The first item on today’s agenda was the Diamond DA40 demo flight. Phil jumped into the pilot seat, the Diamond Rep filled in the right and I made myself comfortable in the back with our camera. The instrument panel was super crisp and clean without the patchwork of updates that is typical in most mature (don’t say older) airplanes. It almost didn’t look real. The demo flight departed from the Appleton airport, which is just a few miles north of Oshkosh.
This was my first time ever flying a brand-new airplane. Sure I’ve sat in plenty of them at various airshows over the years, but I finally got a chance to take one up in the air. The DA40 was simply a pleasure to fly. The center-mounted control stick felt like it was positioned perfectly, and the controls were nicely harmonized and responsive. Before we knew it, we had our take off clearance from Appleton Tower and we headed north to stay away from the swarm of airplanes converging on Oshkosh just a few miles to the south.
We did a few basic flight maneuvers to get the feel for the airplane. The visibility from the airplane was amazing. The bubble canopy was awesome! Most low-wing airplanes have a very limited view of the ground below, but not the DA40. Since the front seats are just ahead of the wings, you can actually see straight down quite easily. I’d say this airplane had the best visibility of any airplane I’ve ever been in. However all that visibility also means more places for the sun to get in, and I bet it gets pretty darn hot on a warm day. The ventilation worked well on this flight. Each of the four seats has two large adjustable vents.
After that we tried out various modes of the autopilot. Even through turbulence the autopilot kept steady control of the airplane. Next up were stalls with the power on and off, and both were very tame with no sharp break or wing dropping. This would be a great airplane in which to learn to fly.
I won’t attempt to write an airplane review of the Diamond DA40. I did find a well written review by Philip Greenspun who owned a DA40 for 3 years and traveled extensively in it. It’s a very thoughtful review that is worth reading, and made me appreciate our trusty 1977 Mooney 201 even more. Philip points out that the DA40 has light wing loading so it easily gets bumped around in turbulence. Our Mooney has fairly heavy wing loading, so it tends to be more stable. He also confirmed my suspicion that the big Plexiglas canopy does turn the cockpit into a greenhouse on a hot sunny day. One other thing Philip wrote about in his review was that the DA40 was a bit uncomfortable for pilots over 6’2” tall. I should probably mention that for pilots who are around 5’5” (like me) the airplane isn’t ideal either. The seat does not adjust for height or tilt, and I felt like I didn’t have good enough visibility over the nose. Fixing that seat height issue would require a cushion with a cut-out for the control stick.
I enjoyed viewing the area from above since we didn’t get to fly our Mooney into Appleton. After thanking the Diamond representative for a great flight, we drove from Appleton to Oshkosh for another day of AirVenture.
AirVenture — Day 2
We were quickly inside the gate and ready to make the most of our short time at the show. Our first stop was the FAA Spatial Disorientation Simulator. Bo works for the FAA in Oklahoma City and he was very enthusiastic while recruiting volunteers to try the simulator. Phil had read about it, but never had the chance to give it a try. Bo and I had matching haircuts, so how could I refuse his offer for a ride in the simulator?
As an instrument flight instructor, I’ve spent a lot of time studying spatial disorientation, which is a fancy term for not being sure which way is up. It’s something that often occurs in instrument flight when your inner ear senses motion but your eyes are sending a different signal about your body’s movement and orientation to your brain. Every pilot who has had instrument training has experienced some form of spatial disorientation. The FAA’s spatial disorientation simulator is able to show how powerful the feelings of disorientation can be to a degree that you probably couldn’t safely replicate in a real airplane. The only way to overcome spatial disorientation is to focus on your flight instruments and trust what they are telling you despite the sensations of motion you might be feeling. This simulator helps drive that lesson home by subjecting you to spatial disorientation while you are safely on the ground.
The spatial disorientation simulator is a fairly simple device. It’s basically a one-seat cockpit with a flight simulator inside of it. The unique thing is that the simulator moves, but not like a normal full-motion flight simulator that is designed to give you realistic feelings of motion that correspond to your control inputs. This simulator only rotates about the vertical axis (from the outside it looks like a tiny airplane spinning on its belly), and the motion has nothing to do with the control inputs you are making inside the simulated airplane. However inside the simulator, the flight instruments do react appropriately to your control inputs. The purpose of having the simulator rotate about the vertical axis is to stimulate the semicircular canals in your inner ear that sense motion.
The simulator actually looked like a kid’s ride, but only adults were in line. Each time the door opened, a pilot would spill out of the small dark cabin with a stunned look on their face. Probably a combination of the learning they just acquired and the bright sun. Phil signed up right away. I wanted to try it too, but the air was already at 80 degrees with high humidity. It was roasting in the shade and I had no desire to climb in a small box with little ventilation. Listening in on Phil’s session was plenty entertaining for me.
The first illusion I experienced was the Coriolis Illusion. During a prolonged turn, the instructor had me reach down to the floor like I was picking up a pencil. The feeling was an overwhelming sensation of tumbling head over heels. After returning my attention to the flight instruments it was very difficult to keep the simulated airplane flying. My senses told me I was still tumbling, but the instruments indicated that I was still flying straight and level.
What do you think happens when you return to level flight after a prolonged turn? After about 30 seconds of a constant rate turn, your inner ear lies to you and tells you that you are no longer turning. When the turn stops, you get a very strong sensation of banking in the opposite direction of the original turn. This illusion is called The Leans and that was the next thing I experienced in the simulator. They had the simulator spinning in one direction while I was instructed to turn the airplane to an assigned heading. When I reached that heading, they stopped the motion of the simulator and the sensation of turning in the other direction was extremely strong. Again I had to really concentrate to keep the wings level and not bank the airplane to an attitude that “felt” level. I’ve experienced The Leans many times while doing instrument flight, but never as strongly I did during my time in the spatial disorientation simulator. I highly recommend all pilots, instrument rated or not, to give this simulator a try when it’s available. I believe the FAA has it running at most of the major airshows.
More Exploring at AirVenture
After walking through the static displays, we still had one more booth to find before heading back to Minneapolis. I’ve wanted to try an in-ear headset for several years and finally got my chance at the Aloft Technologies booth. Their Clarity Aloft headset was super lightweight and sounded great in the demo booth. After trying it for a few minutes, I began to think this would be an ideal reward when I get around to earning my instrument rating. Although Nancy isn’t yet instrument rated, she and I worked together quite a bit before this trip so she is a very capable instrument co-pilot. She knows that when she does decide to work on her instrument rating, the special family discount on flight instruction will still be available to her. Plus she’s going to have a big head start since she’s flown with me under IFR conditions many times. The 30-day money back guarantee on the headset, discounted AirVenture pricing and Phil’s encouragement convinced me to make the purchase now. This trip would be an ideal opportunity to try it out with so many flight hours planned in the next few weeks.
We decided to not even attempt to get a hotel in the Oshkosh area for this evening. Hopefully the folks at ASI Jet Center in Minneapolis would be done with our airplane repairs by the next morning. Since it would take about 5 hours to drive from Oshkosh to Minneapolis, we decided to just get a hotel in Minneapolis for this night (Tuesday) and be ready for an early morning departure on Wednesday.
We had a long drive ahead of us, so now our AirVenture visit was complete. Our first trip was very memorable and we’re definitely going to make the journey again. As we drove west towards Minneapolis, we discussed what we would do differently now that we know where to stay and what to see in Oshkosh. For now, we were both looking forward to getting back to the Mooney as well as seeing Washington DC.
During our drive back to Minneapolis, the mechanics called with good news. The Mooney would be ready to go by tomorrow morning. If everything goes according to plan, our next stop will be Washington, DC.
Here are some more sights of Oshkosh to give you a feel for what it’s like to be there.