• REVIEW- Alabeo Aztec for FSX/P3D


    Jordan1995

    Alabeo Aztec

    A review by Ray Marshall

    Flight Sim review by Ray Marshall

     

    It is not uncommon to find a discussion in the forums seeking the perfect light twin for flight simulation.  Now what specific models would or should be considered as a light twin. In my mind, I would immediately think of the Beech Barons, the Cessna 310, and then, uh, hmmm, maybe the newer Pipers like the Seneca V, or the Diamond DA42.

     

    No turboprops, no jets, no singles, no commuters, what does that leave?

    Should I search for the best twin for FSX I will surely get several recommendations for the Beechcraft B60 Duke, Cessna 310, Beech Baron B58 and the smaller E/B55 Barons and the Twin Otter.  Maybe the Diamond DA42 is mentioned by the newer pilots or the old time favorite Twin Comanche by the older ones.

     

    A couple of my favorites that are glaringly absent from the payware choices are the Aero Commander 500 and the Piper Aztec.  Well folks my wish list has just been cut in half.  Alabeo introduced their PA-23-250 model F Aztec on Thursday.

     

    What is a PA-23-250 model F Aztec you ask?

    This was the mainstay 6 place light twin from the Piper Aircraft Company for a little over 20 years.  The Aztec was initially a 5 seater and it sported twin 250 hp Lycomings on the wings from the gitgo and it was always named the Aztec. 

     

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    The Aztec experienced only one change in max weight from the introductory 1960 gross weight of 4,800 pounds until its first update two years later when the B model was capped at 5,200 pounds. The C through the F models were mostly changes in stretching the nose from very blunt to very pointy and the reshaping of the engine cowlings from bathtub to tiger shark, and the evolution of the flight panel from scrambled eggs to an acceptable form of the standard 6 flight instruments on the left with the avionics stacked vertically in the middle and all engine instruments on the right.  The Century III autopilot is lower left and mostly hidden by the pilots yoke.

     

    The major forms of the Aztec were the normally aspirated, the most popular, then the turbo equipped which opened up the heavens to FL250 and bumped the cruise speed from pedestrian to decent, and the float model which the guys in the outback are still flying and think of it as a gift.

    The production run was from 1960 to 1981 and the prices ranged from the initial introductory price of $49,500 fully equipped, yea right, to the 1981 fully equipped turbo model that went for around $250,000.  None of these models were ever intended to create a love affair or even long term bragging rights.  No, the Aztec was always intended as what many would call an honest airplane.  A loose definition of an honest airplane is one that you could reasonably expect to place a full sized person in every seat, add a reasonable amount of baggage for each of those folks, fill it up with gas, and expect to fly a reasonable distance - and still be under the maximum gross weight limitation and within the allowable CG range.

     

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    More than a handful of light twins will meet two or three of those requirements but only the exceptional ones will meet all of them. The Aztec for the most part will. For a long time it was a common line that you could fill the seats, (and there are 6 full sized seats) fill the baggage compartments (two very large areas), fill the tanks (144 gallons) and take off and fly for about four hours. It was not unusual to hear that if you could close the door after stuffing it full of people and then close both baggage doors then it was OK to fly.

     

    This was a bit of an exaggeration but not totally untrue.  Aztecs have always been heavy haulers and it is not uncommon at all to see 6 full-grown men climb out of an Aztec and when the baggage starts coming out, the line boy calls for a second and sometimes third taxi.

     

    My first impression when I crawled into the left seat (only one door on the right) for my first lesson on the way to a multi-engine rating was the spacious cabin with generous headroom throughout and the 5th and 6th seats were real seats, and not the baby seats like in most 6 place planes back then.  I will never recover from not being able to find the trim handle when looking for a Cessna like wheel in the lower center but, seeing instead a yellowed cigarette-stained finger pointing straight up.  That is also when I first noticed the steel tubes extending from the corners of the windshield down to the instrument panel. I later read about Piper’s el cheapo method of aircraft design and how expensive it would have been for them to build them like Beech and Cessna.

     

    Yep, all these Aztecs and similar models had a ’53 Studebaker looking crank handle mounted upside down on the ceiling of the cabin.  It works amazingly well, if I could just remember to reach up for it rather than down as I was accustomed in the Cessnas and Aero Commanders.

     

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    As a matter of fact, most of the military aircraft designs on both sides of the big pond had ceiling mounted cranks for elevator trim controls.  It was the newer, smaller general aviation designs of the early to mid-60s that changed it to a small wheel and moved it to the more convenient lower center location.  But, not all of course, the big old clunky DC-3 that was my transition aircraft once I received my multi-engine rating in the Aztec, had a huge, properly placed trim wheel ‘bout a foot in diameter that you just rested you hand on one once you were in cruise mode. These large wheels were mounted on both the left and right side of the throttle quadrant for the pilot and copilot.  Most of the early prop driven airliners, like the Convairs and DC-4 and DC-6 had similar large dual trim wheels.

     

    Another odd Aztec layout feature was the location of the Landing Gear and Flaps controls.  Most folks think they are reversed and blame Piper designers for their gear up mistakes. I never really had a problem confusing a landing gear lever with a big round wheel for the grab knob and the more delicate wing or airfoil shaped flap control lever.

     

    The fat, high lift, Hershey-bar looking wing design has a lot to do with the low speed handling and outrageously low stall and VMC speeds of the Aztec.  Of course, that is also the limiting factor in trying to squeeze a few more knots of cruise speed out of two engines with 500 horses.  The Aztec wing is not that different from the J-3 cub, other than one is fabric and the other metal, of course.

     

    I guess the timing just did not support the rush of speed mods or any of the lightweight scimitar shaped multi-bladed props for the Aztec.  Seems like I posed that question to a Hartzell rep and he replied something along the lines of “You put a tie on a pig and you still have a pig”.  Well. Thank you very much.

     

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    About 5,000 Aztecs were built in the Piper plant at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania with the B and C models being the most popular. Once the nose was stretched only the Aztec pilots and owners could tell the difference in models when parked on the ramp.  The final F model, sold the least number when looking strictly at units delivered, but they were also the most expensive.  The typical B – C – D models were all priced in the reasonable $60,000 - $80,000 range. The big kicker was the ever escalating price of gasoline, services and wages.

     

    When the decision was made in the late 50s to use gas guzzling 250 horsepower Lycomings the price of av gas was about 19 cents a gallon. The rise in the Aztec operating cost per hour is a mirror image of the rise in gas prices and cost-of-living increases throughout the 70s, especially the late 70s and early 80s when gas was up to a staggering $1.75 a gallon.  Of course those guys in southern California that were paying $8.00 gallon last week would love to see those early 80s prices again.

     

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    According to Piper records, you could expect to operate your Aztec C model for about $19.34/hour wet in 1964.  Ten years later in 1974, gas was still only 52 cents a gallon and the hourly wet cost for the E model had moved to about $25.00/ hour.

     

    It seems there was never any serious attempt to streamline the Aztec with the intent of gaining speed or fuel efficiency.  The nacelle were flattened and elongated along the way and the gross weight was increased from the initial 4,800 pounds to 5,200 pounds and the fuel load was bumped up with the optionally outrageous total of 184 gallons but the empty weight kept increasing as more and more avionics, radars, turbos, and heavier seats were added.  At the end of the day, the useful load for the all optioned turbo model was eroded to the age old 4 people in the 6 seats like everyone else’s light twin.

     

    To be fair though, Piper was introducing sleeker, faster, and sexier models all along.  The Twin Comanche and Seneca lines carried the flag for fuel efficiency and speed, while the Navajo was the mini-airliner or big cabin model and the Ted Smith Aerostar was the speed demon. The Aztec, never the fastest, nor the prettiest, just kept plugging along as the 6-seat heavy hauler in the family.

    The early Aztecs found a home with the small charter outfits, the air taxi and air ambulance services and especially the FBOs with training fleets. TwinAir, an Aztec only TWA commuter service operated from New York’s JFK airport to downtown and cross town and to other nearby major airports, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington DC for years. The Aztec on floats has its own name – the Nomad Floatplane and Amphibian. Now this is a super specialized aircraft and would make an outstanding follow-on model expansion from Alabeo, IMHO.

     

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    Finally, a new Piper Aztec for FSX/P3D

     

    From time to time I read in the forums where one of our members is asking, or wishing a Piper Aztec would be the next new add on for our flight simming pleasure.  Be careful what you wish for.  Alabeo just released one yesterday and the screenshots and website information says it is the one that most of us would choose – the Aztec F model.  The proper model number is the PA-23-250 but that in itself is never enough to know exactly what specific model we are talking about.  The last Aztec off the Piper production line in New Haven, PA was the F, as in Foxtrot, model that included some nice aerodynamic changes to the previous E model.

     

    About the only thing we could have added to our wish list would have been to make sure our Aztec included the optional turbos.  I suppose, because we weren’t specific with our wishes, we have the normally aspirated model and will just have to be satisfied flying slower and lower and through the weather, rather than over the weather.

     

    But wait!  The new Alabeo Aztec F is turbo powered with the big TIO-540-C1A factory supplied turbos straight from Lycoming. This means we will have the factory built turbo edition with fully automatic wastegates and therefore we will have the extra manifold pressure for climbing higher above the weather and can fly faster and further.  I guess the Alabeo website didn’t think this was important enough to make this distinction in their description. Now, this is something to get excited about.

     

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    According to the website, Alabeo, a fully owned Carenado company, was created with the aim of bringing a different type of flying experience for those that may not otherwise have the chance to experience it.  I am not sure I understand what Alabeo does that Carenado doesn’t, but I do like the recent model choices of aircraft by both companies.

     

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    The lines are somewhat blurred and I’m not sure I can actually tell any difference in the modeling, textures, sounds, flight dynamics and such when I compare an Alabeo model and a Carenado model.  Obviously, many of the details are shared between the two companies that also share office space.

    I asked this exact question some time ago and I think I remember being told that Alabeo would be building the “fun and immersive models’.  I then asked if that was any different than what Carenado was building.  I don’t think I got an answer.  Not that it matters, both Alabeo and Carenado are cranking out some outstanding looking models and choosing ones that I immediately want to add to my virtual hangar.

     

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    When I hear the term Aztec, or the coffee shop conversation at the airport comes around to ‘light twins’, sooner or later someone will ask the difference between an Apache and an Aztec.  I think the standard answer is that it is just a matter of time.  Both the Apache and Aztec shared the exact same model number for several years. For at least two years they had very similar specs just different names, but the Aztec was always intended to be a step up from the Apache.

     

    The Apache was the slower, lower powered, and less attractive of the two, but was the one that started Piper down the path of building metal airplanes.  Until the Apache was built to compete with the Twin Bonanza and the Cessna 310, Piper was still building tube and fabric milk stool looking Pacers, Tri-Pacers, and Cubs.  As the old timers are quick to tell us, Son, if it wasn’t for the Apache, you wouldn’t have an Aztec.  There is obviously a lot of truth in that statement because most folks consider the Aztec just a grown up Apache.

     

    Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and see just how our Alabeo PA-23-250 Aztec F arrived in our download box.

     

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    1948 - Piper bought the Stinson Aircraft Company from Consolidated Vultee and received an original design for an unbuilt ‘Twin Stinson’ along with the rights to the single engine Stinson models.  The Twin Stinson was only a proposed design with a twin-boom tail, small engines with unfeathering propellers but did have mostly retractable landing gear.  Think of a mini Beech D-18 with a front nose wheel.

     

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    The first prototype PA-23 was a four-seat, low-wing all-metal monoplane with a twin-tail, powered by two 125 hp Lycoming O-290-D piston engines.  It first flew on 2 March 1952, but performed badly and it was redesigned with a single vertical stabilizer and an all-metal rear fuselage and more powerful 150 hp Lycoming O-320-A engines. Two new prototypes were built in 1953 using this redesign and entered production in early 1954. More than 2,000 Apaches were built with very minor changes other than slightly larger engines.

     

    The initial production model was designated PA-23 Apache, with follow-on models PA-23-150 Apache B, C, D, then in 1958 the PA-23-160 Apache E, G and H was produced by upgrading the engines to 160 hp . The G model got the longer internal cabin and extra windows.  816 were built before being superseded by the Apache 235 in 1962. With a 1962 price of $45,000, the Apache 235 was to be the last of the Apaches but looked very much like the Aztec with a swept tail that would replace it.

     

    In 1958 an upgraded version of the Apache G with 250 hp Lycoming O-540 engines and a swept vertical tail was produced as the PA-23-250 and named Aztec. These first models had five-seats and was first available in 1959. In 1961 a longer nosed variant, the Aztec B, entered production.

     

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    So there was an overlap of the late model Apache and the early model Aztec for a couple of years.  Check out this early sixties sales brochures for the B model. 

     

    The long blunt nose of the B and C model Aztecs would be a familiar site at most of the larger general aviation airports throughout the sixties and seventies.  No other model by any manufacturer looked like the long nosed, big-engined Aztec.

     

    In 1963 Piper introduced the Twin Comanche for those low end buyers looking to step up to a twin. The Twin Comanche had smaller, flatter looking nacelles housing 4-cyclinder Lycoming engines with only 160 hp initially, but were soon upgraded to fuel-injected 200 hp and a few years later a turbocharged version was available.  These were quite a bit smaller than the Aztec and initially found a good home with flight schools as inexpensive trainers and first-buy twins.

     

    The Twin Comanche had a cruise speed very close to the Aztec but was much lighter with a 3,600 MTOW and only had 4 full seats with 2 baby seats added later on.  With aerodynamic wing tip tanks and the flat engine nacelles and sleek lines, the Twin Comanche was a very efficient and very light twin.

    Most casual observers might miss the sometime minor, sometime not so minor changes or upgrades for the C, D, E and F models.  But we as pilots probably would like to know the subtle changes.  OK, here is the short version.

     

    The 1962 Aztec B is the model that most pilots are familiar (Piper did not use any A model designations). The enlarged nose serves as a second baggage compartment, also helping with the weight and balance with a gross weight of 4,800 pounds. This was one of the first airplanes to have a modular instrument panel, allowing easier maintenance of the individual instruments and avionics. The left side middle window serves as a pop out emergency exit. The optional AiResearch turbocharged engines allows a cruise speed 235 mph (204 KTAS) at 25,000 feet.  Fuel injection and dual alternators were first offered on the B model as an option.

     

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    The 1964 C model introduced the Twin Comanche's streamlined "Tiger Shark" engine nacelles and fiberglass landing gear doors.  The optional fuel injection and dual alternators from the B model became standard. The normally aspirated C had a top speed of 218 mph (189 knots).  Long range cruise was a whopping 1,300 statute miles (1,130 nm) with no reserves with the incredible endurance of almost 8 hours.  Normal cruise at 80-percent power would yield 208 mph (181 kt) with 4 hours endurance and 830 miles range with no reserves. Piper did a lot of print advertising for the B and C Aztec models and targeting both the businessman and the well-heeled family man looking to transport a young family to vacation spots almost anyplace.  Check out these ads when Piper teamed up with the Bahama Tourist Bureau.  Six full sized seats, plenty of baggage space, 200 mph cruise and 1,400 miles range were certainly good specs.

     

    The businessman ad’s headline was “You can’t beat the Piper Aztec C for day-in, day-out dependability, passenger appeal and profitability.” And “Passengers like the big seats, the big windows and the solid feel of the Aztec in flight.”

     

    The boost in max gross weight to 5,200 pounds would be the standard for the balance of the production runs.  In 1966 the fuel injected turbo option became a full-fledged model with a standard oxygen system.

     

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    Being in production for five years, the longest period of any individual model, the C had the largest production total of the almost 2,000 Aztecs.

    The 1969 D model is where the instrument panel and power quadrant were upgraded to what you might call the modern Piper look. Not to the level of the mid to late 90s like the Saratoga II TC total makeover, but to a desperately needed basic layout for flight instruments, engine instrument grouping, switch alignments and grouping, etc. 

     

    The haphazard shotgun or scatter placement of ‘stick it anywhere’ was finally organized to a standard that would last through the next decade and until the end of production.  This was the sorely needed grouping of flight instruments, with a full avionics stack in the center right, and engine instruments and gauges on the right of the avionics. A new row of fairly accessible switches were placed just above the flying pilot’s knees with a spill over to the left side wall for the ignition and starter switches.

     

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    B model on left                                                                                            F model center and right

     

     

    A new control wheel was introduced that allowed a clear view of the flight instruments.  All new color coded and standard shaped knobs for the throttle, props, and mixture handles.  The cabin seats were upgraded with removable armrests for the front and middle row seats.

     

    A few joints were smoothed and flared resulting in a gain of a few knots of airspeed in both the normally aspirated model and the turbo version.

    The load-carrying ability of the Aztec had always been one of its selling points. You can fill the tanks, put a standard weight person (170 lbs) in each of the 5 remaining seats and load up both baggage compartments (150 + 150 lbs) and still not reach the maximum certificated takeoff weight of 5,200 pounds in the normally aspirated D model. The standard D has a useful load of 2,267 pounds, the turbo, 2,077 pounds.

     

    The 1971 E model’s base price had escalated to $69,990 (add $10,125 for the turbocharger), and came with the stretched, pointy nose with a recessed landing light. The stretch reduced the useful load by about 100 pounds. The nose baggage compartment grew in volume but was still limited to 150-pounds.  The landing light placement opened up space to add weather radar in the nose. Additional options included strobes, automatic prop synchronizers, heated windshield, and a flight director system.  The E model is the only one that I can recognize from a distance due to the single recessed landing light dead center of the big nose.

     

    By this time, the Aztec's low VMC of 70 KIAS, superior short- field performance (820-foot takeoff roll, 1,250 feet to clear a 50-foot obstacle, 1,250 feet to clear the same obstacle coming back, and 850-foot landing roll), rate of climb (1,490 fpm fully loaded for the normally aspirated E; 1,530 fpm for the turbo), and 1,600-pound cargo payload had made it a favorite both at home and abroad in mail, cargo, and air ambulance applications, as well as air taxi and charter work, and Piper pursued these markets with vigor. By 1974, gas was still only 52 cents a gallon and operating costs ran about $25 an hour, according to Piper.

     

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    Now we come to Aztec F model and the one of choice by Alabeo for our flight simulator version.  The F model was the final model and was built from 1976 through 1981.  All models of the Apache and Aztec from the very first stubby nosed, under powered 5-seater to the very last F model were all built at the Piper assembly plant in Lock Haven, PA. Other than the short break in production in 1972 to recover from the Hurricane Anges flood that wiped out every plane in production, some model of the Apache and/or Aztec has been coming off the assembly line.

     

    When it was introduced in 1976, the F model had a standard price of $99,600, but by 1981, the price had ballooned to $165,960, and avionics packages could increase that by another $34,000; the "turbo group" of options added yet another $39,580. Fuel was now $1.75 a gallon, and operating costs had risen to $80 an hour for the normally aspirated F and over $95 an hour for the turbo. Oh my.

     

    A fully equipped Aztec could cost over a quarter of a million dollars: The turbo F featured in the December 1979 AOPA Pilot magazine had a price tag of $247,988, not chicken feed then and equivalent to about $850,000 today.

     

    The first few years the F model was decked out with and a newly designed rectangular stabilator with oversized balance horns on the tips, but, the pilots didn't like it and kept complaining until Piper returned to the previous E mode l stabilator in 1980.  We will have to see which version Alabeo has chosen for our simulator model.

     

    Squared-off wing tips were added for the F model along with an direct interconnect between the flaps deployment and the stabilator trim to counteract the long-time nose pitch-up as flaps are deployed.  A very visual change from the E to the F model was moving the balance weights for the stabilator out to the tips from the earlier location inside the tailcone.  From the photos of the real world F model it appears to have a squared off and wider stabilator in the early years but no one seems to know for sure what the 1980 and 1981 models had other than “Piper reverted back to the earlier model stabilator”.

     

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    Update:  I am now told the whole story.  Piper received so many pilot complaints about this new stabilator design not having the correct ‘feel’ and the FAA issued an AD that addressed the cracking, fastening, and bushing problems for the large exposed horns at the tips.  The fix was to totally remove the new stabilator changes and go back to the previous E model stabilator with some slightly different damping and balancing. Using internal bob weights up forward on the elevator instead of the inside and adding a lower-tension downspring was to make the ‘feel’ more predictable. Also, it is said that pitch stability at cruise was improved with this fix.

     

    Visually, the E model stabilator and the reverted F model stabilators should be practically identical.  This is what I see on the Alabeo model. Further, Carenado stated that their real world model may have received some stablilator damage at one time so that could explain the reversion to the E model look alike. Hmmm.  A good cross check are the photos of the F model used for the flight test in the AOPA Pilot magazine in the December 1979 issue – the Aztec may have actually been a 1980 year model that had the reversionary fix.

     

    The B – E models all had four 36 gallon fuel wing tanks for a total of 144 gallons.  All of these had 137 or 140 gallons useable, depending on the specific serial number.  The F model, that we have, comes with the standard 144 gallons in the wing tanks but does not have the two optional 20 gallon tip tanks.

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    ust so you know, the normally aspirated models all use 91/96 octane (blue) or 100/130 octane (green), but the turbo models all require 100/130 (green) fuels.

     

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    Our F model fuel capacity is the standard 144 gallons (137 useable) in four 36 gallon wing tanks.  That is still a lot of gas folks.  The range at intermediate cruise (~75% power) is 725 nautical miles with 45 minutes reserve. Long Range endurance looks like about 830 nm (~55%) with 45 minutes reserve when leaned to best economy.

     

    When sitting in the pilot seat of the Alabeo Aztec it is not obvious that the cowl flaps and fuel selectors are in a suspended box as shown in the drawing.  It must be the flight sim limitations that tend to make the controls look flat and almost 2d.

     

    The F lost a little takeoff performance but has a shorter accelerate/stop distance than its predecessors (1,985 feet). A full set of copilot instruments was an option. The four front seats got new backs like the ones on the Navajo; the fuel filler ports and caps likewise came from the Navajo.

    The new F model was introduced just in time for Piper to convert the airspeed indicator from mph to knots.  The Pilot Operating Handbook for the E model (1971 – 1975) is in mph with an occasional speed with both mph and kts, but the POH for the F model is only in Knots throughout so make sure you are alert for this if you are using an older flight manual.  All references to airspeed in the review will be only in knots.

     

    Almost 5,000 Aztecs were built during the airplane's 21-year production run, and more than 2,500 remain registered with the FAA today. Many have headed overseas to satisfy foreigners' insatiable hunger for American airplanes. A well-equipped 1981 F model will run you about $94,500, with the turbo costing about $110,500. An average 1968 C model would go for around $38,500, with the turbo version running about $42,500, according to the Aircraft Bluebook-Price Digest.

     

    The F model Aztec used for the AOPA Pilot Magazine flight test in December 1979 was a fully equipped turbo model that carried a price as tested of $247,988. Woah.  This one is probably as close to the Alabeo model as we are going for find.  You can read the full article here.

     

    http://www.aeroresourcesinc.com/uploads/197912-1979%20Piper%20PA-23T-250%20Aztec%20F.pdf

     

    The true Aztec lovers will find several well written and informative articles on the E and F models (1977)in Flying Magazine and the AOPA Pilot magazine (1979).

     

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    Of course, we have the advantage of installing our F1 GTN750 or Reality XP GNS530 in the top slot for greatly improved situational awareness, not to mention moving charts and full LPV approach capability for the F1 GTN owners. 

     

    Alabeo has made this 3rd party upgrade as simple as humanly possible.  In the root directory of your installed Aztec F you will find 3 exe files.  One for the default GNS530, one for the Reality XP GNS530 and one for the Flight1 GTN750 installer.  You can execute one of these files, provided you in fact own either or both premium avionics packages and in less than a minute you will be ready to fly with the GPS and panel arrangement of your choice.

     

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    You can revert back or change your mind and simply run one of the other exe files to change your configuration. One of the nifty features and well thought out installation is that when you choose the F1GTN750, the installer will remove the Collins transponder and Garmin Audio Panel because they are both included within the GTN750.  I am very glad to see such well-designed features coming from Alabeo.

     

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    Not taking anything away from the 3rd party installers, but I feel Alabeo missed a golden opportunity to really shine with their special installers for the Aztec F.  Many of  those who own the F1GTN750 also owns the GTN 650 and can use them in tandem as a combo.  This provides much more than one might think. You can have alternate approaches on the 2nd units, you can monitor additional frequencies, and best of all you have Nav/Com 2 units built in.  I like to fly the approach on the 650 and monitor progress on the big 750 with the chart display zoomed up.

    It looks like it would have been an extra few minutes of design time to allow the installation of the 750/650 combo with the removal of the old Collins big faced square Nav/Com 2 units.  The fit is near perfect and the result would have been outstanding. Not that Alabeo could not include this feature in an update somewhere down the road.  Think v2.0, maybe even v1.1.

     

    A lapse in memory must have contributed to the popup clickspot for the GTN to be placed at the top center of the unit (which is where Carenado and Alabeo place all their avionics popups) while the return is in the ‘normal’ and expected lower left side of the frame.  I noticed some posts that actually thought Alabeo had forgotten to include the popup click spot.  This can be fixed by our community mods group but shouldn’t have left Santiago this way.

     

    The Aztec was incrementally refined over the years, but it never really changed much in any big way. Aside from the wildly disorganized instrument panels found on pre-D models, the systems in one are pretty much like the systems in another.

     

    Flaps and landing gear are hydraulic, driven by a pump on the left engine. Though later models had one on the right engine as well, many older airplanes have been retrofitted with an auxiliary electrically powered hydraulic pump. Should both fail, manual gear (and flap) extension can be easily accomplished using a hand pump that telescopes from under the power quadrant; 30 to 40 strokes are required to raise or lower the gear (about a dozen for the flaps), but the leverage is excellent.

     

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    The Alabeo Aztec F does not seem to have any references to anything hydraulic such as pumps for providing pressure for the landing gear, flaps and brakes. The documentation someplace mentions the props can be feathered so that will make the engine out emergencies much more realistic.

    Most early models also were equipped with a C02-powered blow-down system, activated by pulling a ring under the pilot's seat in case of hydraulic system failure, but I think they have gotten away from that system.

     

    The flaps and landing gear handles are still reversed from today's defacto standard, with the flap handle on the left and the gear handle on the right.  As stated earlier, that has never been a problem for me.  I think everyone should hesitate a few seconds and consider the consequences before operating a gear handle while still on the ground.

     

    The fuel system is straightforward. Inboard or outboard tanks are selected for either side. The console between the front seats houses these fuel metering controls. Each wing has two 36 gallon fuel tanks, one on each side of the engine, hence the inboard fuel tank and the outboard fuel tank.  All total we have 36 x 4 = 144 total gallons of fuel.  Our drop down box for the simulator allows us 140 gallon total useable fuel.

    Mounted on the front of the fuel metering box toward the panel are the two cowl flap controls.  These are individual manual controls for the engine cowl flaps and can be set at any value between full open and fully closed. When the knob is straight up, the cowl flaps are fully open and allowing the maximum amount of cooling air flow into the engine nacelle.  Each engine has two cowl flaps, one on either side of that engine and the two are operated as one unit.  We never refer to the individual cowl flap on a given engine as Left or Right, just the cowl flaps for the number one engine or the cowl flaps for the number two engine.

     

    The fuel tank selection process, crossfeed control, and cowl flap levers is a model of ergonomic efficiency. Crossfeed is either on or off and is generally unnecessary unless a long distance must be flown on one engine; fuel can be pumped from any tank to either engine. There are some nice sounds associated with moving these fuel flow controls.

     

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    Due to the placement of the fuel and cowl flap controls it will be difficult to see your settings while flying without some head down time looking straight down between the seats.  I never was able to get a good view of the cowl flaps levers looking from the front back between the seats. The Ezdoc users will want to set up a couple of custom views for this.

     

    I was having difficulty getting the props to feather so I was doing all sorts of throubleshooting things, like making sure the fuel tank feeding the dead engine was totally out of fuel. So I used the drop down feature to set fuel to zero.  The strange thing was that with zero fuel, if I moved the mixture control out of cutoff for the dead engine I could hear engine start sounds although I could not see any evidence on the gauges such as increasing manifold pressure or any RPM changes.  This may need some looking at the coders by Alabeo.

     

    All my comments are based on the initial release of the Alabeo Aztec, so any SP1 or patch may fix these things. UPDATE:  Not going to happen. Carenado tells me that an update to the Alabeo Aztec is not planned at this time.

     

    Climbing into an Aztec for the first time, you'll notice steel tubes extending from the corners of the windshield down to the instrument panel. The Aztec's skin is wrapped around a tubular steel cage, a throwback to the days when Piper planned to produce the Apache with a fabric fuselage. By the time the decision was made to go with metal, re-engineering the fuselage was deemed too expensive.  End result, every Aztec has the steel tubes interfering with the view from the pilot’s seats – only twin I know with this unique feature.

     

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    The Aztec's docile handling characteristics make it an ideal multiengine trainer. If it seems to handle like a really big J-3 Cub, that's because it shares the cub’s wing cross-section. The Aztec accelerates briskly at a light training weight to a rotation speed of VMC plus 10 percent, 76 KIAS, and then on through VYSE, 89 kts, to VY, 104 kts.

     

    I don’t know how you configure your simulations, but I seldom takeoff at MTOW unless I am running some timed tests for a review. I typically start with half fuel and either one or no passengers so the airplane performance should be more responsive than a fully loaded or fully laden aircraft.

    Here are some weight calculations that I made for gross weight with full seats and full fuel.  There is always going to be some give and take, even with an Aztec. The later models, especially with the weight of the turbos and a full panel of avionics have a hundred or so less pounds available for payload, but nothing that can’t be worked out.

     

    My first calulation used standard FAA pilot and passenger weights and full baggage weight limits and full fuel to see how we fared – not real bad, overweight by 190 pounds.  An adjustment here and there using real world expected weights and we can takeoff with the 6 seats occupied, an ample amount of baggage, full fuel and 1 pound under gross weight.

     

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    I assume if you are buying a twin for your FSX/P3D that you probably have some type of yoke or flight stick for your simulator.  If so, you will want to make sure your elevator trim is mapped properly to your yoke or flight stick because you will be using it most of the time you are flying the Aztec.  You may as well check the flaps, gear and such are also properly mapped to an easy to use button or switch.

     

    Not everyone has a twin throttle setup with individual controls for Propellers and Mixture so it makes the engine out simulation a little harder, well that part is not hard, it is getting the proper prop, mixture, and throttle back so you can put the single propeller into the feather position.

    The recommended cruise climb speed of 117 KIAS results in a very leisurely climb rate. Visibility over the nose is not bad at 120, and the cowl flaps do a good job of keeping cylinder head temperatures in the green.

     

    In cruise, the flight controls may feel heavier than the typical lighter airplane as you start your roll, maybe not so much so in pitch. Steep turns can be accomplished fairly easily and are one of my favorite maneuvers in the Aztec.  I like to make lots of clearing turns when approaching an airport, especially when coming out of the clouds. If I am going to make a turn, I usually make it a steep turn and then roll from one direction directly to the other. 

     

    Power-off stalls are unremarkable; you'll feel the flight sim equivalent of the buffet through the control wheel well before reaching the 55 KIAS stall speed. Nose it over to accelerate through VMC before adding power; this takes a moment with the draggy landing configuration. Departure stalls are similarly bland; lower the nose and let the airplane accelerate.  I performed some fairly aggressive stalls but other than a wing dropping just before or just after the nose dropped they were all pretty much the same.

     

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    Remember, not to confuse the Calibrated Airspeeds with the Indicated Airspeeds when flying at the low end of the flight envelope.

    What I miss when doing stalls or any aggressive flight maneuvers when flying the Carenado or Alabeo models are changes in wind noises or aerodynamic sounds that are possible in the simulator when flying some of the RealAir or A2A with Accu-sim add ons.  I guess it is just a lot less realism due to the total absence of feel in the yoke and rudders and for sure the absence of any g-force changes in anyone’s add on, but the changing sounds sure help.

     

    This may be out of place in the review but I want to make sure I call your attention to this slight error in the Alabeo provided performance charts.  It is always important to read the conditions or details of any chart to make sure it matches you airplane’s exact configuration.  Take a look at these range charts and see if you would have caught the faux pas?

     

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    Under the hood, you will find the airplane stable and predictable, even with the critical engine feathered. I would guess that the folks with the F1GTN 750 sitting high and pretty in the VC will be flying a lot of LPV approaches and those that don’t will be flying ILS approaches so be prepared for some serious enjoyment.  You have probably heard me say this plane is ‘as stable as a table’ in so many reviews that you just skip over such statements. But, this one flies real similar to the Carenado Seneca V and the Alabeo Saratoga II TC which are both excellent IFR training airplanes.

    Once you setup on a given glide path you should be able to maintain your proper rate of decent with only small touches of power changes.  We can get into the age old choice of power for altitude and pitch for speed, but, use whatever works for you. Visibility is excellent and the Alabeo team coded just the right amount of reflections in the windows and the glass scratches are as realistic as anyones, including those in the real world.

     

    Just my one standard statement about the two pilot figures not being selectable as one or none and being the same two guys that fly every model of every plane from Carenado and Alabeo from crop dusters to mini-airliners and corporate jets is getting a little old.  I suggest that they at least add some choices for sunglasses, ball caps, different color shirts or something to make them appear slightly different.  They do add shoulder boards for the corporate and mini airliner models, so we know they know how to do it.

     

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    While I am at it I may as well mention my disappointment with the scare documentation.  Wish Alabeo could add a little more information about the airplane, systems, lack of systems, maybe a few how-to items or something more.  The Shift + # has some very nice features but AFAIK there is nothing, anyplace that tells the new users to use the Shift + # keys for additional features and choices.

     

    Personal suggestion would be to make good use of the FSX Kneeboard for listing the specs and performance of the airplane as it is currently lacking this critical information. A quick check of the [General] and [W & B] sections in the aircraft.cfg file revealed a faux pax or two.  The big one is the Maximum range of 1310 nm.  Hmmm.  This was most likely taken from an incorrect range chart – probably the 177 gal fuel optional tanks in the normally aspirated engines Aztec F. 

     

    My best guess would be maybe something near 1,000 NM max range with 45 min reserve using best economy leaning and 24 in MP and 2200 RPM. (this would be crawling along at about 150 kts all day long)

    I found no mention of any type of Oxygen system in the Alabeo Aztec. This is a turbo, would be nice to know how in-depth the Oxygen system is for altitude operations, if at all.

     

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    There is a total absence of any hints at how to actually fly the Alabeo Aztec but you might want to start a habit of burning fuel from the outboard tanks first just in case someone did code a little dutch roll into the simulation.

     

    There’s really nothing special about the cockpit of the Aztec except for its generous size. It’s laid out in the traditional manner, and these airplanes are getting old now and individual modifications through the years have left each one like a fingerprint and totally unique, especially with upgraded radios and GPS.  Gear and flaps are hydraulic and not electric. 

     

    Prior to the Piper Aztec F, the hydraulic pump was on the left engine. If that engine quit, the pilot would need to give a hefty 30-50 pumps of the manual gear extension to get the wheels down. The Aztec F added an auxiliary hydraulic pump on the right engine.

     

    I’m not sure how the Alabeo hydraulics work without a pump.  A guess is they are electric, but they also work with the master switch off. Hmm. If I intentional kill the left engine and secure it, I can still operate the gear and flaps using the normal up and down controls.  Maybe, we just need to assume we have the aux hydraulic pump also on the right engine and it is automatically taking over the work of providing hydraulics.

    Apaches and Aztecs have wings with constant, long chords, and this gives them great slow-speed performance, making takeoff and landing on short fields a breeze. This’ll cost you a few knots in cruise though, especially given the rest of the plane’s overall short, generally chunky appearance.

    Engine failures are easily coped with. The yaw is overcome with moderate pedal pressure, and a quick turn of the trim crank relieves that. The trim controls are overhead and consist of an outer crank for pitch and an inner crank for yaw. After a couple of flights, you become acclimated to the proper directions to turn them. This is important because, as noted above, the airplane exhibits a moderate pitch up with flap extension and pitch down with flap retraction. Most of the pitch change comes with the first quarter flaps, which is no big deal on pattern entry or downwind, where you'd normally first deploy them.

     

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    The challenge comes on the go-around, when the full- power/flaps-up drill requires considerable back pressure on the wheel until you get retrimmed. There is little if any trim change with gear extension or retraction.

     

    Quarter flaps can come down at 139 KIAS, but there are no detents; there is a flap-position indicator on the panel, but it's more efficient to learn how long to hold the flap lever down or up to reach the desired setting. Gear can be extended at 130 KIAS. The gear handle, in the shape of a tire, is clear plastic; if a throttle is retarded with the gear up, a red light in the handle starts flashing. If both throttles are brought back below about 12 inches of manifold pressure, the gear horn sounds. The gear handle is equipped with a mechanical latch to prevent inadvertent gear retraction on the ground (there's also a squat switch).

     

    Makes we wonder how all those dummies keep having unintentional gear retraction on the ground in their Aztecs’.

    A smooth power reduction over the numbers, accompanied by a slight nose-up attitude, and the airplane touches down gently just as the throttles hit the stops, the arrival cushioned by big oleo struts. The gear is beefy enough to absorb clumsy landings or unimproved landing sites, and, if proper speed control is exercised, the airplane stays planted; when that wing stops flying, it stops flying.

     

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    Nosewheel steering is heavy, as might be expected. Even at idle power settings, the airplane will build up speed in the taxi. Avoid riding the brakes. Instead, take a tip from the airliner cockpit: Let the airplane speed up on its own, then apply the brakes to slow to walking speed. Cycling the brakes in this way helps keep them cool.

     

    I found this description of the Aztec, but I couldn’t find the source for the credit.  Just so you know, I did not write it but I would have if I were a writer.

    “The Aztec was never the fastest light twin, nor the one with the greatest payload, nor the most powerful. But in terms of cabin space, load- hauling ability, fuel economy, range, VMC, short-field performance, durability, and accelerate/stop distance, it matched or beat its rivals handily. What it lacked in panache, it made up in good manners. Today, more than 30 years on, it continues to provide comfortable personal transportation and to labor honestly in the vineyards of commercial aviation. Perhaps more important, it offers many students their introduction to the challenges of multiengine flight, where, like any good instructor, the Aztec is a gentle and reliable friend.”

     

    Piper was never bashful about running their engines hard to squeeze another mph or knot out them.  It was good for the marketing people as they say. The timing was perfect for Piper to choose our Aztec F 1976 model as the one to convert the airspeed indicator from miles per hour to Knots/hour.  (required by the FAA)

    It is not found in print in many locations, and it is often mis-represented but Piper liked to use four performance chart settings.  These are Normal, Intermediate, Economy and Long Range.  The Airplane Flight Manual for the Aztec F model uses these four terms in the performance section.  These 4 setting are roughly equivalent to 80%, 75%, 65% and 55% power setting.  Not exactly, but very close.

     

    In addition to the four ‘Cruise Settings’ there are two fuel/air mixture settings – Best Power and Best Economy.

    The Turbo charts are not to be confused with the High speed or Fast Speed cruise settings used by some of the other manufacturers.  In the normally aspirated Aztec without the TIO engines with turbochargers the performance charts do not have charts representing anything faster than the Normal settings.

     

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    For the Turbo equipped Aztec F with the TIO-540-C1A engines Piper has provided specific cruise power charts similar to those for the Aztec F with normally aspirated engines.  In this case the Normal Cruise charts are replaced with the Turbo Cruise charts and the Intermediate, Economy and Long Range charts have (Turbo) added to the title.

     

    Anytime you are using any performance related charts, take the time to check the title and the engine number that the charts are intended.  Some charts are for either the normally aspirated engines or the Turbo equipped engines such as descent and glide related speeds and distances.  Also check the conditions for each chart. An example would be those charts specific to using the optional tip tanks that our Alabeo model does not have.  Another example would be the Landing distance charts that would apply to either or both models.

     

    Most performance charts have conditions such as temperature, altitude, wind, runway condition, etc. Other charts are more specific about the airplane condition such as using a specific propeller, flaps deployed, or not deployed, landing gear extended or not extended and yet others are specific to the mixture settings or throttle settings.  Most airspeeds used in performance charts use KIAS for indicated airspeed as read directly on the airspeed indicator, but some are KCAS and require the use of the Airspeed correction card to obtain the calibrated airspeeds.

     

    The Performance Charts provided by Alabeo are straight out of the official POH.  Like a said earlier, just always make sure the chart details match your engines numbers and fuel configuration.  The turbo model only has one identifier for all turbo models – TIO-540-C1A and the fuel load will be shown as 137 – 140 gallons useable depending on specific block production runs.  Ours has 144 gal total, 140 useable.

    For those charts that specify that one engine be feathered, you can simulate a feathered engine by using 11 IN manifold pressure and 2175 RPM.  Cowl flaps settings are not specified but are normally closed when an engine is feathered.

     

    I made a summary chart of the book performance speeds and fuel flows taken directly from the Airplane Flight Manual for the F model Turbo.

     

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    You will notice the difference in fuel burn and cruise speeds for the 4 settings. Best speed is 9 knots faster at the 80% best power setting than the 75% intermediate setting at gross weight, but it will cost you 4 gal/hr more fuel. The difference between the best power mixture and best economy mixture at the four settings averages about 5 gallons per hour.

     

    You can find the sweet spot that fits your style of flying by studying this chart.  The savings in fuel or those costs for by higher maintenance and jug replacements that the real world Aztec drivers are constantly weighing may not even be a concern at all for the sim pilot with a virtual credit card.  Then again, not everyone wants to see how fast their Aztec will fly, some like to take it easy and cruise at the economy or long range settings.  To each his own.

     

     

    Navy Model Aztec

     

    An ex-United States Navy U-11A on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum.  I made a repaint for the flight sims using this one as a model, of course, mine is the most modern Aztec F, but it still looks very Navy.

     

    Using this photo I came up with our modern day equivalent Navy Aztec for the flight sims. You can find this ready for downloading in the Avsim library.

     

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    The b&w images on the left appeared in a Lear Radio ad in the October 1954 issue of Skyways magazine. Lear advertised that his line of radios would add value to any of these flying twins.  A little later on, Bill Lear invented the autopilot, 8-track tape players and of course designed the LearJet. I added more recent photos to show how each one evolved over time.

     

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    What it lacks in size, it makes up in an almost complete lack of habits

    AOPA, Seth B Golbey

     

     

     

    What do I get in my download?

     

    You get 6 very different repaints, plus the standard white one with two interior color choices that will fly in FSX, Steam, and P3D v2-3.  Check out the chart here.

     

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    The standard GPS is the Carenado GNS530, but come with automated installers for the Reality XP GNS530 and the Flight1 GTN750 (both of these require 3rd party purchases)

     

    The Alabeo Aztec F comes with full instrumentation including dual nav/coms, ADF receiver, DME, VOR/LOC/GS, and slaved gyros, RMI, a switch for most everything, plus a few more, including a full circuit breaker panel.  It does not have the copilot gauges (4 black blank gauge covers) which is probably a good thing for the flight simmers with challenged PCs.

     

    This one comes with the factory installed turbos with fully automatic wastegates so it is mostly add power and go fly. The turbos come into their own at about 8,000 where the advantage of the blowers begin to show and the practical upper limit for the Aztec F turbo is FL250. The sweet spot altitude seems to be FL220 for best speed. Sure you can climb higher but there is no payback.

     

     

    What can I do with my new Alabeo Aztec F?

     

    I chose to use the Sporty’s N706SP red and white repaint and based it at Sportys hometown airport I69.  This is a very convenient suburban airport with a 3550 foot runway in excellent condition in the shadows of the Cincinnati Lunken airport, LUK, that has SIDS and STARS and the full boat load of instrument approaches to make good use of that big ole GTN750 sitting high in the panel.  Here are some screenshots at and around Sportys.

     

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    Should you already own a Flight1 GTN750 and you are in the market for a light twin, the Alabeo Aztec F is a slam dunk.  With more than 3,600 LPV approaches available in the USA and practically every one of them are ready to fly in the GTN, it makes for some great instrument work in the twin Aztec. 

    WAAS is really coming into its own now.  Not only do we have this great number of LPV approaches that are for all practical purposes as good as an ILS approach, but the GPS brings more than a 1,000 new airports into play for precision approaches.  Meaning these 1,000+ airports do not have an existing ILS approach.  Yeah.

     

    http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/service_units/techops/navservices/gnss/approaches/

     

    To be fair to the folks that don’t have a GTN, don’t want a GTN, and are probably tired of hearing about them, you can use the basic approaches, including the ILS, LOC, ADF and whatever to fly your instrument approaches in your new Aztec F.  In FSX you can use your Realtity XP 530 instead of the F1GTN750 should you have one.

     

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    The F1 GTN will work just fine in P3D but you need to buy a P3D specific version to do so.

    Of course, if you are a VFR pilot and are just moving up to a twin for load carrying capacity, or for the safety of having a 2nd engine, then you can just ignore that Glide Slope and go out and enjoy flying high above much of the weather and filling up your six seats and going someplace.

    I would expect a lot of engine out emergencies where you identify the failed engine, clean it up, feather the propeller and go looking for a runway to make your single engine approach and landing. You can choose to continue on with your flight with one engine and practice your fuel transfers and maintaining course and altitude with one operating engine.  Most folks recommend disengaging the autopilot when flying with one-engine out.

     

    Some of the early posts in the support forums were making untrue statements that the props could not be feathered (because they didn’t know how to do it). It is not as simple as say the Realair Duke but it certainly can be done.  Mixture full back, prop lever full back, keystrokes CTRL+F2 to put the prop control into the feather position.  Those users with FSUIPC can automate this to make it a little easier.

     

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    You can also practice some of those intentional gear up landings.  Do it at night and make some spectacular sparks as you gouge the concrete.

    You can spend as much time as you like doing your engine runups and pre-takeoff checks to fine tune your procedures.  The mag drops and prop exercise is not perfect and the correct sounds are not present but it is certainly close enough for your basic light twin.  Just make sure you are using the recommended RPM settings in your procedures. Here is the Run-Up from the Normal Procedures in the POH.

     

    BTW the Alabeo provided Normal Procedures are word-for-word the same as the real world version.

     

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    And best of all you can take some nice long cross country flights in the lower Flight Levels.  The Aztec has never been known as a frugal airplane but with a virtual credit card who really cares about the price of av gas.  Go ahead and see how it feels to fly for extended periods at 80% power.  Just keep a close eye on the cylinder head temps because Aztecs tend to run on the hot side of the scale.

     

     

    Does the autopilot work correctly?

     

    Glitches in autopilot operation seems to be common faux pas at Carenado these days, did it spill over to Alabeo?

    I’m not sure, but I don’t think so.  The Aztec has the proper time period Century III AP and even though I think it does indeed work properly, it is not real intuitive at first look.  I suggest you at least read the Alabeo provided 3 page pdf for the autopilot, and if you want to know a little more, you can download the real world manual.

     

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    The Century III is a full 2-axis autopilot including pitch hold, pitch command, altitude hold, and GS coupling (but not VS command or altitude preselect).  There are thousands of Piper aircraft with this exact AP installed, but with a special arrangement, the faceplate says Piper Altimatic IIIc, later on that switched to Autocontrol III. Behind that faceplate is the Century III AP.

     

    The Century III was a top of the line autopilot in the early 1970s.  Other than being about 4x as large as the modern AP and having an extra button called OMNI (which can be used to fly a LOC course without the Glideslope), and a missing button – APPR, and no obvious On/Off switch, there is not much difference in this one and any other AP that we see in the flight sims add ons.

     

    The Century III AP in the Aztec has ALT hold, HDG, NAV, LOC (Norm), and LOC (Rev) modes. The only thing missing is APPR, but not to worry.  Use your NAV mode for your approach and when at your IAF or FAF and on course, switch to LOC Norm.  The glideslope should engage if you are slightly under the required altitude.  I usually use ALT hold for my approaches just so I have more time to look around and enjoy the approach, but for the Century III it is a requirement.  You might notice that glideslope is a little slow at engaging – this is the way the Century III works and is normal.

     

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    According to the real world manual, three conditions must be present for GS capture.  1. Set to LOC Norm, 2. Must be in the ALT mode, and 3. GS deviation indicator must be deflected upward for 20 seconds. This provides assurance that the glide path will be intercepted from below in a normal manner.

     

    There is a Pitch mode with a Pitch Command Wheel directly to the right of the switch.  Use your mouse wheel to select the VSI desired in increments from 1 -5 up or down.  This Aztec does not have an Altitude Pre-select mode.

    I am intentionally not going to tell you where to find the Master Switch for the Century III AP.  The answer is in the first paragraph of the 3 page pdf manual supplied by Alabeo with a big red circle around it.

     

    As to how it works, it seems to do everything correctly.  There are some limitations for speed and bank angle, but you shouldn’t have the AP engaged in either of those cases.  Just remember the Century III like that 20 second delay.

     

     

    What is a Stormscope? Does it show weather?

     

    Show weather - No, show lightning strikes – No.  Does in work in FSX/P3D?  Well, sorta, but, you have to have some FSX weather for it to see and you have to have the Stormscope turned On and set to the proper distance.  Then you will get some little green patches showing the worst of the weather that you can probably see looking out the windshield.  The real world Stormscope shows lightning strikes as individual points or dots.

     

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    So how is the fit and finish of the Alabeo Aztec F?

     

    In a word, excellent.  Looks like a real world late model Aztec. The VC textures are as good as anyones, the exterior may be even better. The material shines and reflections are the best in class and add even more realism to the simulation.

     

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    The extras are typical Alabeo/Carenado and should not be taken lightly.  These extras add a lot to the simulated realism when flying the Aztec and are almost expected for a premium model nowadays.

     

    I especially like the window scratches (never seen an Aztec without them), and I like the gauge reflections (this is personal choice so it is covered for everyone).  I like the click sounds of the switch movements, the realistic fuel pump whine, and many of the other sounds (more on this later), and although the web site doesn’t mention it, but I notice the little things like the aircraft settling down on the ramp when weight is added.  You will appreciate the volumetric side view prop effect when flying the Aztec.  The emergency exit (left side, 2nd row window) is designed but not functional.

    The upholstery is near perfect also. It has that slightly worn, but well cared for look and it looks like simulated leather.  Nice.

    The Alabeo Aztec abounds with little touches to give it that used look, like the metal heel plates show the proper amount of scratches and the paint is worn near the most used switches and knobs.

     

     

    How about the animations?

     

    The animations are about what is typically found in the Alabeo/Carenado mid-level models.  Which is more than many of the competitors.  The little pilot’s window opens and closes and the sounds change when open or closed. The sun visors work, but only full up or full down – no intermediate positions available.

     

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    The yokes can be hidden individually.  I personally do not care for the Alabeo advertising on the return button for the yokes – This is not something found on any real world Aztec and is a distraction to me. The door handle and lock is animated but like the visors, it is either open or closed and locked – you don’t get to participate – just watch.

     

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    The real Aztec had a slide latch to push forward to lock prior to flight and also a pull up/push down door lock similar to any typical American automobile. Alabeo captured both along with the movement of the car handle locking door handle.

     

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    Everyone expects all the levers for engine controls to be movable and therefore animated, but not everyone does a good job on some of the secondary knobs, levers, and controls like the Fuel Management area.  This one is perfectly done, however, just like in the real Aztec, it requires total head down time if you want to see what you are doing.

     

    Day to day Aztec pilots can manage the fuel flow and cowl flaps with nothing more than a quick glance to confirm the positions or settings.  Sim pilots will have a much tougher time with this.  I guess the Ezdoc users can figure out a how to see it but, the standard FSX/P3D view is not much use in an emergency situation.

     

     

    Shift + Number 2 – 7 popups.

     

    The Shift+4 popup window should list all the available 2d windows but, it is a little honked up.

    There is never going to be a Shift+1 popup in FSX/P3D as shown and the AP is in the Shift+2 position, but other than that these are very useful to first time users and also the popup AP is necessary unless you fly with the pilot’s yoke hidden.

     

    082_T.jpg

     

     

    Also the Shift +3 Window Manager is the only place I know for selection of static elements (chocks, remove before flight items) and instrument reflections and VC windows.

     

     

    Flying Instrument Approaches

     

    The Alabeo Aztec is a near perfect instrument flight airplane. I guess I better add, as long as you fly with the pilot’s yoke hidden or the autopilot in a 2d window when needed.  The gauge layout is ideal and the 3d looking gauges are in the standard 6 configuration.  The engine instruments are not that easy to read from the pilot’s seat, but the primary engine indicators, like the manifold pressure, RPM and Fuel Flow are very readable due to their large size and placement.

     

    083_T.jpg

     

     

    The EGT is practically unreadable without zooming in, then it is very readable.  Once you are familiar with the expected EGT settings you will only be looking for needle placement (9 o’clock). I did notice the temperature is shown as deg F x100 so make sure you are thinking that 1,600 deg F is the upper limit for EGT temperatures.

    I made several LPV approaches and then immediately followed up with the equivalent ILS approach if the airport had both.  There is not much difference anymore, we just have a lot more precision approaches available provided you have the F1GTN installed.

     

     

    Sound Package

     

    The Alabeo provided sounds should be sufficient for the casual sim pilot. Those sim pilots that can actually hear the turbo whine will have to strain and do a little imagining while searching for realistic engine and turbo sounds.  The cockpit sounds – those clicks of the switches and the movement of the lever in the fuel management controls are above average.  Door opening and closing and the small pilot window movements both have great sounds that add to the immersion.

     

    084_T.jpg

     

     

    The gear movement, propeller sounds and general engine sounds are pretty much standard Alabeo/Carenado sounds.  What is missing is that throaty Lycoming roar at takeoff power and full propeller pitch and totally missing is the turbo whine at all settings.  Most flight sim pilots that have never heard the sounds of the real Aztec will probably be satisfied and never think twice about improved sounds. 

     

    But, for that special group with the discerning ear that want to hear those missing sounds. No problem. Our friend Aaron Swindle at Skysong Soundworks has taken his Piper Twin Comanche sound set and added the turbo whine and a few other tweaks to make it fully turbo Aztec compatible.  You can hear his sounds prior to purchase and those listening for the throaty Lycoming roar and the turbo whine will probably want to upgrade the Aztec sound package.  Look for the Aztec adapted twin Comanche sound set for FSX.  You can hear it here and read the list of sounds.  This is a nice boost in the overall sounds of the Alabeo Aztec and can be purchased for less than $10. Highly recommended.

     

    http://skysongsoundworks.com/product_info.php?cPath=25&products_id=38

     

     

    How about the Frame Rates?

     

    I have no problem whatsoever with the Alabeo Aztec and FPS.  Set to unlimited in P3Dv2.5 mine bounces around 45 – 55 FPS with no stutters.  I would suspect the only ones that might have a problem with FPS are those with Legacy Systems and they are going to have FPS problems with most any add on.

    I checked the forums and did not find a single thread on FPS for the Aztec.  That must say something.

     

     

    Additional repaints and panel colors.

     

    I have added 6 additional repaints to the Avsim library for download. Some are original repaints and others are simply registration number changes requested by fellow flight simmers.  I have also added 3 new panel colors for those that wish to have something more than Blue or Gold.  Blue and Gold has served the Naval Academy well for more than a hundred years but for flying an Aztec in 2016, I prefer the easier on the eyes Ivory, Gray, or Black.

    http://library.avsim.net/search.php?CatID=root&SearchTerm=aztec+ray+marshall&Sort=Downloads&ScanMode=1&Go=Change+View

     

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    Summary and Conclusion

     

    I think Alabeo has brought us a good turbo Aztec that will fill the void in many virtual hangars.  It is a late model and turbo equipped, with the possibility to add either your Reality XP 530 GPS or your Flight1 GTN750 to the VC panel with no more effort than selecting the proper exe file.  I commend Alabeo for adding this highly requested feature to a 30 year old airplane.

     

    As previously mentioned the texture quality inside and out is the best in class and far superior to what we typically see in this price range.  As expected, other than switch clicks and knob movements, the systems depth is not much deeper.  I expected at least an oxygen switch, outlet, sensor or something with the word Oxygen somewhere in the cockpit when the plane was delivered with factory turbos.  I also missed seeing any reference to a hydraulics system, no switch for a pump or no gauge for pressure, which is a little strange on a plane with hydraulic flaps, brakes, retractable landing gear, and two hydraulically actuated constant speed propellers. The answer here is rather simple – Alabeo chose to make all things hydraulic electrical for this flight sim model.

     

    On the positive side, the fuel management system can keep you occupied and delighted going into and out of crossfeeds and using your full-feathering propellers to simulate one-engine operations.  You have operating cowl flaps to help control engine temperatures and best of all you have factory built twin turbos with fully automatic waste gates for super simple operation.  You have 4 fuel tanks with the ability to feed from any tank to either engine and to move fuel around for balance.

    The Alabeo Aztec comes with excellent instrumentation, easy to read placards and switch labels, good lighting, good backlighting and a very capable time-period autopilot. You can fly ILS and ADF approaches just as it comes out of the download using the standard GNS530 GPS or add a ton (3,600+) of LPV approaches when you add the Flight1GTN750.

     

    You have an ample selection of liveries (6 + white) and a limited choice of interiors (2) but more are available for downloading at the Avsim library.

    Overall, there is still a lot going for the FSX/P3D Aztec F.  Many seasoned pilots and flight simmers alike crossed paths with one of the Aztec models somewhere along the way.  These same pilots and sim pilots have yearned for a realistic FSX/P3D Aztec to help them re-live some of those days.  The Alabeo PA-250 Aztec F can do exactly that for you.

     

     

    Recommended.

     

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    Comments about flying the Alabeo Aztec posted at Avsim.

    It may not be a Real Air or A2A product, but, after flying the Aztec for about 30 minutes, I cannot find any problem with this aircraft so far. The modelling both internally and externally, as usual with Alabeo, is beautiful and so far everything I have tried on the Aztec has worked perfectly, although I have not as yet flown it on the autopilot. The sounds also are excellent and, as someone with RW flying experience in these albeit many years ago and in the older Aztec D model, I can confirm that the flight dynamics appear pretty realistic. With half tanks I successfully flew this in and out of a 1000ft strip that I once flew from in the RW and it coped with it very comfortably. I'm certain I will be doing a lot of flying in this impressive aircraft.    Bill (scianoir)

     

    16 February 2016 Avsim Forums

    Ditto on the flight dynamics... with a caveat. I very much enjoy flying on two engines. It handles well in flight and through the flare to landing. Notwithstanding the different types this flies as well as their Titan. However... there is no drag with a windmilling prop. Which is just as well since there is no way to feather a failed or shut down engine's prop. 

    As long as you are not expecting real world single engine performance, this is a decent hand flyer and the AP is pretty intuitive... if you have flown the A2A P-51 Civilian version...  One simple thing I wish they would fix is to put in the clickspot to bring up the GTN 750 2D popup.  Donald Trail

     

    19 February 2016  Avsim Forums

    I'm having no problem whatsoever feathering the props. Very realistic behavior. Very impressed with this aircraft. A great simulation! P.S. Sounds and lighting are good on my setup. Autopilot behaves perfectly as it should. An Alabeo Home run for me.

    JesC,

     

    04 March 2016 – Avsim Forums

    My error, I wasn't giving it enough power before pulling back the prop levers.

     

    Love this aircraft, it has fantastic STOL performance - I've just gone back to some Idaho dirt strips I tried with the Cessna 185 before Christmas and with care the Aztec can handle some of these, the large flaps mean I can drop onto the runway at just over 55/56 knots. Fantastic - a twin bush plane!

     

    27 April 2016 Avim Messenger

    The AP is acceptable and fits the style of the plane. It holds HDG & ALT well. It's not hard to use.  I have Klipsch speakers with a Creative XFI Titanium HD audio card so everything sounds good. The sounds seem realistic.  I love the VC, external model, and the flight model. Overall is an excellent light twin that I highly recommend to any simmer.  DJJose (real world Flight Instructor)

     

     

    Credits

    Thanks for Carenado and Alabeo for providing the Eval copy for this review.

    SETH B. GOLBEY and AOPA for their research and text used from the Piper Aztec, Hello Old Friend article that appeared in September 1991.

    Flying Magazine for their timely articles on the E and F model Aztecs.

    David and Jose for the excellent screenshots.

    Jesse and Jose for passing along key information about flying the Alabeo Aztec.

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