Piper is a name that just about any aviation enthusiast knows. Why? The famous and historic line of aircraft ranges from the venerable Cubs and Super Cubs, to the Archers and Warriors, to the Arrows and Saratogas. These are all names we know, and have heard many times. Now, I get to review one of Piper's flagships, from a flight sim company with great reputation; The Piper Saratoga.
The Saratoga came about due to some unusual circumstances with the Piper Aircraft Company. Up to 1972, the Piper Commanche had been the company’s luxurious high performance single engine aircraft. However, a flood that year destroyed most of the Commanche assembly line. The company then looked to its heavy duty Cherokee SIX aircraft, and began modifying it to replace the Commanche in the market.
The addition of retractable gear and a new designation led to the PA-32R, also known as the Piper Lance. Piper then decided to add the tapered wing to the airframe in place of the ‘Hershey’ bar wing that the Lance had carried forward from the Cherokee SIX, and this became the Saratoga.
Production of the Saratoga continued successfully for over 30 years, ending in 2009. This was a great production length in the Aviation world, and there were many reasons: spacious cabin, high-performance engine, decent cruising speed, and handling that Pipers are known for.
Let’s dive on in for what you’re here for, the closer look at Carenado’s PA-32 Saratoga for FS2004.
This was a bit different from Carenado’s past and simple installers. This wasn’t too much more difficult, as you will receive a username and key after purchase to start the .exe installer. From there, it’s exactly as it has been with Carenado; pretty straightforward and simple.
Another typical Carenado part of this package; excellent and in depth manuals and checklists. If you’re used to Carenado’s documentation, you won’t be disappointed here. If not, you’ll definitely like how much information and research comes coupled with their ships.
The 2D panel here is different than anything I’ve seen. There is no main 2D panel when you first use the aircraft, but only a black rectangle at the top center of the screen with three subpanel options. You can also bring up 2D versions of each main gauge, like the six-pack gauges.
A virtual cockpit makes or breaks a package in my mind, and here we have a huge winner in nearly every virtual cockpit regard. I’ll jump right into the detail and several shots to showcase what we have here.
The basic VC stuff is included, and handled very well. Most every gauge is legible and crisp, even back at 0.65 zoom where I like to fly this one from. A few of them are a bit harder to read, but there are click spots to bring up enlarged 2D versions of most of these smaller gauges. Just about every switch or gauge knob or flight control you could play with is clickable, and has actual functionality. Adjusting radio frequencies is very intuitive and straightforward. The default eye point also seems to be in just the right spot when compared to where the pilot’s head is positioned with the external model; this is something I always watch for. Night lighting is taken care of with a basic red flood or dome light, which isn’t bad.
The more advanced VC detail is even better with every Carenado release. There’s a fine reflection on the interior windows reflecting the aircraft’s interior, which is not overdone, but makes you feel like there’s actually a thin panel of Plexiglas there. Sun visors and interior doors can be clicked and opened or moved, and those visors even have legible information on them. The pilot’s window can’t be clicked to open it, and this doesn’t ruin anything for me.
If you turn around and look backwards, you’ll see one of the most detailed virtual cabins out there. From the textures of it to the modeling, it all seems very seamless. The carpet textures really fooled me into believing it’s carpet, and you can even see stitching and the leather grain. Look up or down, and the actual contours of the interior are modeled in many cases, not just the textures that look 3D.
Only thing I saw about this VC that I didn’t like too much, was the elevator that you can see outside the windows when looking back, is not animated for pitch input. Even so, you won’t be disappointed with the virtual cockpit of the Saratoga. This VC is typical Carenado quality, and they seem to improve a bit with every VC they do (which doesn’t seem possible to me, but they pull it off).
One word to describe it? Exquisite. I can’t see a single missed detail, and the lines are crisp and convincing. A lot of pictures are going to help me here because, like describing sound with words, it’ll be equally difficult to describe this model using words.
All the regular animations and details like control surfaces, lights, and much more are included with this aircraft. Several textures are included, and there is probably something for everyone in that department. This is another part of the Saratoga that deserves high praise due to the texture detail. They’re incredible from just about any distance with crisp panel lines, noticeable rivets, and the textured curve contours.
Enough of the basics, like rolling tires and moving ailerons. Let’s get to the higher fidelity animations and detail.
One of the first detailed features I’d like to mention is the pilot figure. I’d start by saying the pilot model is very detailed and lifelike; his head moves with control surface input in the way you’d expect. However, the pilot figured animations go further to something I haven’t seen before with a pilot figure. When you climb, you’ll notice the pilot slightly sink in his seat for a bit. When diving, you’ll notice the pilot raise slightly up out of his seat. It’s really neat to see actual G-forces animated somehow.
Another seemingly simple, yet very high fidelity model feature is the prop disk. It may just be a prop disk, but it really is the best disk and spinner model I’ve seen to date. Along with propeller detail, is that spinner detail I just mentioned. Carenado always models a spinning spinner very well. Several shots are going to help me elaborate here, and the point is that many freeware and payware aircraft lack this minor detail.
Looking at a 3D view of the Saratoga, I couldn’t quite spot anything really, well, off. It all looks right on with this Saratoga, and that’s what I look for in a payware aircraft. I don’t want it to just fly well, I want it to look good, too.
Flying the Saratoga was for the most part a joy. I did notice some odd high altitude performance issues, but that seems normal given the relatively low ceiling of the Saratoga.
Flying the Saratoga is like flying, well, a Piper. Not that’s it’s a boring plane to fly, but Pipers are known for being relatively forgiving. Here, we’ll instead look at how closely it flies compared to the real deal. I’ve never flown a Saratoga in real life, so I’ll just describe to you how it handles a variety of flight regimes.
Taxiing the Saratoga is definitely ‘no-brainer’ easy, as it’s a nose wheel aircraft. Upon adding power to takeoff, I noticed a slight veering to the left due to p-factor and torque, but it’s nothing heavy. The plane will happily peel itself off the runway at 70-80 KIAS, and a little sooner with aggressive trimming or flaps applied. Once in the air, you’ll get a solid 1000 FPM climb until you get to and above 5000 feet, where climb performance and speed slowly bleed down.
Climbing becomes time consuming, but it should be remembered that this is an aircraft that can weigh up to 3600 lbs on only 300 HP. Once leveled out at your cruise altitude, it will take some time for cruise speed to come back up. It does seem a bit underpowered, but the specs are exacting and Carenado usually gets these details correct the first time. Cruising speed was not quite up in the 165 KIAS range as it should be, but with a nice tailwind I was easily able to achieve 170 knots ground speed.
Climbing up a bit higher from 9,500 to 11,500 was what I would call difficult, but once again, this ship does have a somewhat low ceiling of around 15,500 feet. It couldn’t climb at much more than 500-600 feet per minute, and it did get quite slow (about 65-70 KIAS). I’m not sure if this is the way a real Saratoga handles at altitude, but once again, it does have a relatively low max altitude ceiling.
Advanced maneuvers like s-turns, side-slipping, stalls, and spins were tested, and some performed realistically. However, it’s important to mention that, due to FS limitations, hardly any aircraft handles stalls and spins accurately. This ship is no exception to that limitation, and stalls and spins were not too realistic.
A stall simply kept increasing pitch angle even after passing below stall speed, with mushy control response. Spins can’t be accomplished with this flight model, once again due to simulator limitations. I don’t really see the need for most GA aircraft to have the ability to spin realistically; only aerobatic aircraft really need that level of fidelity in the flight model.
Landing the Saratoga isn’t too difficult; you must simply be able to handle a relatively large single engine aircraft. You’ll notice a slightly heavy feel to the ship on approach, but just drop flaps and gear, point and land it.
Once again, flying the Saratoga wasn’t like flying an F-15 at 1500 knots, but it certainly wasn’t boring like flying at 40 knots in some little ultra light. If the Saratoga’s purpose fits your need, then you won’t mind how she flies one bit.
I mention this in reviews just about every time the sound part comes up, and it’s because this is very true and especially true in this case. This is easily one of the throatiest, beefiest, and realistic sound packs I’ve heard for a GA plane. Carenado almost always records from the real deal aircraft that they’re modeling, and they must use high quality equipment, because it always sounds phenomenal. When I hear this sound pack from any viewpoint in the sim, I’m quite confident this is what a real Saratoga sound like.
For details, I’ll start where noise from an aircraft usually starts: startup. Before any engine noise, upon powering the batteries up, you’ll hear a heavy whine of some of the aircraft’s brains coming to life. I didn’t hear a fuel pump sound effect, which would have been nice (minor details, though). As soon as you turn the mags to start it, you’ll hear a lengthy protest, from a cold engine as it chugs, clunks, and fights its way to life. I love a lengthy start up effect, because anyone who has started a real and cold aircraft knows that it’s not a 1 or 2 second operation.
Once you rev the engine up a bit more, you’ll hear a distinct noise that I love, because it reminds me of the airport. It’s difficult to describe, but I call it the “prop-chop” sound. It’s has to do with the prop blades’ pitch angle, and it’s very distinct and noticeable. I wish I could make a quick recording of it for readers to hear, because this effect and the engine’s chugging are almost nostalgic for me.
Then you’ll pour on the coal, and begin roaring down the centerline. The wind whipping by picks up considerably, along with a change to a very loud but smooth, bassy 300 HP IO-520 out in front of you. Once cruising up in the skies , it sounds pretty much the same; a roaring engine, but a very realistic roaring engine.
Approach sounds are interesting, because once throttled down you’ll really hear that wind whipping by at 80 knots just like in real life. Put the gear down and the clunks and whines make you really believe there’s a stout and tough set of landing gear extending beneath you. Upon touchdown, there is a minor tire ‘chirp’, and another great, heavy, and loud ‘whirring’ effect telling you that the tires are spinning once again.
Just the sounds included with this plane are an experience in themselves. I can’t imagine someone disliking the sounds of the Saratoga.
Performance is stellar, as it always is with Carenado creations. Very low impact on frame rates; in fact, the eye cannot notice a difference. Benchmarking showed it to be less than a 5% loss from a default Cessna. That is something you can almost always count on with Carenado, their excellent optimization with all that detail.
The Saratoga is definitely a winner of a package here. I do like the smaller Pipers, but I haven’t really liked the bigger Pipers like this one or the Cherokee 6. However, I really do have a deeper sense of appreciation and respect for this plane after reviewing it.
If you, on the other hand, are a fan of the bigger Pipers or Pipers in general, you can’t steer wrong going with another Carenado Piper to add to your fleet. I’m recommending this plane to any GA fan, and for Piper fans it is a must.
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