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  • REVIEW - Alabeo’s Saratoga II TC for FSX/P3D


    Alabeo’s Saratoga II TC for FSX/P3D

    A review by Ray Marshall



    When I first heard the Alabeo PA-32R Saratoga II TC would be the first Carenado/Alabeo aircraft to feature the new Flight1 GTN750 as a VC panel integration option, I was excited.  But, as I immediately called up the Alabeo Facebook page to view the latest sneak preview screenshots, I was truly excited.  When I finally got to a website with the proper performance numbers for this latest incarnation of the Cherokee Six of old, I was ecstatic!


    It is quite uncommon for me to get this excited over a mediocre performance single engine, low wing aircraft, especially one from the Piper shop.  Now just hold on a minute, that is not a knock at Piper or the Saratoga, it’s just a hard earned fact that I grew up in the Cessna and Mooney camp.  It will become obvious as you read more that I now have the highest regard for this newest complex and high performance airplane for FSX and P3D.  The Saratoga has had many splendid improvements since the old Cherokee Six days and now looks, acts, flies and performs as a very different airplane than I remember from the golden days.


    About 45 years ago, when I was a young spout, growing up in Florida and chasing another rating for my Commercial/Instrument pilot’s license, I was eager to make at least one entry each day in my newly acquired Professional Flight Log Book.  This is the one that is about an inch thick that you buy so folks will think you really are a commercial pilot—not that little black one that you got when you were working on your Private Pilot’s License that fits in your back pocket. 


    I ran a part-time charter service and would fly anyplace anyone would like to go as long as I was back home the next day.  My day job was at Kennedy Space Center just across the Indian River from TICO Airport, but my daily interest was about as far from landing the first American on the moon as possible.


    Fortunately for me, my Supervisor at the Space Center was also a moonlighting A&P Mechanic that took care of our fleet of 3 small Cessnas.  I had learned to fly in a Cessna 150 that I rented from a local flying club, then I bought a two-year old C-150 from Burnside-Ott, the big flight school training all those Iranians down at Opa Locka, just North of Miami. 


    Actually we bought all 3 of our airplanes that day; our mechanic picked out a blue one, I chose a green one, and my flight instructor grabbed a red one.  In a day or so, we all had business cards and an overnight Delaware Corporation was formed and we were in business - a moonlighting or shade tree charter, flight instruction, and airplane rental business, that is.  No physical office or building, just ramp space.


    The economy was humming along, we were making good money at the Space Center, and we could work the 12 hour night shift and not only have all day to fly, we got a bonus for working nights.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  The company I worked for actually flew our weekly paychecks down to Florida in a Gulfstream.  Sure it was a G-1, but this was 1968 and they only had a few models back then and they all had propellers.


    Is this going someplace?

    Yep.  Our most common overnight charter was to the Bahamas Islands.  This was a piece of cake provided you could find a fairly fast airplane to rent that had 4 or 6 seats.  Our paying customers were almost always fellow workers from across the river with a wife or girlfriend.  Our first choice was to use one of Roy LoPresti’s Mooneys that was based just down the ramp from our 3 Cessnas.  If they were all scheduled, flying, or not enough seats, we went looking for an almost new Cessna 210 with a fall back to an old beat-up Cessna 205.  If the Cessnas weren’t available we could rent a new Cherokee Six at Daytona but we couldn’t make much profit on the charter.  A new Cherokee Six rented for a whopping $30/hour back then.




    The PA-32 was our third and usually last choice, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t popular.  It seemed to always be available for an overnighter, and it would haul as many folks with their overnight bags as we ever had at any one time.  The math was quite simple.  Just carry enough fuel to get there and back without much thought of alternate airports or reserve flying time.  The Florida's East Coast has an airport just about every 10 miles from Jacksonville to Miami so we had plenty of alternates. We had a choice of Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach for clearing Customs and this was in the days when the drug smugglers were all in Miami so if we just smiled, looked professional, and said nothing we usually were through Customs in a matter of minutes.


    The flight across the Atlantic Ocean from West Palm to Grand Bahamas Island is literally just a hop-skip-and-jump - maybe 60 miles. I don’t think you are ever out of sight of land more than a few minutes and by the time you have explained you know how to avoid the Bermuda Triangle, you were approaching the white sandy beaches of another Country.  You instantly knew that you were no longer in Kansas, or Florida, when the 7 foot tall blue-black man greeted you with a big smile and "Hi Mon, welcome to Grand Bahamas."


    The key to avoiding a serious delay in landing at Freeport, FPO was to never tell Approach Control or the Tower that you were a Cherokee.  You were always a Piper, never a Cherokee.  Back then it was not uncommon for three DC-8s to be in the pattern shooting touch and goes and having all kinds of simulated failures. Several airlines used this particular airport for training.


    Our goal was to locate the heavies and merge in with them without reporting our position.  Then all of a sudden appear at the proper altitude and spacing at the Outer Marker and in our best deep voice declare “Piper blah blah, outer marker inbound, landing.’ If we pulled it off, we saved about 30 minutes of costly flight time making 360s and watching the DC-8 guys learn how to land on a 10,000-foot runway.  A DC-8 climbing out into clear blue sky was easy to spot. You just look for the 4 black trails of smoke.


    For this scenario the Cherokee Six was perfect. One was bigger, it really was bigger and it wasn’t a Cessna or Mooney, which for some reason were all small planes in the bigger scheme of things.  Should we get the request for ‘Say Type’ the answer was always Papa Alpha Three Two Three Hundred.  That was a perfectly correct answer and by the time you got it all out you were on short final.  The PA-32-300 that we rented from Daytona Beach Aviation was a seven-seater and it was big.  I mean it was wider than the competition, had a cabin that looked like a bus, had its own baggage door and you could even put baggage in the Forward Baggage hold.  Wow.  Now if the gear would retract it would really be something special.


    We also flew the Cherokee Arrow a lot. This was a couple of years before the Arrow II was introduced.  The advantage was the Arrow was new, smelled new and had retractable landing gear.  The 200 hp version was very nice but didn’t have the cabin room that the later models had.  Now what we need to do is put the retractable gear from the Arrow on the Cherokee Six.  Someone at Piper must have been listening because that is was the basis for the PA-32R Cherokee Lance. (It was actually a much beefier gear retraction system)


    For a few years the Lance had the stabilator moved up to become an impressive T –tail design and a turbocharger was added to create the Lance II. This looked cool but didn’t handle quite right in the flare at liftoff and climb-out, so the 1980 models reverted to the standard tail design.  One key feature that originated with the Lance II was the large oval air intake directly below the propeller hub. This was the PA-32RT-300T.


    With not much else for changes, the designation became the -301 but more importantly the name Saratoga was introduced. In 1980 the Saratoga SP replaced the Lance with the Stabilator back at the conventional location.  The Lance II (turbo) became the Turbo Saratoga SP with the standard tail arrangement. This was now the PA-32R-T301.




    In 1993, the airplane received a major makeover in looks and comfort and some useful system and equipment updates and was designated the Saratoga II HP.  This upgrade is well documented later in the review.




    Starting with the 1998 model year, the Saratoga II TC was unveiled with a hot new turbocharged and fuel injected Lycoming TIO-540-AH1A engine.  The details between the introduction of the Saratoga II HP in mid-1993 and the startup in 1997 with the turbocharger are few and far between but it appears the turbo is the difference in the two editions.




    For the first two years, the ‘toga’ TC featured the King Avionics suite but was switched to dual Garmin GNS430s and a GTX-320 transponder for the 1999-year model.  In mid-Year 2000 the avionics were again upgraded with newer Garmin gear.  Beginning in 2004 the Avidyne Entegra ‘Glass Panel’ was offered as optional equipment and in 2007 the Garmin G1000 was the one to have.  A couple of years after that Piper quit building the Saratoga II TC.


    The Saratoga II TC was an important airplane in The New Piper's product mix. A step-up program let Warrior and Archer owners trade up to a Saratoga at a pre-agreed price, and Saratoga owners could do the same if they decide to move up to a Matrix, Mirage or Meridian or Seneca V.


    The Saratoga bridged the gap between New Piper's piston and pressurized models and, as always, serves as an uncomplaining, stylish hauler for both the owner-flown and charter markets.


    Updating the Saratoga SP

    For 1998, the HP and TC got additional interior tweaking in the form of additional cubbyholes for storing flight manuals and charts and — most noticeably — the removal of the aft-facing seat behind the copilot. Instead of six seats, the 1998 airplanes come standard with five seats and an executive console. The wood grain console, which debuted on the Seneca V, includes a sliding desktop, drink holders and cooler, storage drawers and trays, and power outlets for a notebook computer.


    Piper introduced new technology to the panel by installing the sophisticated engine instrumentation from Flight Line, Incorporated. The six round analog gauges include manifold pressure, tachometer, turbine inlet temperature/fuel flow, oil temperature/pressure, vacuum pressure/cylinder head temperature, and left and right fuel quantities. A panel at the top of the stack depicts any of the parameters in a digital format. The pilot selects the outputs to be displayed digitally by turning a knob. The system also digitally displays information on the electrical system, outside air temperature, and fuel to destination or next waypoint.




    The most useful feature is the ability to display percent of power being used, based on the system's measurement of manifold pressure, RPM, OAT, pressure altitude, and fuel flow. The result is displayed in 5-percent increments. The pilot can also select a desired percent of power and propeller revolutions per minute and the system will display the required manifold pressure.


    "With its unique combination of comfort and performance, the Saratoga II TC is surely one of life's finest personal possessions."

    -Tom Haines, AOPA Mag Sep 1997



    How about this specific Alabeo model?

    We know that it is based on a real world 2003 Piper Saratoga II TC based in Chile and that if we need to know more than what we find in the Carenado documentation folder for this aircraft, we will be searching for a manual or handbook for a PA-32R-301T. 







    Watch the location of the alpha characters and digits, as they are important for proper identification.  All aircraft in the Cherokee Six family belongs to the PA (Piper Aircraft) – 32 (not 28 or 34), R is for Retractable Gear (and lots of PA-32 aircraft do not have retractable landing gear). The 301 differentiates between the other 7,000 or so PA-32 aircraft that don’t have the tapered wings and the ending T is for the Turbocharger.  If the designation does not end with a T, then is could possibly be a 20 year old Lance II model.  Position of that letter is important.


    So we are flying a model year 2003 Piper Saratoga II TC that also uses the designation PA-32R-301T.










    A few years earlier the panel had dual Garmin GNS430 units and the STEC 55x autopilot in the center stack.  Around mid-year 2000 the big new GNS530 was on top with a GNS430 on the bottom.  A few years later and the first Avidyne 500 units were available as an optional upgrade.  Another couple of years and the Avidyne was standard and the Garmin G1000 was the optional upgrade.




    As far as I know, the only difference in the Saratoga II TC and the HP model is the turbocharger and maybe a scoop or intake vent on the side of the HP cowling.  This ‘only’ difference adds about 5,000 feet to the ceiling and a few knots to the airspeed but a lot more oomph on takeoff and climb-outs. Fortunately Alabeo chose to build us the TC model. 






















    Special New Avionics Panel Options

    With our Alabeo model being ‘thoroughly modern’ yet based on a real world aircraft, we have options for our VC panel that the real-world owners would think twice about due to the costs involved in modifying an aircraft panel with high dollar, STC approved type equipment.  These are now available to us at the click of the mouse.


    We have 3 options that are new and unique to flight simming add-ons.  FSX users have the option of using the Carenado supplied GNS530/GNS430 with the standard Garmin GMA 340 Audio panel as delivered with the basic installation. 


    Owners of the Reality XP series that have the GNS530 can elect to replace the Carenado GNS530 unit with their Reality GNS530 XP unit. There are no provisions to replace the Carenado 430 unit.


    Should you only have the Reality XP GNS430 unit then you may probably be disappointed that you cannot replace the Carenado supplied unit with your Reality GNS430.


    Those users that own the new Flight1 GTN750 for FSX unit can elect to replace the GMA 340 Audio panel and the Carenado GNS530 unit with one of their F1GTN750 units.  This will be mounted as a 3D unit in the center panel and have the Carenado GNS430 directly underneath.





    P3Dv2 users have the same option for replacing the GMA 340 and GNS530 with their Flight1 GTN750 for P3D.  They do not have the option of replacing the GNS430 with a Reality XP GNS430 because the Reality XP units will not work in P3Dv2.


    Unfortunately for both groups, there are no accommodations for adding the Flight1 GTN650 unit to the VC panel at this time.  According to Alabeo Management, this decision was based on popularity, practicality and prudence. 


    When I asked for details, Alabeo stated, "We decided to give the replacement option only to the GNS530 (with XP Reality 530 or GTN750) because otherwise we would have had to include 11 models for all the possible combinations.  We asked Flight1 about the most popular one and they told us it is the GTN750."


    Treat This One with Care – They Aren’t Making Them Anymore

    There was a time when the Saratoga Family was King of the Hill in Vero Beach, as long as you stayed in the single-engine family.  Today, well yesterday, Piper is no longer building the Saratoga line but they have a ‘M Series’ for you to choose your speed and height to fly. These are the Matrix, Mirage and Meridian models that grew out of the Malibu family.


    The initial introduction of the ill-fated Piper Malibu never achieved stardom due to some bad timing as much as solid competitive models from Cessna, Beech and Mooney.  Many think the selection of the 310 hp Continental engine was the blame, other point to the systems that never seemed to get totally finished, especially pressurization.


    Someone decided the Malibu name had good marketing pizzazz and it is now associated with some spectacular new models with names like Mirage and Matrix.  The big brother Meridian got the Turbine power and grew even larger and then the aftermarket JetProp came along and the water starting getting murky and for a while every new model seemed to start with Malibu then all of sudden the name was gone.


    Both of the lower priced M Class Pipers are powered by some derivative of the Lycoming O-540 350 hp engine and the high-end TurboProp Meridian, the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42A 500 shp turbine.  Even our smaller Saratoga II TC has a de-rated version of that same reliable 6 cylinder Lycoming.


    Somewhere along the way with Piper, New Piper, and the on again, off again, partial shutdown, bankruptcy, new owners, hurricanes and other complications the Saratoga line got lost and has now disappeared.  The Matrix seems to be the likely replacement for the Saratoga II.


    Production of the Saratoga ceased in 1985, but Piper reintroduced the Saratoga II HP in 1993 with some well-received aerodynamic improvements and a totally new instrument panel and interior. The turbocharged Saratoga II TC was introduced in 1997 with a new engine designation. The 1999 models introduced new Garmin and S-TEC avionics and a five-seat interior with an entertainment/workstation console (similar to that in the Seneca V) was optional.


    More Than a Makeover – A Wall-to-Wall Plush New Interior

    In early 1993 Piper or maybe it was the New Piper top management decided the company needed a truly attractive and comfortable six-seat heavy hauler so the Archer and Warrior drivers had a clear path upward and they wouldn’t be enticed to start looking at the Beech Bonanza or elsewhere.


    This new Saratoga II would also be a placeholder for those pilots desiring to own one of the bigger and faster complex singles that were garnering the attention of the buyers with slightly deeper pockets.







    Fortunately for us, they chose the Saratoga Line to work their magic.  This made good sense since the upgraded Lance II already had the new tapered wing and a solid, well respected 300 hp engine and was roomy, easy to fly and had good range. It was just outdated and unattractive when compared to the competition. 


    Starting with a Saratoga SP, the retractable gear model with the 60’s style plastic panel with the haphazard instrument layout and a seriously uninviting interior intensive work was started on several fronts for a real makeover that would attract some interest at the marketing level.


    For this totally new interior, Piper took a page from the Lexus book-after everything inside one of the existing Togas was removed, the empty cavern of aluminum was given to the upholstery shop instead of the engineering department. Piper's instructions were to design an interior that lived up to the level of comfort and taste set by the trend-setting Malibu.


    When the upholsterers finished, the engineers took the new interior apart and made drawings from the prototype. This reverse engineering process drastically reduced the time to complete the project and resulted in an interior that was less expensive and easier to build because the same workers built it that constructed the interiors day in and day, out rather than the engineers. The completed new interior was remarkable. The plush leather upholstery, comfortable seats, and fit and finish approached that found in high-end luxury automobiles and much more expensive corporate aircraft.


    The cabin details included convenient overhead light switches located on the armrest at each of the four aft seats, a folding worktable, and new folding window shades instead of curtains. To accommodate the shades, which were adopted from the Malibu, the window line of the new Saratoga had to be altered. The middle window now is squarer than in previous models.


    How About a New Panel?

    While the Interior/Upholstery shop was doing their all-important work, the Engineering department got new marching orders – a totally new panel update and no plastic this time.  Their instructions included a simple hint to seriously look at the new Mirage full metal panel, gauges and user-friendly layout for guidance.




    The results were a complete replacement with painted metal and a layout that was so successful that similar projects were imitated for the Seneca V and eventually the Archer and Warrior.










    Two rows of big backlighted, and easy-to-read rocker switches now reside front and center over the throttle quadrant. They're even in a sensible order, with master, alternator, and fuel pump switches all in a row, just like you'd use them in the start-up sequence. The large manifold pressure/fuel flow gauge and tachometer are stacked high on the panel instead of nearly hidden low in front of the pilot's knee.


    The separate small fuel gauges have been combined in a single larger display and moved into the scan area. The oil temperature and pressure gauges have been combined with the CHT into one display. A large easy to read exhaust gas temperature gauge makes leaning easier. The three or four simple annunciators in the earlier Saratogas have been replaced with a new top center annunciator panel displaying nine messages in caution or warning colors.




    The optional electric standby vacuum pump is now standard and the 60-amp alternator has been replaced with a new heavy-duty 90-amp alternator. The electrical system can now be monitored on a new digital ammeter.


    Piper chose the Saratoga for the facelift because market research showed a need for the comfortable load-hauler. The goal of the project was to improve the performance and comfort of the Saratoga and to give the customer a reason to buy new, according to David W. Schwartz, engineering test pilot, the goal was achieved. The new Saratoga keeps all of the older machines' good qualities, like a stable ride and oodles of payload and fuel capacity, and adds a new panel and interior ala-Mirage, a rakish new cowl, and lots of refinements throughout. Indeed, the II HP is what the PA-32 always wanted to be since it debuted in the mid-1960s as the fixed- gear, 260-horsepower Cherokee Six.


    The design's evolution over the decades included an increase in power, to 300 hp, and retractable gear. Aside from the change to the double-taper wing from the straight "Hershey bar" wing in the 1970s, the casual observer would think little about the exterior has changed since day one other than the good looking and aerodynamically proper cowling and intakes. But inside is where the leather upgrades and panel refinements shine. Boy, are they in for a surprise. Read on.


    New Instrumentation for the 21st Century

    In 1997, Piper introduced on the Seneca V, Saratoga II HP, and Saratoga II TC new analog and digital instruments manufactured by Flight Line Instruments. Since then, Transicoil and Flight Line have been merged into Horizon Instruments.


    With GPS input, the system can display fuel to destination, nautical miles per gallon, gallons of reserve, and a number of other helpful calculations. Also new is the ability to digitally display power output in percentages — something that Horizon debuted on the Seneca and Saratoga the previous year. Set your power and the system will tell you, in five-percent increments, the percent of power you are using.




    Thanks to this advanced automation and sophisticated systems, the Saratoga II TC is a remarkably easy airplane to fly. After startup, the only thing unfamiliar to any pilot used to flying high-performance singles may be the turbocharger system and it is practically automatic with waste gates.  See the Seneca V review for more details on the turbocharger and automatic waste gates.


    To Complete the Makeover – Let’s Clean Up That Nose and Make it Faster

    For this 1993 makeover, Piper engineers looked first at the cowl as a place to perhaps reduce drag and increase engine cooling. The expertise of NASA and Mississippi State University were enlisted in testing Piper’s horizontally opposed aircraft engine installations. Lycoming and Hartzell also contributed funding and equipment to the project.


    Among Piper's contributions was an Aztec, which was used for flight-testing of the "axisymmetric" inlet design. The smaller circular inlets located close to the propeller hub were replaced with new cowl designs from the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University. The lab is a participant in a NASA research program studying the aerodynamics and cooling of aircraft engine installations.


    According to David W. Schwartz, engineering test pilot, the result is not only less drag, but also better engine cooling. Engine temperatures now rarely come within 70 degrees Fahrenheit of redline, compared to the 10- to 15-degree margin under the old design.


    To accommodate the cowling change, the propeller was moved 3 inches forward. Also, Hartzell provides a new, more efficient prop to bolt to the Lycoming IO-540-K1G5. Even the dash number of the engine is new, designating a change in the magneto configuration. This engine now carries two independent mags, instead of two mags sharing one shaft and case.





    Also on the cowling, Piper changed the induction air inlet from a protruding scoop to recessed NACA inlet, further reducing drag. The landing light was moved from below the prop spinner to the nose gear. Wing-tip recognition lights, now standard, help others see the PA-32 when the wheels are stowed.


    A new dual exhaust system now gives the Lycoming a pleasant, deep rumble. The two exhaust stacks are tunneled side by side in the bottom of the cowl, instead of the former tandem exposed stacks three deep on the lower right side.


    Elsewhere on the airframe, Piper has added fairings and other aerodynamic cleanups. Among them is a fairing just aft of the main gear wells. The design of the fairing is supposed to smooth the flow of air behind an opening in the airframe.


    Speed Merchant Roy LoPresti, a former Vice-President at Piper, patented this design for a similar device. He was not personally involved in the Saratoga project, according to Schwartz, but it’s obvious to me that his fingerprints are all over this new cowl design.


    The Saratoga rivet counters will also notice that the wing attach bolt, formerly protruding on the bottom of the wing, has now been covered. Also, Piper slightly extended the bottom skin on the trailing edge of the wing to close the gap ahead of the flaps.




    And the Results Are…  May I Have The Envelope Please?

    All totaled up, smoothing the rough edges here and there, adding the new 3-bladed Hartzell prop along with the new forward location, along with the new total nose job and totally removing cowl flaps, results in a well-received healthy gain of up to 10 knots of cruise speed.


    While this alone is not significant, it is also certainly not necessarily insignificant.  Anything that will close the gap that much between the Piper Saratoga and the Beech Bonanza cruise speed is significant in itself.


    After this massive makeover, Piper is rewarded with a cleaner looking, more efficient exterior, a plush new and inviting interior and a smart, good looking panel with a wonderful layout and to top it off, it is now 8 - 10 knots faster than the start of the project.  This newest edition received a new designation – the Saratoga II HP.  The HP stands for High Performance.




    The next step came a few years later when the turbocharger was added along with some nifty automatic waste gate controls to make this new high flyer a real pilot’s airplane.  The turbocharged edition of the II HP is now known as the Saratoga II TC.  The TC is for Turbo Charged.





    The Malibu

    When the Malibu was first introduced in 1983, it was very much the same airplane as it is today and also a very different airplane.


    The creation of the PA-46 was a risk that seemed worth taking when it was launched in the late 1970s. Piper, along with just about everyone else in aviation, was coming off a series of heady years in which tens of thousands of airplanes of every description were being sold — contrast this with today, when 2,000 airplanes is considered a big year.


    Surely, there was no way for Piper to know what struggles lay ahead. Those struggles included a few bankruptcies, several economic downturns and the complete transformation of the light general aviation market. Through them all, the PA-46 has been a steady performer for Piper.


    The Cessna P210, on the other hand, was a big success. Cessna sold more than 800 of them, though it is not a cabin-class airplane, but rather a pressurized version of the 210, which was an outgrowth of previous Cessnas. And as much as folks like the P210 (and continue to like it), its narrower cabin and bus type seating paled in comparison to the Malibu, which was a clean-sheet design.


    This aggressive Piper advertisement in all of the flying magazines tells and shows the story.




    How Piper achieved those two critical goals — speed and cabin size — was not easy. The wing is beautiful, long and thin — 43 feet long in fact; be careful for signs and snow banks. The cabin was intended to compete with those of cabin class pressurized piston twins of the day, like the Cessna 421 or Beechcraft Duke, and it did just that, for single-engine pennies on the big-twin dollar.


    Eventually this led to Piper abandoning the Malibu and re-launching it with a whole new engine as the Malibu Mirage (the “Malibu” part being typically dropped from popular usage). The efficient Continental engine got swapped for the more powerful (350 hp) and slightly less fuel efficient Lycoming six-banger and the airplane received a number of other quality-of-life improvements, including a better anti-icing package (including a heated windshield to replace the hot-plate on the original), upgraded interior and improved avionics.


    Single vs. Twin

    I am not going to get into the age-old argument of one-engine vs. two engines, but I do want to compare the performance and capabilities in our flight simulations of both the Alabeo Saratoga II TC and the Carenado Seneca V.


    This may not be a fair comparison, but since they are both Piper products and share so many items (fuselage, wings and panel to some extent), we will see.


    I feel I am qualified to make this comparison as I authored the Avsim review of the Seneca V just last month so many of the features and specs are still fresh in my mind. 




    I have a few numbers that I always seem to compare when looking at two or more models.  My type of flying in FSX/P3D tends to bias some of the features or at least give some more emphasis or priority than others.


    First and foremost, I look for airplanes that I already like in real life and then I look at how the panel in arranged, configured or outfitted.  I like autopilots, I like to cruise at 3 miles a minute minimum, and I like turbocharged engines.  I like new, clean, and bright instruments and avionics, the bigger the better for my old eyes and me.


    I don’t care for the 40 or 50 year old replicas that have the faded yellowing instruments and those old style radios that are the size of bricks and an excuse for a 60's autopilot with dirty and worn seats and carpets. If I can’t see through the windshield because it is so old and milky—forget it.  Sometime I make exceptions as in the case of the SibWings Birddog because it flies so well, but still looks like crap.


    Being a real pilot, I have always understood that just because an airplane has six seats it was not intended to carry six people very far.  I have never understood why the sales brochures just don’t come out and state that you must choose weight or distance because you can’t have both in most cases. To complicate it a little more, if you have six people flying someplace they just might have some baggage for an overnight stay.


    Fortunately for us, both of our comparison aircraft have the same size cabin, the same number of seats made in the same shop by the same workers.  The Twin carries more fuel because it has two engines to feed. I bet they also have almost the same fuel tanks made by the same fuel tank makers. And they both look like they were just delivered from the factory.

    The obvious difference is the Saratoga II TC has one turbocharged Lycoming 300 hp engine spinning a 3 bladed prop up front on the nose, and the Seneca V has an engine on each wing. The Seneca V engines are turbocharged O-360 Continentals putting out 220 hp each to 3-bladed McCauley 76 inch props.

    Even though both airplanes have turbochargers, the Continental powered Twin can fly at FL250 while the Saratoga with the Lycoming tops out at FL200.


    The other big difference is the Maximum Takeoff Weight with the Twin Seneca grossing out at 4,750 lbs, a full 1,150 pounds heavier than our Saratoga.  But what is more important to me is how much payload I can carry, how fast and how far I can go and with two empty seats.


    My typical mission profile is flying to a golf course about 500 nm away.  The load is always 4 seats occupied, 4 golfs bags, and however much fuel we can carry with that payload.  Using standard passenger weights of 160 pounds and 40 lbs for each golf bag the group totals up to 800 lbs for any airplane we choose.


    Our Alabeo Saratoga II TC has an empty weight of 2,473 and a max gross take off weight of 3,600 lbs.  That only leaves 1,127 pounds available for fuel and payload.  I can tell already this is not going to compare well with the Twin.



    Empty Weight (2,473 lbs.)


    Mission Weight (800 lbs.)


    Max Useable Fuel (612 lbs.)


    TOTAL of 3,885 lbs.


    3,600 lbs.


    287 lbs. overweight



    287 lbs / 6 lbs-gal = 48 gal fuel to unload = (102 – 48) = 54 gal useable trip fuel.

    54 gal / 20.4 gal/h = 2.65 hours (no reserve).  2.65 h x 182 kts = 482 nm range.


    Wow, at high speed cruise, 75% power, that is so close to my mission profile, unfortunately this leave absolutely no reserve fuel or flight time.


    OK, how about the same numbers but at 65% economy cruise. (171 kts/FF 16.9 gal).  54 gal / 16.9 gal/h = 3.2 hours (no reserve). 3.2 x 171 kts = 546 nm range.  That will make it for VFR flights.

    So obviously somewhere between these two choices is the one we need.  This is why we need for Alabeo and Carenado to provide enough flight planning documentation to at least plan a flight.

    The Carenado Seneca V has useful load of 1,450 for fuel and payload.  Using numbers already computed for the AVSIM Review for this one we can carry a heavy 4-some, the golf bags and 95 gallons of fuel and be right at gross weight.  It doesn’t seem to matter which two seats are unoccupied, the CG remains within limits.


    Speed wise it looks like a draw between the Single and the Twin with maybe the edge going to the Saratoga II TC.  The additional 10 kts gained from all those 1993 tweaks may have generated a bigger payback than expected at the time.  For now the B36TC Bonanza is also out of production.


    A nose baggage compartment swallows up two set of golf clubs plus any extra bags in either or both models.


    Here are a series of screenshots of a real one for sale.  One Beautiful Airplane.










    Why are we talking about the Malibu and the Seneca V in the Saratoga TC review?

    Because one of the primary reasons the Saratoga TC was so successful in the Piper lineup was because of a program that Piper called the ‘Step Up’ program.


    This was a comprehensive financially based incentive program that enabled airplane buyers to fly a new airplane for a couple of years then recoup their entire investment if they traded in their Piper for a larger, faster and therefore more expensive plane.  Usually all the maintenance fees were included so Piper was assured of getting back a slightly used airplane but in great shape.




    The Saratoga TC fit smack dab in the middle of the plan.  The Archer and Warrior owners could opt to trade in their plane on a new Saratoga TC and the Saratoga TC owners could opt to trade up to a Mirage or Meridian. Toward the end of the program the Matrix replaced the Saratoga in the lineup.


    Not only did Piper offer a very favorable interest rate and included normal maintenance but the only charges to the owner in addition to the new plane at a discounted price and sales tax.   Piper used a set dollars/hour charge for the hours flown on the various models.  A typical set rate was $40/hour for Warrior.  Not bad.


    So, other than all the financial incentives, one could look at this plan from a flight simmers point of view.  Let’s say for instance that you own a one of Alabeo’s introductory Pipers like the PiperSport Cruz or PA38 Tomahawk or even a Cessna C172RG Cutlass or C177 Cardinal and you wish to upgrade to this new Alabeo Saratoga II TC. You will have to simulate all the kickbacks and discounts, but for $29.95 you can tell yourself that you got a hellva deal on a brand new, Saratoga II TC and download it tonight and be flying in a matter of minutes.


    Now after a few weeks, months or years of flying the Saratoga II TC you can elect to ‘Step Up’ to the Carenado Mirage or the twin Seneca V for about $7.95 more dollars. (Each are $37.95).  See how easy the program works.


    Now, with the end of the year approaching and as we have all come to expect the annual super sale at Carenado, we may be able to get a really good deal on some outstanding add-ons.  Historically they have held back their most recent introductions but most are priced such that even Santa couldn’t refuse.

    A Few Enticements may be in order.


    Should you be interested in a really nice twin, jump over to the front page and read the recently published AVSIM review of the Carenado Seneca V.  This is a really nice add on with a lot in common with the Saratoga TC. 


    I had my eye on one of the real ‘Step Ups’ – the Carenado Malibu Mirage – the slightly larger and pressurized big brother of the Saratoga TC.  The Mirage is not only faster but heavier and flies higher, has a larger cabin and a fold down air stair to ‘Walk Up and In’ just like most corporate planes. It also hold more gas, has tremendous range, weather radar, and a very modern and nice cockpit. It stands large and tall and this alone makes for great ramp appeal.  The big upgrade is to the pressurization, I suppose.










    In the flight simulator the pressurized cabin is just another system simulation, but in the real world this makes a tremendous difference to the passengers which in many cases are the wife and kids and this would be more than a step up, it would be a giant leap.


    So Many Similarities

    As you might expect, all the Piper products that we are discussing have many pieces, parts and instruments that are exact duplicates or at least very similar.  But, when placed side by side there is usually enough differences to make it interesting or sometimes disappointing.  Many times this is simply due to the time difference of a few years or one being an earlier or later model year.




    Piper was constantly updating their aircraft with the hope of enticing the new owners to trade up. The most common bait used was better or more modern avionics or instruments.  Now that practically everyone has hung their hat on the Garmin G1000 it may be time for our developers to step up with a more fully functional simulator edition that is affordable.  I realize that fully functional and affordable make a strange combination. 


    While we complain if our favorite avionics box is not included or available with a mouse click or two, if we backed off and looked at what some of these small boxes cost the real world pilots and owners we would be shocked.  For instance, the STEC 55x autopilot that is standard in all these GA Pipers is a $20,000 item for just the base system.  That new Garmin GTN750 is more like $35,000 after trade-in of the one that you paid $18,000 for a few years ago.  The numbers are staggering and the useful life is usually short due to a newer one that is probably in final testing already.


    Piper Advertisements for the Saratoga II TC

    The marketing or Media departments had some clever full page or multi-page ads running for a few years.  I especially liked these.





    I did find one color brochure from about 2008.









    Speaking of the STEC 55x autopilot and Altitude Selector

    This specific model came on the market and was adopted for the full Piper line just as our Saratoga II TC was introduced as the 1998 model.  The S-Tec Model 55X is a pure rate-based two-axis autopilot that provides smooth precise, dependable performance. Combining the programmer, computer, annunciator, and servo amplifier functions into the one compact panel mount unit, the System 55X is the first S-Tec autopilot system designed specifically to be integrated into the aircraft radio panel with other avionics. It is also the first S-Tec system to feature control wheel steering.


    The System 55X roll axis has heading select, VOR/Localizer front and back course intercept and tracking. It is interfaced with our RNAV and GPS systems. The 55X Flight Guidance Programmer/Computer converts pilot commands to logic signals for roll and pitch computer functions. Altitude Hold with Altitude Trim.


    The Altitude Selector panel is one of the optional features that practically everyone opts for due to the practicality and simplicity of use.






    Because this system is rate based, and it does it normal turning at 90 percent of a standard rate turn, the angle of bank the AP commands in a turn will depend on your True Airspeed.  The faster you are flying the steeper it will have to bank to make the turn.  At our typical speeds this is usually in the 22 – 30 degree range.  For pitch control it uses inputs from an altitude pressure transducer, an accelerometer, the glideslope indicator and the AP controls for vertical hold.


    Operating the 55x isn’t quite as simple as the default autopilot due mostly to the setup required prior to takeoff and the sequence of selection of functions but it a much more capable system and deserves some serious study time by the simulator pilot.


    Fortunately, just enough information to get us started can be found in the documentation.  This is a total of two pages with lots of pictures and should be studied by all users.  A simple Google search will return several more in depth manuals should you like to know more details.  Look for the Autopilot and AVSS, Altitude and Vertical Speed Selector PDF in the Airplane folder.




    In the Absence of Detailed Flight Planning Information . . .

    Using extensive searches I have gathered some useful flight planning information from reputable sources.


    The Saratoga TC turns in a consistent 175 kt at 11,500 feet — a popular cruising neighborhood because oxygen isn't required by regulations. That represents a high-speed cruise condition, with manifold pressure set at 33 inches, propeller rpm set at 2,400 rpm, and a fuel burn of some 20 gph. New Piper says that the TC can do 185 kt at 15,000 feet.


    With the AiResearch turbocharger, the Saratoga TC can climb 500 fpm at 20,000 feet according to Bill Cox, Six-Pack To Go, Plane & Pilot Magazine.


    With the turbocharger, the TC can maintain 100-percent power all the way up to 12,000 feet.


    All the levers can stay forward for the climb, another workload reliever for the pilot. Throughout a climb to 11,000 feet and later to 13,000 feet, we saw consistent climb rates of near 1,000 fpm after a takeoff at about 66 pounds below the max takeoff weight of 3,600 pounds.


    Besides the new engine instrumentation and the turbo installation itself, what's most impressive about the new Saratoga II TC is the performance. The new airplane is more than 10 knots faster than the old Turbo Saratoga. We saw cruise speeds at or better than those published in the pilot's operating handbook.


    At a pressure altitude of 10,700 feet, the TC turned in a "high cruise" speed of 182 knots true airspeed; book speed at that altitude is about 178 knots. High speed cruise was at 33 inches and 2,400 rpm on 20.4 gallons per hour, leaned to a peak TIT of 1,650 degrees Fahrenheit, which works out to about 75-percent power. Backing down to 65-percent power or "normal cruise," the speed decreased to 171 knots, but fuel burn sank to 16.9 gph.


    Up at 13,000 feet, high-speed cruise worked out to 184 KTAS on 20 gph at 32 inches and 2,500 rpm. According to the book, the same power can be achieved with 33 inches and 2,400 rpm, but the speed decreased a couple of knots to 182 and fuel burn went down to 19.6 gph. Apparently the propeller is a bit more efficient at 2,500 rpm.


    "The POH calls for 186 KTAS at 15,000 feet, which seems eminently reasonable, although we didn't go that high. With the optional built-in oxygen system, the use of altitudes up to the low flight levels seems quite practical with the Saratoga TC."  -Turbo ‘Toga AOPA Mag, 9/1/97 by Thomas Haines.


    The Ultimate Utility Airplane

    In the ‘You are not going to believe this category’ comes a practical, well almost practical, way of taking your private transportation with you.  How about loading up your street legal motorcycle and a couple of helmets and you and your wife or girlfriend takeoff for the weekend in your Saratoga TC?  Yep, this company makes a loader/unloader and it fits both the Saratoga HP/TC and naturally the Seneca V.


    This is where I discovered the two planes have exactly the same interior build-out. Yep, big as Ike.  I knew the two had the same fuselage and were very similar but then I started looking a little closer at the photos and they are one in the same.










    I read that only 1/3 of the airports around the country provide any form for private transportation so if you wish to be a ‘flying explorer’ the MotoLOAD will do the trick for you.  I see they have a motorcycling pod carrier that you can attach underneath a VANS RV-10.  Oh My.



    Flight Planning for Flight Simulation

    Doing a little interpolating or maybe extrapolating and taking advantage of the ‘Not for Flight’ rule we should be able to come up with a few ‘Rules of Thumb’ for our Alabeo Saratoga II TC.


    How about for 10 – 12,000 feet (no O2 required) we use 170 Kts@17.0 gph for economy cruise and 180 kts@20 gph for normal cruise. 


    With simulated O2 we can go to 15,000 ft and look for 186 knots burning 20 gph. (32 IN/2,500 RPM and at our max operating altitude of FL200 we are looking for the advertised 194 knots with full throttle and lean to peak. The digital engine monitor should guide us to the peak settings.


    In case you ever have the need for speed, you need to go up to the flight level and push it hard. I think with some tweaking I will be able to break that magic 200 knot barrier.  I had it knocking on the door a few days ago.





    What the advertising or magazine articles do not explain, is that the Saratoga TC can only carry two people and no luggage, for the maximum range that is advertised. 


    For our FSX/P3D flights we have a lot more freedom in the load-out.  If the need arising, we and always go it alone with maximum fuel and range.  After all, when we look over at the right seat in any of the Alabeo or Carenado models the seat is empty.  Only in the exterior view do we see a copilot or passenger and we can control that in the aircraft.cfg file.


    What does the Saratoga II TC panel look like coming out of the box?

    When I was selecting the screenshots to add to the review, I realized that I did not have a single image of the default Alabeo Saratoga TC and I am sure there must be many users that will be perfectly happy with the base avionics and will never even consider the Reality XP or Flight1 GTN units.


    So I went back and uninstalled my F1GTN750 and made a series of screenshots with the Carenado/Alabeo GNS 530/430 package.




    I should also explain why the peculiar looking autopilot is in most of  the screenshots throughout the review. That is a wonderfully easy to use AP that I got with the Lionheart Tailwind.  I like it because I can see on the screen what I have selected for headings or altitude or rate changes and the lighted buttons tell me at a glance what is active or inactive.




    It fits directly over the Garmin transponder with a one-line entry in the panel.cfg file and I do not need a second transponder. The F1GTN has full XPDR functions.


    The Saratoga II TC - Go fast, Look good

    After reading just about every written article online it is now obvious that the Saratoga II TC is indeed a near perfect Piper single.  Sure there are several paths and selections to upgrade to a little faster, a little larger, pressurized cabins, twin engines, and turboprops – all in the New Piper family but do we really need them?







    We have an absolutely stunning exterior design with the HP/TC, the exact same interior as the Seneca V with a little less hauling capacity but a few more knots of speed.  I just read that this Saratoga also has the same landing gear as the Seneca V.  No wonder they look so much alike -  they are alike - the same fuselage, same doors, same interior and now the same retractable landing gear.  They do have different engines though. The Saratoga has the big Lycoming and the Seneca V two smaller Continentals.  All are turbocharged.





    The flight characteristics are exemplary in the rw model with every written article talking about how stable the ‘Toga is in rough weather and on final approach and touchdown and even better with the ground handling.  Our flight sim model is as close as possible to the rw with none other than Brent Stolle’s deft touch at fine-tuning the FDE.


    With smooth and well-harmonized flight controls, the well-proven O-540 fuel-injected Lycoming turning the super-smooth new Hartzell graphite 3-bladed prop, and the redesigned go-fast cowling, the Saratoga TC may be the best flying single engine Piper ever.  All those accumulated major and minor updates and tweaks dating back to the Lance II days in the late 1970s coupled with Piper’s attitude of ‘Not continuing to fix it ‘til it’s broke’, we now have a near perfect airplane.


    A quick scan of the Horizon digital and analog instruments, the most up-to-date Garmin Avionics, the stalwart STEC 55x autopilot with Altitude Preselect along with full co-pilot flight instruments you should know you are in the driver’s seat of something special and extraordinary. The Piper engine digital engine monitor is truly something special.




    As we have come to expect from the Alabeo and Carenado design teams, the Exterior textures are absolutely stunning with every rivet, every contour, every hinge, every nook and cranny, just perfect.  And taking full advantage of the additional features of P3Dv2 the bumps, shines, reflections and shadows are even better than the earlier outstanding models.


    The interior may be even more realistic looking with the crinkled leather, plush carpet and upholstery.  All the animations are there, the associated sounds of the window or doors opening and closing, the reflections and glazing of the glass is amazing.







    Now, finally the panel is the par excellence.  Not only does it portray the master model sitting on the ground in Chile, it looks like it could have been used for the photographers for the sales brochure then delivered to us in our download folder.


    I can only feel for those flight simmers that do not own the new Flight1 GTN750 because this adds so very much to the panel and therefore the capabilities and realism of the aircraft as a whole. Kudos to Alabeo and Carenado for stepping up and being the first to offer this 3D VC capability to add the Flight1 GTN in a new add on.


    That large crowd with the Reality XP GNS530 will be overjoyed with their capabilities of having their big unit front and center coupled to the STEC 55x autopilot and Sandel lookalike flight instruments.


    Everyone can enjoy the pleasure of the STEC Altitude Pre-selector and the Piper Digital Engine Monitor for fine tuning and tweaking to squeeze out that last knot or two or save a few ounces of avgas.










    Flying the Saratogo II TC

    For takeoff, smoothly apply full throttle about half way while holding the brake. As the RPM builds up then push the throttle to the firewall. The automatic waste gates spools up the turbo and holds the max manifold pressure of 38 Inches all the way up to 13,000 feet, the Critical Altitude, if desired. Leave the prop full forward at 2,500 rpm. With a passenger or two or some bags in back, the airplane will start flying at about 70 knots. Best Rate of Climb with the gear down is 80 Knots. With gear and flaps up and proper trim, the clean configuration Best Rate of Climb moves up to 95 Knots. The best Cruise Climb seems to be 105 knots at about 1,000 feet per minute. No power adjustments are necessary in the climb just maintain your cruise climb airspeed.










    You may have noticed something missing in this takeoff sequence.  Yep, no cowl flaps on this complex aircraft.  Is that for real?  Sure it. This is the only plane that I know off that does not need some addition cooling for that big Lycoming.  Let’s just call it an advanced design feature.  It does do a bit of disservice to those pilots that are using this one to advance to complex aircraft because they will probably end up overheating so other model later in life.


    Leveling off at your selected cruising altitude, ease the throttle back to the cruise setting, lean the mixture, and — again — don’t touch the prop. You will want to make full use of the Horizon Aerospace DDMP - digital engine monitor for suggestions and fine tuning for your desired power level. There are no cowl flaps to contend with, which seems to suit the Lycoming just fine, particularly with the redesigned cowling and smooth graphite prop.


    Unfortunately, there is not even a mention of the DDMP instrument to be found in the Alabeo documentation and this is a real disservice because it is such a vital instrument. This alone could replace most of the missing climb and cruise charts once you are in the air and flying.  Of course, you need them for flight planning purposes.


    The Carenado Mirage has a similar engine monitor but it has more features coded in allowing sim pilots to select the RPM in 100 rpm increments and vary the Manifold Pressure and TIT leaning to achieve a given power levels.  Alabeo’s Saratoga TC’s engine monitor seems to be fixed at 2500 RPM or it could be that I just haven’t stumbled on the method of selecting the RPM.


    The Seneca V has the exact same digital engine monitoring instrument as this ‘toga TC so I checked my Carenado Seneca V documentation folder for some instructions but no joy there either.  What is it with these guys and their skimpy documentation?


    By the way, the documentation for the Alabeo Saratoga TC can be found mixed in with the texture folders and model files.  You might want to create an Alabeo folder outside the airplane folders for the documentation similar to the Carenado docs folder and move the pdf files to this new folder.


    The documentation consists of several washed out looking small pdf files.  Does anyone like this bleached out look of these files?  I would take regular old clean print any day.


    Here is a list of the provided pdf files for flying the Alabeo Saratoga II TC.


    Descending from Altitude

    As with any fast moving airplane with clean aerodynamic lines and a shapely fuselage, it's not easy to slow down the Saratoga TC.  One suggestion is to plan your descent early and leave cruise power set and ease the nose over to VNO of 167 knots for the descent. That will maintain engine temperatures and allow a reasonable descent rate. If you misjudge the descent planning or you get an unexpected route or altitude change, you can drop the gear at 132 knots and deploy the first increment of flaps at 110 knots to increase drag.




    In this configuration and with the power back at 20 inches or so you can hold the airspeed in the upper end of the gauge when in smooth air, while achieving descent rates of more than 2,000 fpm. The advantage of this method is you don’t lose any of your average trip speed and it is just more fun this way.


    Enter the pattern at around 100 knots, slowing to 90 on downwind; cross the numbers at no faster than 80 knots or you'll find out how efficient those tapered wings are when the airplane enters ground effect. If you nail the 80 knots mark, the airplane will settle nicely to the runway with that welcome sound of the mains kissing the concrete.


    Use your checklists and if you are stepping up to the Saratoga TC from a fixed gear model you will want to double and triple check that you have the landing gear down and locked.  Those 3 greens should always be present in the pattern.




    With a typical full-fuel payload of just over 500 pounds, you can carry two adults and lots of bags. Leave some of the 102 gallons of fuel behind and you can load the seats for shorter flights.


    Flying Approaches using the F1GTN750

    As you should gather by now, this is a perfect airplane for flying approaches in addition to all other types of flying. The Saratoga has a near perfect panel layout, easy to read gauges, and easy to operate avionics. The annunciator panel plays a nice part in letting to know when the flaps and gear are in motion and the lights are at glareshield height.


    Here is a sequence of screenshots capturing an ILS approach using the GTN750 built-in charts.  All you really have to remember is to select the correct mode at the correct time and fly the plane. Very nice and stable.










    And Now Comes the Appeal for Even More

    I was so excited to see the Flight1 GTN750 actually mounted in the VC like the designers had in mind all along.  We have a few retro installations that are slowly catching on in the Milviz Cessna 310 and Baron B/E-55 models and the Liberty XL2 over at Eaglesolft Development Group but this is the first new entry for FSX or P3D that features the one click install into the VC.


    Even though Alabeo management made the decision to limit the choices and not include the F1GTN650 or the Reality XP GNS430 I don’t think we should just roll over and quit asking.  As a matter of fact, I will formally request that decision be revisited with the intent of at least adding these two choices.  Mainly because these are like Ham and Eggs or Burgers and Fries, they just naturally go together and who are we to break up these historical and practical unions.


    If you look at the Alabeo Saratoga II TC panel it is obvious that something is not quite right in the lower part of the avionics stack.  That Carenado GNS430 does popup but should be upgradable to either the Reality XP GNS430 or the same size, same fit F1 GTN650.  In part, this would be a big benefit for those flight simmers and Alabeo and Carenado customers that do not own the F1 GTN750 or the Reality XP GNS530 but do in fact own the smaller F1 GTN650 or the Reality XP GNS430 units.


    The Bad News, of Sorts

    It has come to my attention that we are a little spoiled by having NAVDATA, enroute and approach charts and such that comes with the Flight1 GRN750 units for our favorite airports and flying areas here in the USA and most of Canada.  Many times we never consider other parts of our planet that may not be so fortunate.


    For instance, Alabeo and Carenado are based in Santiago, Chile and they have their local following along with their favorite airports and flying areas and OMG they don’t have the NAVDATA, enroute and approach charts and such for their flying areas.  Same for Europe, Australia, Middle East, etc.


    Most everyone should realize that all the necessary updates for the GTN units can be obtained directly from Garmin, but the price is steep or maybe more like outrageous for flight simming purposes.





    Owning an aircraft with a truly oversized, luxury cabin that carries plenty of fuel or plenty of payload – your choice - and flies fast enough and high enough, and offers tremendous loading flexibility is the goal of most pilots. Like all good airplanes, the Saratoga II TC is a compromise between speed and utility, efficiency and capability, comfort and economy, but boy it sure looks good and is a great addition to my virtual hangar.  The only group that likes the ‘Toga Two’ better than the pilots may be the passengers. Now they are really pampered with the plush leather club seating, generous leg and elbowroom, fold down tables and even the makings of a small entertainment center.


    When I look at the Alabeo Saratoga II TC strictly from a flight simmer’s point of view, in addition to seeing everything mentioned in the previous paragraph, I see nothing but more good things.  Here I don’t have to worry about aircraft or insurance payments, annual inspections, keeping my medical current or preparing for my next bi-annual flight check.  I don’t have to stay awake at night dreaming up excuses for the exceeding my budget for AvGas and I no longer have to contribute to my engine overhaul slush fund. None of that stuff matters when you are flying at your desk or in your cockpit squirreled away in your extra bedroom or den with only your socks on.


    What matters here is that you have a thoroughly modern aircraft with a wonderfully advanced panel loaded with the latest gear.  You can plan your flight to takeoff or land at any of 25,000 airports, using the weather of your choice, fly as long as you like, refuel in mid-air if you need to, add a tail wind if you wish to get there a little sooner or change the wind direction again to land on a certain runway.  You can fly at FL200 to verify that you can indeed fly faster than 3 1/2 miles a minute without using oxygen.

    You can fly a different livery every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  You can talk to ATC and be assured of receiving permission to land, even at a military airport, or in any foreign country.  You can file IFR enroute, even if you don’t have an instrument rating.  You can take-off from Vero Beach, Florida and land at Anchorage, Alaska or Oahu, Hawaii or Wellington, New Zealand, or London Heathrow without packing your suitcase or overnight bag.


    With our fuel injected turbocharged and de-rated 300 hp engine spinning that beautiful 3-bladed prop and our optional air conditioning and Inadvertent De-icing package installed and the landing gear tucked neatly away we can easily fly over the mountains – again without wearing an oxygen mask. We can take off or land at Jackson Hole or Telluride anytime of the year, day or night and have climb power to spare.


    I’m not sure I agree with the Piper marketing folks that seem to think the Saratoga II TC is ‘the ultimate off-road vehicle’ or the ‘world’s most versatile sports utility vehicle’.  I think they may have been reading one of the Pilatus brochures and got the PC-6 or PC-12 mixed up with their text.


    But, the TC will indeed get into the smallest of airports and usually if it can land there it can also take-off.  I just don’t think the wheel pants are conducive to rough field or off airport type landing and take-offs, especially muddy ones.


    There will always be a demand for a good looking, well-behaved, high-performance piston single, whether in the real world or our simulator world.


    Now when you walk into the coffee shop and someone asks why you seem to have a little extra bounce in your step you can look them in the eye and tell them.  Simply state that you are the proud owner of the newest, fastest, most advanced airplane to come out of Alabeo’s shop to date and it is the very first new aircraft for FSX and P3D to support the Flight1 GTN750 navigation unit in the VC panel.


    What is there not to like?

    It has to be something fairly small and insignificant because I haven’t seen any rants posted in the forums.  I sent maybe a half dozen questions to the Support Team and none of them stopped me from flying and enjoying the Saratoga TC. I have a come and go problem with getting the Ramp animations to show up.  I have only seen them once but, could not get them to return.  This may be a click spot problem in P3D.  I also cannot figure out how to open the Forward Baggage Compartment Door.  Like I said, all these are little things and can be picked up in the SP1.


    I am not even going to mention the STP – Same Two Pilots – that I complain about in every Alabeo/Carenado review.  Eventually they will get some help.  I did ask Support to add one more pdf file to cover the Engine Monitor Operation and Features because this one seems limited when compared to the Mirage. In the Saratoga TC you cannot vary the RPM only the Manifold Pressure and TIT.


    I also repeated my request to make the Engine Monitor Panel a 2D popup so I can read the digits and text while flying without zooming in.  This is the same gauge as in the Seneca V also without any documentation and basically unreadable due to minuscule sized text in a deep red color.


    Making it your own personal aircraft

    Many flight simulator enthusiasts tend to personalize their favorite add-ons and I am usually found in that crowd.  I like to select one or two of the most appealing repaints or liveries and change the registration numbers to ones of my choosing.  I also have a favorite autopilot that works in all the add-ons that I can see what I am asking the system to do for me rather than wait and see.  This one fits in the VC directly over the transponder that I do not need when the F1GTN750 is installed.


    Keep in mind that when you make these changes they are usually just for your personal use and are not to be shared online or uploaded without express and specific permission from the developers.


    New Add on Sound Pack specifically for the Alabeo Saratoga II TC

    Those of you that wish to have the latest, greatest, and most up-to-datest will want to jump over to Aaron Swindle’s new Skysong Soundworks website and test his new sound pack add on for the Alabeo Saratoga II TC.


    According to Aaron, this new soundset has “Authentic flaps, gear, roll, wind, touchdown screech. Prop tip flutter at idle through full power. Smooth throttle transitions through power band. Real cockpit sounds, autopilot, flaps, gear-warning. Crystal clear start-up and shutdown.” All in HD quality.


    This sound pack was assembled after the release of the ‘toga II from Alabeo and did not get completed in time for testing for this review. I received an email a few days after completion but I thought it important enough to get this section added at the last minute.


    The Larger World of Flight Simulation

    I realize that is it never advisable to compare one of our Flight Sim Developer's models to a competing developer’s model but sometimes the advances or timing of advances makes it difficult not to at least bring up the subject.


    This is not simply the age-old debate of Cessna vs Piper or high wing vs low wing or Cirrus vs everybody, it is the basic approach to these newer models being offered.  There seems to be an unlimited inventory of airplanes for our developers to choose for new or updated models and to complicate matters even more, the round gauge or steam gauge panel vs the glass panels or partial glass panels muddies up the water even more.


    But even when we get past all these complications and we have 3 or more competing models of nearly the same airplane the debate get down to which one either looks better or more realistic or flies better or more realistic or are the prices we pay worth our hard earned dollars.


    I not here to open a new debate but I do wish to introduce a few of my thoughts.  If the prices of our add ons continue to rise I think it will be imperative for the developers to add more value for that price.


    The one click change of the 3rd party avionics may be the single largest step in the advancement of personalizing the aircraft.  Repaints with favorite numbers are almost the norm nowadays and we have come to expect 3D gauges and realistic reflections on the glass surfaces and the outstanding and realistic textures and paints.


    But now I think the next level is going to be closing the gap between simulation and realism.  It doesn’t seem satisfying enough just to have an add on that looks great and flies so-so or ‘as expected’.  I tend to favor those simulations that add premium sounds, vibrations, logic and all those adjectives that describes the recreation of the real world experience.  Everyone may agree that you can’t sit at a desk and fly an airplane but, the closer we can get to that experience the better.


    I guess in summary I am saying that I would like to see Carenado and Alabeo expend more effort on simulating the realism of flying these beautiful airplanes because they obviously already know how to make them look like a million bucks.


    Not that it will be easy as the competition in the General Aviation simulation add ons are continuously making large strides and raising the bar ever higher every day.


    I wish we could have some basic flight tutorials included with these add ons.  Maybe a detailed overview of the aircraft, with the expected startup, taxi, take off, climb, cruise, descent, approach, landing and maybe some pattern work or simple emergencies so we can understand what and how the builder intended for us to fly his airplane.  These could be in the form of a pdf file with some illustrations or a video or both.


    And for gosh sakes, add more useful documentation.



    I really like this new Piper Saratoga II TC from Alabeo.  It is not the sleekest single out there, nor the fastest, but it is certainly sleek enough and it is certainly fast enough and it will carry a shed load of people or stuff, even a motorcycle.  It looks good and flies even better than it looks. Yes, it is as stable as a table and a little heavy on the controls so it feels even bigger than its 3,600 pounds of gross weight might suggest.


    It has a 300 horsepower intercooled and turbocharged engine, 6 seats, retractable landing gear, a constant speed 3-bladed prop and will fly across Texas without refueling. It will get into and out of just about anything that looks like a runway and look and sound good doing it.


    The absolutely up-to-date panel layout is nearly perfect for flight simulation. The model has a near perfect sight level layout and you can see and touch every necessary instrument or control with only small changes in your field of view.  The big and bold new F1 GTN750 Nav unit is the best available and the stalwart STEC 55x autopilot is coupled so everything you need for perfect cross country flying and any and all possible approaches are at your fingertips using digital onboard charts.


    You can see every primary flight instrument and every engine monitoring gauge at all times without changing your view.  The view out the windshield and side windows is also near perfect for flight simulation flying.







    This may be the only airplane I have in my virtual hangar that I can start, taxi, take-off, climb, cruise, descend, fly an approach, land, taxi and shutdown without ever changing my VC view.  The annunciator panel located at eye level tells me when the flaps are in transit, if the gear is moving and if something is not quite right with my engine or a switch position is not correct.








    The F1 GTN750 handles all the communication, navigation and ATC duties including Safe Taxi charts, enroute navigation and all approaches for the US and most of Canada.  The GNS430 can be used for any nav or airport data that may not be in the more up-to-date Garmin database.  The STEC 55x and the companion Altitude Selector will handle all the autopilot duties.  All of these instruments and gauges are right where I would place them if I were doing a panel layout.


    The sound package is not outstanding but is good enough. This includes most of the sounds that one can reasonable expect to hear including switch clicks, wind noise, gear, flaps, and door movements and the rumble of the big old Lycoming engine and propeller sounds.  Runway surface sounds are included along with touch down and wheel noises.


    As a flight simmer you can use the digital engine monitor to fine tune an 80% power level cruise at any altitude up to and including FL200 with no reservations of accelerated engine wear or poor fuel economy.  Using the intercooled, turbocharged engine with automatic waste gates you can set the manifold pressure at 38 inches with full prop at 2,500 RPM and climb unabated to the service ceiling.  With everything tweaked for 80% power I was within a needle width of holding a steady 200 knots TAS at FL200.




    As you scan your engine instruments you will notice each gauge has one or two small green lights to tell you all is well and the data readout is also available in digital form on the panel. Should something be amiss the green light turns red as a visual warning.  The lights on the fuel quantity gauges also shift from green to red when 5 gallons of remaining fuel in reached. Neat.


    The exterior is knock your socks off gorgeous, as expected, with eye appealing repaints with bumps and shines, grease and grime, reflections, rivets, valleys, grooves, antennas and an engine exhaust that vibrates and appears red hot at times.


    The textures are in the outstanding category both inside and out.  I didn’t find a single misspelled word on the panel or on a placard in this one. This is one of the most readable and therefore sharp looking panels that we have available from anyone.


    Not that everything is perfect, but it is certainly on the acceptable side of the list.  Are there some things that can be improved?  Of course there are, but the list is much shorter than usual.  I only have a couple of wishes for a future update.  A 2D popup for the engine monitor panel and a means to add my F1GTN 650 nav unit to replace the GNS430 without the 3d knobs interfering.


    So with due consideration of the above, and because Alabeo has included installers for both FSX and P3D at a price less than $30, and for stepping to the head of the line with the first premium add on to feature the F1 GTN750 in the VC panel it is a pleasure to recommend the Avsim Gold Star be firmly attached to the Alabeo Saratoga II TC for FSX/P3D.


    Developer Information


    24 page POH for AVSS

    24 page POH for AP

    66 page POH for System 55 Autopilot

    A great training overview for the STEC 55x/ST-360 system


    Test System

    Intel i7 2700 OC to 4.5 GHz
    8GB RAM
    Dual Dell WS Monitors, 27 IN and 24 IN
    nVidia GTX580 1.5 GB
    Crucial M4 256 GB SSD
    Intel 330 180 GB SSD
    Windows 7 x64
    Prepar3D v2.3
    Saitek x52 Controller, Combat Flight Pedals, Bose Companion 20 Speakers
    Publisher:  Alabeo.com
    Download: 347 MB exe
    Platform: FSX/P3Dv2
    Format: Download

    Credits and Thanks

    For use of the excellent Malibu Mirage screenshots shown in the Step Up Program – Aerosoft Commercial Aircraft Review – by Angelique van Campen.  http://asn-xp.aerosoft.com/?page_id=8841
    Carenado/Alabeo for the Saratoga II TC add on, thanks Fernando

    Thanks to Flight1 for making the new GTN series so much fun.

    All those owners of the real world Saratoga HP/TC that posted photos on the WWW.

    Thanks to Flying Magazine for all the informative articles published over the years that provided many of the details.

    Thanks to AOPA for their articles published in their magazines over the years that provided even more details.

    Thanks to Plane and Pilot for articles published in their magazines over the years, especially Bill Cox.

    Thanks to the Piper Flyer Association (piperflyer.org) and Piper Owner Society (piperowner.org) for their open forums, articles, and archives.


    Thanks to Google for providing many of our favorite aviation related magazines as archived books.

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