The Piper Saratoga can be described as a single-engine, 5-passenger, high performance aircraft with a listed max speed of 197 KIAS and a service ceiling of 16700 ft. With a cruising range of 780-980NM (depending on settings) at a speed of 141-154 KIAS (again setting-dependent) with reasonable fuel economy the aircraft suits a variety of roles.
More infamously, this was the aircraft type piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr. when it crashed off Martha’s Vineyard in 1999 - an accident blamed on pilot error by the NTSB.
It can be difficult as a non real world pilot to describe the experience of flying a particular simulation model to fellow virtual pilots. As I become comfortable with a given aircraft’s characteristics, flight quirks, and overall “flyability” in a virtual environment, I tend to equate the plane to a car in some respects just to add context. For example the PC-12 seems like a Porsche 944, the DH-6 Twin Otter a flying Jeep Wrangler, and so on.
In coming up with a comparison for the Carenado Saratoga I thought back to the mid-80’s when just prior to joining the USAF I had the opportunity to work as a driver for a north Jersey limo company. At the time it was a fun job (and really well-paying for a 21-year old college kid!) shuttling high-rollers from Bergen County down to Atlantic City in the total comfort of a Lincoln full stretch limousine. In seeing the Carenado Saratoga model for the first time, the Lincoln stretch comparison stuck based on the passenger seating arrangements, the sensible cockpit layout, and the smooth ride and handling that seemed perfect for flying those same high rollers out of Teterboro to Atlantic City following the same general route I used to drive along the Garden State Parkway.
Following hard on the heels of the Moody M20J for X-Plane, Carenado is following a specific route map for bringing their incredibly high standard of flight simulator GA models to the X-Plane world and raising the bar for future developers to follow - a good thing.
While there are plenty of jets to fly in X-Plane (and some of them approaching MSFS standards in terms of functionality) for myself I feel that X-Plane suits GA-prop planes beautifully and I am eager to explore what Carenado brings to the table.
Installation and Documentation
The download is 91.4Mb in size and as with all X-Plane add-on’s installation is as simple as dragging the download folder into the GA Folder under Aircraft within X-Plane. Documentation for the Saratoga includes a checklist, reference, VC operation, and a manual for the Century III Autopilot flight system all in .pdf format.
I was a bit surprised to find that Carenado had not taken advantage of the Checklister plug-in and converted the .pdf for inclusion. Happily the user community at x-plane.org came through and forum member Vance has published a modified checklist available for those who use that plug-in.
The other item I felt was lacking was a basic “get to know the aircraft” tutorial which I feel should be included with EVERY publisher’s payware aircraft. It should not be hard to craft a sample VFR/IFR flight tutorial giving the user an opportunity to fly a test flight as a developer would and thus get to know the plane that much better - a sort of “type conversion” if you will.
The included documentation is adequate; however, there are some nuances to the controls and other functions within the aircraft that one has to either trawl the forums for answers or discover for themselves through trial and error.
**Important Note**If you choose to use the Checklister plug-in, I encountered a crash when loading the Saratoga over another complex Checklister-enabled payware aircraft and using the checklist function. This was resolved by switching to the Saratoga, closing X-Plane, and then re-launching X-Plane and the checklist worked fine. This may be peculiar only to my system?
Internal & External Visuals
The Saratoga ships with four paint schemes and a default white canvas for repainting. Carenado has worked magic here with superb dynamic lighting effects over the fuselage and numerous details to be appreciated by any pilot.
Doors open using the internal handles while trailing edge probes and the whip antenna vibrate with the airflow, the trim tabs move with adjustment, and the landing gear sequence is a visual treat. The amount of detail on the aircraft skin is beautifully done and the external lighting is almost blinding in its application.
Internally the model provides more immersive features. Virtually everything within the cabin functions as expected; from the door releases and flip-top seat ashtrays, right down to the mood lighting provided by 4 individually switched reading spots over each seat.
In looking at the seating layout, my Lincoln stretch limo analogy bears fruit with the stylish leather seats, drinks holders (with refreshing beverages at the ready), and large windows framed by curtains as opposed to shades. Even the individual air vents scattered around the cabin are adjustable. One almost expects to look over your shoulder while at the controls to find 4 VIP passengers knocking back a bottle of Cristal and enjoying the scenery while discussing their respective golf handicaps.
Tasty Candy So Far-How About The Office?
The level of detail within the cockpit is astonishing. While this aircraft is not complex in terms of systems, the attention to detail and amount of modeling effort combined with X-Plane’s native gauge refresh makes this flight deck simply jaw-dropping. While there are a couple of minor blemishes, the overall effect is one of quality and immersion that sets the standard for other developers to aspire. More on the blemishes shortly.
Carenado has not just included a whole new level of custom gauges, they went ahead and ensured that every one has its own dynamic reflective model that shifts depending on eye point location and direction of lighting source. The little key fob and the mic cord sway in time with the motion of the aircraft. The original Collins COM and NAV radios are razor sharp and effortless in function (and nicely tied in with the GPS unit NAV/COM when tuned via the inner/outer rotary dials that stand proud from the panel).
The systems layout is elegantly simple and generally speaking easy to survey while flying. Even the default GPS unit looks to have been tidied up a bit although not near as crisp as the rest of the panel. The contrast between the GPS and the rest of the panel is a bit glaring - good thing all the lovely steam navigation gauges outshine that particular inconsistency. Be aware that despite being referenced in the documentation there is no DME beyond dialing in a specific waypoint to the GPS. I guess it is useful after all.
The Century III autopilot and several gauges are hidden or partially obscured by the control yoke. The developers took this into consideration and provided two options: either remove the yoke by clicking on it or bring up a “mini-panel” containing the autopilot, engine controls, and critical gauges via a toggle switch just under the glare shield.
The “mini-panel” not only functions well, it also slots into place nicely without looking like a “lumped-in” 2D set found in other payware aircraft. In addition, the field of view can be changed on the fly from a manipulator switch. A couple of the switch functions and locations are not described in the documentation so I annotated them in the next set of images.
**Important Note**There appears to be a bug with the To/From indicator on the VOR2 gauge where it reads in reverse. This is currently under investigation by Carenado.
At night, the panel is lit to perfection coupled with the soft red glow of the overhead dome. Again while not documented, the dome On/Off manipulator switch is the black knob within the dome housing and by sliding the filter, the dome light can be changed from red to white if desired.
As always for a non real world virtual pilot, commenting about the flight model is purely subjective. In a nutshell I found the aircraft to fly like a Lincoln Continental stretch limo - -predictable, easy, and comfortable within the recommended operating parameters.
Generally speaking, the aircraft flies by the numbers (as a good model should). During one flight I set it for MTOW and while the climb power was reasonable I did struggle to get the aircraft over FL100 and eventually settled for FL120 as the plane seems so fuel efficient I did not burn off enough to achieve my planned cruise at FL140. With a more sensible fuel load, cruising along at FL140 and around 140 KIAS made for an easy trip although it still seemed a bit reluctant in the climb over 10000’ until I dialed the rate back to 80 KIAS.
Trimming the aircraft and maintaining stability is easy. The Saratoga is relaxed to manage in a stall as well; gently dumping the nose until recovery without any wild gyrations or hard wing-overs. I did feel like I had to anticipate turns a bit more than some aircraft, as there is a subtle “understeer” - perhaps this might be different depending on the simulator flight controls used (I use a stick/HOTAS arrangement).
Takeoff’s and landings are simple to manage. The aircraft performs well at slow speeds with flaps deployed and gear down. I actually had more trouble with the forward view on landing as it is a bit restricted over the nose. I did notice a slight tendency to “float” down the runway a little bit further than expected, but again this may be down to my techniques. Ground handling is responsive with no need for exterior viewing to steer around the taxiways.
The Century III Autopilot while basic by modern standards is fully functional. The documentation included perfectly covers its operation and Carenado does note that NAV/OMNI/LOC modes are, for all simulator purposes, the same. Nice to take the hands off the controls and enjoy the view.
The only area lacking is documentation of the correct power settings for various aspects of flight. There is a table printed on the visor that was somewhat unreadable (although pretty cool to see) and after a quick query to Fernando at Carenado and my goggle-fu, I managed to get the settings pretty close to factory-recommended. As I mentioned before, this is an area that an in-flight tutorial should cover.
This is not an overly noisy or loud model, which I appreciate. The engine burble seemed spot on and switches/toggles make a pleasing click. The gear sequence has a great “clunk” that startled me the first time I heard it and the flaps deploy with a subtle and very cool “click-zzzzzz” effect.
I had no appreciable performance hit with this aircraft that I could notice on my mid-range system. For those that are not currently using X-Plane, once the preferences are initially set it’s “fire and forget” and the scalability and visual stability is excellent. Carenado has obviously taken advantage of this aspect of X-Plane and it’s a great sign of things to come.
In my mind this is a “must-have” tour-de-force release for X-Plane that sets the bar for any X-Plane payware developer to aspire to. Granted the model is a fairly basic general aviation aircraft; however, Carenado has unlocked the full potential both visually and performance-wise that just takes things to the next level.
The Saratoga is just a great aircraft to fly; perhaps as a first payware investment for a newer pilot or an experienced virtual aviator needing a change from the usual A-B autopilot long-haul. Whatever the reason, Carenado delivers a beautiful and immersive Saratoga experience that will get you and your passengers to their destination in style.
What I Like About The Piper Saratoga
What I Don't Like About The Piper Saratoga
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