – just slightly lower than Cessna 172’s 840 lb, but 800 lb is enough for 3 medium sized people (150 lb each), 50 lb bags, and full fuel (50 gallon).

~1100 ft/min climb at sea level.

All from a 180 hp Lycoming engine drinking standard 100LL avgas.

Compared to C172 SP, which also has a 180hp Lycoming engine, the much higher performance shows how much more efficient this plane is (sorry I just like to diss Cessna, no offense to people who like them :P).

Glide ratio 13:1. I’d almost call it a glider. I have seen how well the DA20 glides, and it looks like the DA40 is no different. This is amazing. Most airplanes of this class have glide ratios in the range of 7-10:1.

Exterior and Preflight

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(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

When I saw her getting bigger and bigger as I get closer, it was orgasm. I have never seen a plane so beautiful. If you tell me to pick my favourite plane based on looks alone, this guy would definitely be the first.

Very smooth and “flowy” design (which happens to also help a lot with airplane performance), with very very long high aspect-ratio wings. Aspect-ratio of wings is the ratio between wing length and the average chord (“width”). It’s one of the big tradeoffs in airplane design – low aspect-ratio = higher maneuverability at high speed, high aspect-ratio = lower cruise performance but better low speed handling and gliding. I like the design choice they make here, because I like planes to be forgiving at low speed, and don’t mind losing a few knots at cruise.

The T-tail design is somewhat uncommon in this class of aircrafts as well. Less prop wash on the tail means changing power will have less effect on pitch, which is pretty nice. One disadvantage according to Wikipedia is that if a T-tail plane is put into deep stall, the wings can mask the elevator, and recovery may be impossible due to little pitch authority. Just don’t go into deep stalls?

The doors are absolutely amazing. All doors open up, and passengers have their own door, too, which is pretty uncommon but very convenient. Stepping on the wing to get into the airplane takes some getting used to, but it’s pretty fun.

Preflight is fairly easy and standard. Draining fuel is a little weird but that’s a common problem with low wing airplanes. You have to get below the wings to do the draining. Pretty short checklist.

Controls and Instrument Panel

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(Photo courtesy of Diamond Aircraft)

Central stick design. I like to fly planes with sticks because they feel more natural to me, but the major downside is you can’t really fly with a map or notebook on your lap… because that’s where the stick is.

Most of the panel space is taken up by the 2 huge screens of the Garmin G1000 avionics. The left screen (primary flight display) shows important things like airspeed, altitude, attitude, turn rate, heading, etc, while the right screen (multi-function display) shows the map, and also engine parameters.

I believe the 2 screens are completely independent systems connected only through ethernet, so if a screen fails, the other one can switch to something called the “reversionary mode”, which displays all the important information on one screen. This mode can also be activated manually, which is useful if the right seat pilot/passenger wants to fly (and see those numbers).

The airplane has 3 batteries in case of alternator failure – main battery which will power the whole plane for about 20 minutes, then a backup battery that will only power the G1000 for another 90 minutes, and then ANOTHER backup battery that will only power the backup analog instruments (on top of the G1000) for another 90 minutes. Not sure why anyone would keep flying for hours after an alternator failure (which would give a big fat obnoxious warning on the G1000)… but hey, that’s nice.

One thing I love about the G1000 is the situational awareness it brings. It continuously monitors engine parameters (oil pressure, oil temperature, CHT, EGT, fuel etc) and will give the pilot a big fat visual and audible warning if any of them go into yellow or red. That significantly reduces pilot workload in instrument scans and significantly increases safety margin. I believe it can also give out terrain proximity warnings, but I don’t know how that works.

I don’t know if this is standard for DA40, but the one I flew also has active TCAS WHICH IS SUPER AWESOME. It shows all nearby transponder-equipped aircraft in vicinity on the map, and will issue audible traffic advisories if they get too close (“traffic 1 o’clock, 2 miles, low”). It’s not 100% reliable, though, especially in bad weather. It will pick up reflections and things like that and show false targets sometimes. It DOES send out interrogation signals, so it works even if there are no ATC units nearby interrogating transponders (this is not true for many low end traffic advisory systems). Of course, this does not replace visual scans, because there ARE actually still people out there flying without transponders, or have broken transponders. The system is only designed to aid in visual acquisition of other aircrafts.

It also has a 2 axis (HDG and ALT) autopilot with heading and altitude pre-select, which is very awesome. Altitude pre-select = choose a target altitude and a climb/descend rate, and AP will try to climb/descend to the target altitude and maintain it. Heading = choose a heading or NAV target on G1000, and AP will do standard rate turns to that heading/target. 4 ways to disconnect autopilot – AP button on the autopilot panel, red missile firing button on the stick, black button on the stick (temporary override), and if all else fails, pull out the autopilot fuse.

In the center is throttle, prop speed (variable pitch), and mixture (G1000 assisted-lean is pretty cool). As well as parking brake, defrost, and fuel tank select (no “both” :(:(:().

Flaps have 3 positions – up, take-off, and landing. Fully electronic. Just need to flip a switch.

Trim is also pretty cool. Electric trim, not actually connected to the elevator. It’s just an electric motor that will apply a fixed force on the stick based on trim.

Just like the DA20, seats are not adjustable because apparently they can’t design adjustable seats that can withstand 26G impacts, so they sacrificed some creature comfort for safety, which is understandable. Rudder pedals are adjustable, though.

Taxi-ing and Take-off

Taxi-ing may be weird for people not used to castering nosewheels. Steering is by differential braking only, which is quite different from planes like C172. It feels like the DA40 has much higher moment of inertia, and will keep overshooting when turning.

I didn’t have any problem with it because I am used to taxi-ing tailwheels, which are much worse, but I heard many nosewheel pilots have trouble taxi-ing the DA40 straight.

Run-up takes a little while mostly because of mixture leaning (if using G1000 assisted-lean, which requires leaning VERY slowly).

Take-offs are pretty simple. Flaps in T/O, mixture rich, prop pitch full fine, throttle full, rotate when “R” comes up on the G1000 speed tape (which also shows Vy, Vx, etc). Fairly significant left turning tendency, but still easy to control. Rudder authority is awesome.

This little girl climbs FAST!! The flight manual quotes 1125 fpm (I think), and I was seeing something close to that. I wasn’t even climbing at Vy (maximum rate of climb speed). Vy is around 70 kt, and I was going at 85 kt (according to the instructor, if I climbed out at Vy, the plane will climb so fast that it would be dis-orienting). Still, the ground just went WHOOSH and was nowhere to be found. Combined with a fairly short take-off distance, this is reassuring.

The most critical phase of the flight, I think, is the take-off, where if the engine fails, there may not be many possible places to land, and climbing fast helps to minimize this window.

Cruising, Maneuvering, and Landing

Definitely counts as an easy airplane. Controls are responsive, but the plane is still relatively stable. Not quite as fun as the DA20 (flying the DA20 feels like flying a fighter jet), but a lot more interesting than C172.

The highly efficient design means it can accelerate pretty fast. Throttle in and the speed picks right up to ~110 kt (at around 50% power, didn’t try to go faster because we only stayed in the pattern for this flight).

On the other hand, slowing down the plane without flaps is relatively difficult. T/O flaps can be deployed at 108 kt, though, so it’s not really too bad.

Even with the high cruise speed, the stall and approach speeds are still pretty low (50 kt stall in clean configuration, and 70 kt normal approach), which is nice. Just like the DA20, I like to land with T/O flaps because landing flaps significantly increase rate of descent, which would require a very strong flare which is kinda scary. So I only use landing flaps when I screw up the approach and end up way too high.

With T/O flaps and approaching at the right speed, landings are very easy. Don’t know what to say about that… just easy. Standard round-out, fairly shallow flare.

Many pilots say landing Diamond airplanes are hard because they like to balloon a lot. From my experience, that’s not true if you do the speed management right, and use at least T/O flaps. They land just as easily as any other airplane I have flown… but maybe that’s because I’m used to flying Citabrias which are notoriously hard to land since they are tailwheels with no flaps.

Sure, you can’t dive at the runway and expect to bleed off all the speed before touchdown like you can with a Cessna, but that’s because Cessnas are flying school buses. Not supposed to do that anyways. Pitch for speed, power for altitude, and flaps if too high, forward slip if WAY too high.

Overall

Extremely happy with this airplane! Good performance, forgiving, yet still fun to fly. Also, sexy.

It also happens to be very safe due to benign flight characteristics. The DA40 has 0.35 fatalities per 100,000 flight hours, which is 1/8 the average for general aviation, and the lowest of all GA airplanes! From what I have seen, most DA40 accidents were instrument approaches into very bad weather, and stupid stuff like buzzing. No stall/spin accidents because stalls are very gentle – no dropping wings or nose (well, barely), with very low tendency to spin.

Only gripe – fuel tank select. Need to remember to switch tank every half hour. Why can’t they just have both feed the engine all the time?! Many planes do that, and it would be one less thing to remember.

Would be nice if useful load is slightly higher, but not many planes can take 4 people + full fuel, and 800 lb is still plenty I think.

At $195/hr it’s definitely not a cheap airplane, but when bare-bone 30 years old C172s are asking for $150, I think that’s a reasonable price. Probably won’t fly her by myself because I’m not made out of gold, but for carrying a few people, it’s actually not too bad, especially since she is fast, so $/distance is lower.

BTW, this is where I’m renting from http://sealandair.ca/our_fleet.php

Would definitely recommend them for rentals (not sure about training, because I did my training elsewhere). They are upfront about everything, and no membership fees, fuel surcharge, etc. What you see is what you pay. Online booking system is pretty crappy, but the planes are good.

I would definitely not recommend this airplane for flight training, though. G1000 is very nice when you already know how to fly, but if you are still learning to fly, it would just be @#$@#%@# information overload.

Assumptions, Feminism.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on contemporary feminism in technical fields, and how I didn’t believe gender discrimination still exists in a significant enough extent to warrant drastic measures like government policies forcing employers to hire a certain percentage of females – hiring from binders full of women just to fill quotas is not exactly my idea of feminism.

A friend of mine (sorry I don’t know if you want to be named) disagreed, and we had an awesome discussion on the various aspects of this issue – whether discrimination exists, and if affirmative actions are the best way to deal with it.

He pointed me to some research on gender bias in hiring practices (the first research I have seen that is ACTUALLY logical on at least some arguments), and I am now convinced that gender discrimination does still exist.

So I stand corrected on that front.

However, I am undecided whether affirmative action is the best way to go about fixing it. It’s artificial, and if the amount of compensation is determined by the median gender bias, it will over-compensate for the half of employers that have less than median amount of bias, and under-compensate for the half of employers that have higher than median amount of bias. It will be wrong about 100% of the time. And if there are correlations not accounted for by the policy, there will be even more significant error in that area – for example, if an industry or big company is not biased at all (which is good), it will now be heavily discriminatory against men due to the blanket policy. If, supposedly, just as an example, women hiring managers are shown to be non-biased, should the policy only apply to male hiring managers? Isn’t that discrimination in itself?

I do not think it’s the right way to go, but I also cannot think of a better alternative.

However, something I just learned in a psychology class got me thinking about this some more –

Research shows that everyone discriminates – ie. forming opinions about someone solely based on their membership in a certain group, even though the opinion does not logically follow from the fact that they are a member of the group (eg. assuming someone cannot walk because s/he is in a wheel chair is NOT discrimination). Gender, weight, race, attractiveness, possession of dogs, peeing pose, etc.

Evolutionarily and biologically speaking, assumptions are a GOOD thing. It helps keep us alive. For example, if we find that all green snakes bite, when we see another green snake, we will be more careful even if this particular green snake has not shown any hostility.

Similarly, I may decide that since I have been robbed by 2 Japanese people (of 2 Japanese people I ever met), I am going to assume all Japanese people are robbers, and not trust them.

Why do we think that’s “wrong”, but only when applied to humans?

Because we don’t think it’s “fair”. We have some ideas of what we want to believe is “right”, and we want our actions to override natural tendencies, to conform to this morality.

Morality is a very interesting subject, and is surprisingly very hard to define. However, that is not the point of this post, so for now, we will just take for granted that discrimination is wrong.

Being fair is not natural. No one is naturally open-minded and non-discriminating at all.

When we meet someone, we ALWAYS subconsciously or consciously form opinions about them based on the way they dress, their gender, their body shape, their race, whether they wear glasses, etc. NO ONE is immune from assumptions, because it is natural.

The difference between discriminating people and less-discriminating people is what they do with this initial reaction. Open-minded people recognize that they are discriminating, and work to inhibit this tendency, and try to compensate to be as fair as possible, while close-minded people let it take them to make unfair decisions.

Therefore, I believe the correct response to discrimination is to make people aware that they are biased, and have them decide for themselves what level of compensation is suitable for them. For example, hiring managers could be required to take a totally confidential assessment (only they can see the results) that tells them how discriminating they are, so they can compensate accordingly. I believe that is a fair method. The test can easily be extended to test other categories where discrimination is suspected. I believe people will be a lot fairer if they are made aware of exactly how biased they are, and we won’t need a system that’s wrong 100% of the time for all people.

Of course, this assumes that people WANT to not discriminate, and only discriminate subconsciously, which I believe is a lot more prevalent nowadays. If they WANT to discriminate, no government policy can fix that either.

It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me. – Batman

Capricious Brain

The first time I encountered the term “capricious” was actually in its Italian form – capriccioso.

Allegro molto capriccioso.

Saw that on the score of a piece I got to play on the saxophone way back in the days.

When I asked my music teacher what it meant – “Oh, capriccioso? you know, just like the English word ‘capricious’?”.

Nope, I didn’t know. So I looked it up.

I don’t remember which piece it was, but the 1 thing I learned from it, is the meaning of “capricious”.

I am feeling the same way about my brain.


If you haven’t noticed, I am a hopelessly technical person. As a conservative estimate, my brain spends about 50% of the time thinking about technical/engineering related things. I invent all kinds of cool ideas for engineering projects, and think through them down to the very details. On the bus, walking, sleeping, showering. Any time. Anything – software projects, electronic gadgets, robotic projects, trebuchet designs. And I get very excited thinking about them.

The problem is, I rarely actually turn them into reality. I rarely even write anything down.

I think about them, do a lot of research, think about them some more, and figure out exactly how to implement them, then… nothing.

That’s actually @#%#@ing annoying.

I have pretty good memory, so I can usually imagine the entire system in my head down to pretty low level – software architectures, algorithms, circuit designs, etc.

But for some reason, my brain always manages to lose all interest and excitement once that’s done, and would just move on to the next thing.

It’s not that I don’t know how to do it either (which seems to be a lot of people’s problem with abandoned projects). I know exactly how to do them, and I’m sure I can easily finish them if I wanted to.

Easily.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong. My brain spins too fast to want to wait for the body to catch up with all the trivialities. It can go from OMG-lets-think-about-this-super-awesome-project-for-5-hours-who-cares-about-assignment-due-tomorrow, to meh-next-project?, literally overnight.

@^#$@#$ing annoying.

Is there a job where you can just think and talk and not actually have to do anything?

PS. And I still don’t know how to play music “capriciously.”

Looking for Alaska

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I’m not sure why many book reviews begin with a synopsis, but I’m not going to bother, because

  1. It’s 2AM, and
  2. I’m a particularly bad writer.

I decided to give this book a try because The Great Tree holds it in high regard, and also it was only $10 (… just kidding!!).

Certainly did not expect the book to turn out the way it did. I was expecting something more spiritual and philosophical (don’t ask. I think it’s the name – I’m very good at judging books by their covers), and definitely did not expect to be an epic story of suffering, mischief, chivalry, friendship, feminism (in the most non-cheesy way possible), and romance, composed of dark humour, cunning, plenty of crude language, LOL-worthy jokes, sexy times, and dirty talks.

To write about such weighty matters in such an engaging way is not an easy task, and John Green did it.

The best part, I believe, is Alaska, the main character (I believe the story is really her story, and the narrator is just that, a narrator).

She is a real person. She is not just constructed to deliver the message the author wants to deliver. She is a person just like any other – with highs and lows, passions, shortcomings, cravings, intense suffering, and incredible amount of depth, but not so multi-dimensional to feel artificial.

As the story progresses, we learn more and more about her, and each layer we peel always seem to contradict with what we already knew about her. She is like a Matryoshka doll that wears a different mask on every page of the book. Yet, John Green still managed to carve her into a very likable character, that I have no doubt most readers feel strongly attached to… despite her very hard to ignore furry little problem.

… and I will stop before I give the story away.

Go read it!

I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.
Green, John (2008-08-14). Looking for Alaska (p. 88). Speak. Kindle Edition.

I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.

Green, John (2008-08-14). Looking for Alaska (p. 88). Speak. Kindle Edition.

Book Review: Secrets of a Phone Sex Operator

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Late last night, I was bored and feeling especially adventurous, so I went on Kindle store, to look for something weird to read (I do that once in a while).

Ended up picking this guy, because 1) there are a few good reviews, and 2) it was only $0.99. Turned out, it was probably the most well spent $0.99 in my life. I LOLed for 2 hours straight. Just couldn’t put it down.

The book is an account of Stacey Weiss, a current phone sex operator (PSO) with a couple years of experience. She started working part time at first, and eventually switched to doing it full time with her own company in Vegas.

I knew people are weird, but the fetishes and fantasies she encountered still blew my mind.

According to her, there are 2 types of callers – some just want to have “virtual sex” with a lot of moaning and not much (intelligible) talking, while the other group of callers do virtual “role playing,” and ask the PSO to join them in “acting out” their most secret fantasies.

The latter type is the most fun because she gets to be an actress and doing improvisation all the time to move the scenario along. It’s a lot of fun to see what kind of fantasies give people arousal.

Of course there’s a lot of the common stuff – BDSM, homosexuality (by heterosexuals, because of the “taboo”ness of it in their heads), female worship (? what do you call that?), female torture, crossdressing, etc.

But also some not very conventional stuff –

I spoke to one man only once who wanted me to be a girl with thick, black glasses and to talk about the glasses and how they looked on my face.
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One of my PSO friends who has been in the business for over a decade still remembers the caller who wanted to put a mouse inside of her so he could send his snake up to get it — a real mouse, and a real snake.
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Another caller wanted me to squat over a mirror and describe my ass hole. What makes a perfect ass hole, I’ll never know. Ironically, another caller requested I describe my pussy while over a mirror. You really have to learn to bullshit these guys.
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Fred was super weird and this is the email he sent me: I have a request for a story, would roleplay with me where you are a giantess and you use me as a human dildo, the problem is you don’t let me out, your hungry pussy ends up melting its victims never to release them. Could you talk about you wet tight pussy sucking me into your stinky trap. could you use the word “trap” as often as possible and really explain from my standpoint what its like trapped in the insides in your tight sticky walls.
——————————-

And my personal favourite

What would someone want to do with a cactus?! The caller wanted me to pretend I was a horse and he was a cactus. And he wanted me to eat him. He asked me to make sounds like I was eating: “Yum, yum, yum. I’m a horse, and I’m eating you, the cactus…yum, yum, yum.” Etc. Try and do that call with a straight face!

Human sexuality. It’s a beautiful thing.

PS. There’s a lot of… dirtier stuff that’s equally interesting but I won’t quote on my blog because my blog is PG-13. If you are interested, go check it out! I promise I won’t judge, just like how you are totally not judging me!

Les Misérables, the Movie

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It has been a very long time since the last time I was so excited about a movie.

If I was in a relationship, those hundreds of hours spent on Youtube watching videos from the musical would probably have ended it.

For me, musicals are magic. I love operatic singing, but I get bored very quickly if I can’t understand what’s going on, and musicals are just like operas, except understandable.

This movie is an adaption of the musical, and an AWESOME one at that!!

I had very high expectations for this movie, and it did not disappoint.

The director did take some creative liberty with the story, but they were minor and definitely not offensive.

On the other hand, I think they did a really good job exploiting all the advantages of making a film vs a musical in making it more engaging (mostly visually). It did not leave nearly as much to imagination as the musical.

The acting was fabulous also.

Fantine’s “I Dreamed A Dream” was a very emotional moment; Eponine’s romantic struggle around Marius was well done, and her “On My Own” was definitely one of the several climaxes. Marius’ “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” was also very touching.

Javert… many people were not happy with. I actually found him to be pretty good. It’s definitely a very different interpretations of Javert than the one in the musical – in the movie, Javert is portrayed to be more passionate and empathetic since the beginning, and the change in his attitude was not as dramatic. It showed in the singing as well, not just the actions. For example, in his “Stars”, which was a huge and majestic piece in the musical, I think his voice gave away the fact that he feels bad for Jean.

There, out in the darkness

A fugitive running

Fallen from God

Fallen from grace

His voice sounded a little soft compared to other performances of the song I have heard. There’s a little bit of uncertainty and a little bit of resignation. I think I like the stronger version a little more, but it was still good.

Overall, impressed!