AVSIM Commercial FSX Aircraft Review

Piper PA32 R-301SP Saratoga

Product Information

Publishers:  Carenado

Description: Piper’s High Performance Single Brought Into FSX.

Download Size:
62.3 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Jamie Whiting AVSIM Staff Reviewer - January 14, 2010

Introduction

The Piper Saratoga, perhaps the ultimate single engined development of the basic Cherokee design of 1961. The 300 Hp PA32 was until the recent introduction of the Malibu/Meridian line, the top of the range single in the Piper range, boasting impressive load carrying capabilities and among the best performance figures for any aircraft in its comparative class or price range. Because of this the Saratoga has been used for everything from being a fully equipped luxury touring machine that private pilots dream of, to a beaten up, worn out old work horse used in some of the most inhospitable parts of the world for its rugged reliability and versatility; carrying everything from desperately needed medical supplies to tropical fish from remote strips in South America and beyond.

History

Originally a derivative of the Cherokee 6, the Piper PA32 started life as the “R-300 Cherokee Lance” in 1976, then became the “RT-300 Lance II” in 1978-79’ during which the first Turbo PA32 was introduced under the imaginative name of “RT-300 Turbo Lance II”. The designation T in the aircraft name meant that these models were fitted with T tails. In 1980, the “Lance” name and the T tail was dropped in favor of “Saratoga” and a conventional tail setup harking back to the original R-300 version of 1976.

The PA32 R-301 SP Saratoga ran from 1980 to 1993, when it received systems and cosmetic updates to become the “Saratoga II HP”. Alongside this model, a turbo version was also offered; this version was to outlast the normally aspirated one by a year, ending production in 2009 versus 2008 for the regular model. Both types received extensive avionics modifications in their later years, with the ultimate being the complete transition to an all glass flight deck.

The model that we have here from Carenado is the original “R-302 SP Saratoga” in a near original specification to that of the earlier models of the 80’s.

Installation and Documentation

Test System

Intel® Quad™2 Q6850 Extreme @ 3.0Ghz Processor
4.00GB Ram
Nvidia Geforce GTX260 2.3GB Graphics Card
Creative SB X-Fi sound
Creative 2.1 Speakers
Samsung SyncMaster 730DF LCD Display
Windows Vista Home
Saitek Flight Yoke
Saitek Pedals
Saitek Add-on Throttle Quadrant
FSX SP2

Flying Time:
16 hours

After that deluge of PA32 trivia I think that it is time to get down to business. The installation process was easy and painless, a simple case of downloading the software after purchase via an emailed link, unzipping and running the .exe supplied. The readme does a good job of explaining how to install the software, but unfortunately fails to mention the location of the supplied aircraft documents; which are hidden deep within the aircraft folder within FSX.

Whilst the more experienced of us in the hobby would probably find the documents eventually, someone new to FS may be unable to find them. The fact that they are hidden away is more excuse for this fact to be mentioned in the readme. Better still, it would have been easier to have the documents linked from the start menu like the majority of commercial fare available today has.

Once the aircraft folder has been located and accessed, you will be presented with 5 pdf's which are detailed below in bullet form:

• Reference – Contains information on various critical speeds for operation of the aircraft
• Autopilot Operation – Details the Century III autopilot operation [You never saw that one coming!]
• Copyright Information – Useful to look at if you are going to produce repaints
• Checklist, Normal Procedures & Emergency Procedures
• VC Operation – A useful guide to the locations of various controls within the Virtual Cockpit

This package of documentation is a somewhat hit and miss affair unfortunately; the checklist and normal procedures contains a reasonable checklist, but does not really detail the normal pattern of operation for this aircraft.

It omits any detailed information on power settings and airspeeds during the cruise phase, nor does it detail exactly what needs to be set to what; merely saying things like “Propeller - Set“ in the approach landing phase. Whilst I myself am experienced with operating constant speed props in FS and in reality, to those to whom constant speed is still an arcane mystery, they may have purchased this aircraft and might be frustrated at the lack of direction on how to operate it correctly. I do not expect a product to tell the user everything about the basics of flying, but it would not hurt to include a little more background on the operation of the aircraft in reality.

The above omission is bizarre considering the document details comprehensively the external checks as well as starting the engine with external power; which in the world of FS are largely irrelevant operationally but nice to have if only for interest. That’s all well and good, but I would say get the basics of practical operation right first before including such items.

Consider the sort of detailed documents you get with vendors like Dreamfleet, Carenado should at least try and meet that standard on the basics. It could be argued that developers like Dreamfleet are generally more expensive, which is to a certain extent true, but again I think that good documentation should be considered a basic for something that you are parting hard earned cash for.

Having said this, the Autopilot document is good at explaining the differences in operation to the default system; and I think that the separate copyright document is good for drawing attention to the repainters about how to stay within the Law; all useful stuff.

So, a mixed bag on the documentation front, but let’s see what we have in the flesh…

External Model And Liveries

After the somewhat disappointing documentation I am delighted to say that this section of the review shall be a bit of fresh and positive air! The external model is nothing short of outstanding, and this is no overstatement.

The first thing is that the proportions and overall shape of the model are bang on. This is very clearly a Piper Saratoga, and while this may seem a basic thing to get right, it is amazing how many models, no matter how full of bells and whistles, fail to get the basic proportions and essence of the relevant aircraft. No such problems here.

The aircraft is festooned with numerous small details, including most interestingly for you rivet counters out there, an actual 3D oil cooler inlet, complete with oil cooler within. In addition to these small details there are the usual features of fully functioning doors, as well as an array of streamers/covers/chocks which appear upon parking brake application and master switch shutoff.

Carenado have gone with a timeline theme with the supplied liveries, with one in the 70s’ style with stripes to an ultra modern 2000 themed one, giving 4 liveries in all, plus a blank white one with no registration, presumably for repainters to use as a base. There are 3 US registrations and one [the 80s’ style one] with a British reg. Not bad considering that previous releases that I have experienced have been entirely US based. It would not have hurt to have had a different nationality for each variant, but it is a small issue as those who want a particular registration are usually able to do it themselves or will be able to find a repaint that is appropriate to their needs.

The quality of the paints is very high, with the newer examples being shiny and new and the 70s’ and 80s’ style ones being covered in scratches, flies and a host of other things. The resolution is very good for external viewing and the FSX bump mapping feature is put to good use. All in all very high marks for the external model and supplied paints.

“Chocks and streamers, plus open doors” “Oil cooler Detail” “Note the flies on the paint and the bags in the hold”

Virtual Cockpit, Interior Detail and Systems

Now that we move on, it is important to mention that this PA32 does not come with a 2D panel as such, instead it offers the user the ability to use pop-up instruments. In my opinion this is not a problem as I think that by now the majority of users of this type of aircraft will be able to and be more inclined to fly it from the VC in any case.

The virtual cockpit itself is very well built, and features a host of animations in addition to the usual controls. There are no holes and the entire cabin is modeled from the flight deck to the rear baggage compartment. All of the texturing is of a very high resolution and creates the impression of an old PA32 that has been well used but looked after. The overall detail is exquisite and certainly represents the state of the art. Well done Carenado.

“Detailed Cabin” “Classic instrument panel” “Welcome Aboard!”

ow we move on to the nuts and bolts; instrumentation. The supplied suite represents an original vintage fit from the 80’s with the notable addition of a dressed up, customized version of the default GPS. This would be a typical retrofit for this type of aircraft, so as well as being useful, it is also realistic.

The instrumentation includes all of the basic performance instruments, in addition to an HSI, ADF and VOR 2 display box and a host of communications and navigation radios including a DME display. This means that the Saratoga is quite up to the task of full IFR flight with or without the GPS. There is also a useful performance table printed on the left sun visor detailing various power settings for the aircraft, a welcome and novel addition seeing as it is absent from the manuals. The only let down being that those with smaller monitors of less than perfect vision may struggle to read it as the resolution is a little low.

“Novel Idea, Could use a higher resolution” “Vintage”

In order to test this I dusted of my IFR flight manuals and took the PA32 up for an IFR jaunt into my local airport, and managed to successfully fly the procedure which includes a DME arc with no difficulty at all; using only the steam powered instruments. The resolution and refresh rate of these instruments is clearly up to this standard of use.

The only thing I found odd was the fact that the airspeed indicator could not be calibrated using the sliding scale to display a temperature/pressure altitude corrected true airspeed value, a feature that even the default aircraft have. Some simmers will have never heard of this function and so will probably not miss it, while real pilots/hardcore users will undoubtedly find its omission odd.

There are unfortunately a few areas of the cockpit/instrumentation which were lacking in quality compared to other areas. Firstly, the enunciator panel resolution is so poor that it is impossible to determine what each lit message means, and as there are no descriptions provided in the manual, the user is left completely in the dark.

Secondly, the ignition key is of a very poor quality for a commercial product, and is of a low resolution and has no markings for magneto operation such as Off- L – R – Both – Start; this is not major as most users will be familiar with this arrangement, but in a commercial product it is not really very good.

The third problem is with the trim indicator between the seats. The indicator mark itself is 3D and very clear to see; unfortunately the markings detailing the range of movement are of such a poor resolution that you’d be hard pressed to even see them at all, as I was. This is quite a major flaw as setting the correct trim on any aircraft is a critical issue, even more so in an aircraft such as this with a big heavy engine up front and the ability to carry up to 6 people.

“Low resolution Ignition Key” “Unreadable Trim Range Markings” “Unreadable Annunciations”

So, all in all despite the flaws, I have to say that this PA32 has a lot going for it, and the functionality and quality is largely very good for your average simmer. It should be noticed that the errors mentioned are made more apparent as they are shown up by the excellent quality found elsewhere in the product, and it is a shame that these small things blight what would have otherwise been 10/10.

Sounds

Like most piston singles, there is not a great deal of sound elements to model on the PA32, so it is important to get the sounds that do feature right. The engine sounds are in my mind an accurate depiction of a power plant of this size, and the transitions are all smooth. The idle sound is good, with a little roughness, as is typical of many fuel injected aircraft of this age, as they do tend to run a little rich at idle power.

The fuel pump sound is also good, not relying on the comically loud default version for audio. There are no flap sounds as such as the flaps on the PA32 are manually actuated, but there is a satisfying click as each position is selected. There is an absence of sound cone use but in an aircraft of this type, the impact of this is not nearly as big as say on a jet. Overall, the sound package supplied is worthy and does a very good job.

Flight Characteristics

A pretty visual model and a nice panel don’t really mean too much if the aircraft handles like a complete pig, so in many ways we come to what must be one of the most critical areas of any FS model. As such, I will divide this into various areas for simplicity and for your own sanity.

Weight and Balance

“Default loading tool is used”

All of the numbers and capacities of the PA32 are accurate to real world equivalents, and it is necessary to load the aircraft realistically to within its limits, that is to say that you cannot take a full passenger load as well as another 120 pounds of baggage and still expect full tanks.

One problem with the loading however, is the fact that only 4 seats are provided instead of six, and while it is possible to make the weight up to simulate a six person load, it would have been nice to have seen 6 separate “seats”.

Ground Handling

“Engine Run Up in IMC”

Ground handling is accurately depicted. The amount to thrust required to move is right, as is engine response to throttle input. Alternate air and magneto changes also give the appropriate changes in engine running, temperature and pressure indicators all respond accurately, taking a while to warm up after start.

The PA32 is a fuel injected aircraft so there is no carburetor heat, and also features direct steering unlike the spongy type used in Cessnas, meaning that steering on the ground is a doddle. During the engine run up, the propeller checks are good, with the revs dropping once the prop lever has been brought back to a certain position. Nothing to complain about here.

Takeoff and Climb

Takeoff feel and performance is excellent; due to the aircraft having a constant speed prop, it is important to bring the power on smoothly to stop the prop “bouncing” at the rpm limit, and to allow the power to come in gradually and not over-torque the hydraulic prop governor. As power is brought on the aircraft realistically yaws slightly to the left due to torque and prop wash, requiring rudder correction.

“Feel the power!!”

Acceleration is brisk when lightly loaded and rotation speed is quickly reached at 75-80 kts, the aircraft rotates with a bit of firm back pressure providing the trim is set just aft of neutral [This is why the poor resolution of the trim range is so irritating], and requires a bit of right rudder to counteract the effects of low speed prop wash as its leaves the ground. Once the gear is retracted, a climb speed of 90 kts is achieved; this is when you feel the power that the Saratoga has, as in terms of single engine props, this thing climbs like a homesick angel, yielding at least 1500 fpm in most cases.

The engine power drops as altitude is gained, and in prolonged climbs [to above 5000ft] the mixture must be leaned in order to retain a decent amount of power. All in all, an excellent performance from the Saratoga.

Cruise and General Handling

In the cruise phase the PA32 continues to impress. It will give you a comfortable 140 kts at 25in/2500 RPM, and will burn about 15 gallons of fuel an hour, all of which is very close to what I would expect in an aircraft of this size and power.

“Cruising south of Shoreham EGKA”

Control harmony is good, with the aircraft responding accurately to inputs from my own Saitek control suite, gradually getting “tighter” as airspeed increases; also not requiring as much rudder as in the high power slow speed stages of flight. We now move on to the more taxing flight regimes; steep turns are accomplished well, and I imagine that the real equivalent would need the same amount of back pressure owing to its size, with the correct control inputs being needed as well as the right amount of power.

Stalls are also very well modeled, with there being a fairly pronounced nose drop with a power off stall, and a good bit of wing drop when performing power on stalls, both types of stall can be quite aggressive, which is hardly surprising due to the high wing loading of the PA32 compared to say a regular Piper Warrior. Stalls are therefore best performed deliberately at high altitudes rather than at low level on final [goes for all aircraft, but particularly this one].

When it comes to spinning however, this PA32 suffers the same problems that almost all FS aircraft do, in that no matter how hard you try, it simply will not enter a full spin. Spin entry is good, with the aircraft keeling over realistically, but it will not actually start to rotate, merely wallowing about. As such, I think that we can take this as a minor problem in view of the proven difficulty to get this behavior into FS.

Overall the Saratoga gives a good impression of being a big speedy tourer and certainly needs to be given some respect; It behaves impeccably providing you do not use the controls in anger or forget that it can bite back quite ferociously compared to say the friendly 172 you may be used to.

Decent and Landing

This area is again covered very well, with correct decent profiles and demonstrated by the model in both power-on descent and glide decent, with nose up trim being required to prevent a nose heavy feel leading to an excessive air speed.

In the traffic circuit the Saratoga requires a firm control of airspeed to prevent things getting out of hand, 17in being a good power setting to use. Once base leg is deceleration and decent is reached, the propeller is brought fully fine and the airspeed being allowed to settle, with the flaps being brought out and pitch being used to maintain the desired final approach speed. In the Saratoga this speed is quite high at around 90 kts, and it is important not to let the speed bleed off to much or you may find yourself struggling.

Flap settings on the real PA32 are infinitely variable between 0 and 40 degrees. There are 4 defined flap settings owing to the limits of flight simulator, presumably ranging from 0 to 40, as unfortunately Carenado have not provided any indication as to what the artificial detents are set to. I have managed to determine that the third setting is adequate for normal landing operations, with the second for preliminary deceleration and the fourth for improved visibility over the nose/short field operations where the VApp is reduced to around 75-80 kts. It would have been nice to have been told about which position is which, as many users will not know where to begin.

Having fathomed the flap settings and reached the threshold, power is drawn off and the aircraft is allowed to round off and settle, before a bit of flare is introduced to smooth the touchdown. This produces a smooth touchdown providing your timing is good and the airspeed is not allowed to vanish, on which you will end up dumping your shiny Saratoga ingloriously into the tarmac! This again is accurate to my own experience with high performance singles of this size and weight, precise control of power/speed is essential.

All in all it has to be said that the Carenado PA32 is largely excellent when it comes to that most important area of flying. I could recommend it on this aspect alone despite the unfortunate mystery of the phantom flap setting mystery! Like all great handling aircraft, a full yoke and pedal setup is the best way to get to grips with this Saratoga in order to appreciate all elements of the experience.

Conclusion

Considering all, I have to say on balance that despite its short comings the Saratoga is a pleasing addition to my ever swelling hangar, and occupies a useful niche in the FS market. The visuals are superb and will provide users with a considerably upgraded and more realistic impression of what many GA pilots fly around in, as we do not all dart about in brand new glass cockpit machines!

As to whether I can recommend the PA32, this really depends on what you are after. If you like a fun aircraft with useable performance and good visuals you will enjoy this immensely. If you are a diehard systems/IFR/fly-by-numbers/that’s 12 instead of 14 rivets sort of simmer [You know who you are ;)] you may find that this Piper lacks the depth to get your juices going.

Having said this, if you are of a technical/fiddling ilk like me, you could easily modernize and upgrade this aircraft using the many 3rd party avionics solutions available and make it a real custom gem that does away with any perceived short comings. Fancy a challenge? Bear in mind the above and you won’t be disappointed!

 

What I Like About The Saratoga

  • Excellent Visuals
  • Detailed interior
  • Vintage Cockpit
  • High resolution details
  • Flying experience
  • Sounds

 

What I Don't Like About The Saratoga

  • Documentation
  • Some areas are lacking in detail
  • Poor resolutions in certain important areas

 

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Piper PA32 R-301SP Saratoga

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