by Marlon Carter
With well over 3000 airframes built, the Piper Navajo is one of the most popular twin piston aircraft that are still active in a number of charter operations. Although the aircraft was built in the late 1960s until the mid-80’s, the PA31 has seen numerous changes over its design history which resulted in approximately 10 original variants. As far as the FS world is concerned, the PA31 and other twin pistons have been sorely lacking. Carenado has once again picked up the slack with the release of their PA31-310 Navajo rendition that looks quite impressive. Here are some of the features listed below.
Flight1 GTN 750 integration
Reality XP GNS530* integration (only for FSX)
Full FSX and P3D v2.0 compatible.
Cold and Dark start option
Carenado GNS530 with Reality XP integration option.
Original autopilot installed.
HD quality textures (4096 x 4096).
Volumetric side view prop effect
Dynamic propeller shines effect.
32 bit real Lycoming TIO-540-A 3D sounds.
Customizable panel for controlling windows transparency, instrument reflections and static elements such has wheel chocks and sights props.
Real behavior compared to the real airplane.
Real weight and balance.
Tested by real pilots.
Realistic night lights effects on panel and cockpit.
The manuals that come along with the PA31 are typical of most Carenado aircraft which include the Carenado GNS530 manual, PA31 Emergency and Normal Procedures, Performances Tables, Reference and a Weather Radar Manual. All of the manuals are fairly well put together with most of it having information from the real aircraft manuals.
It would be nice to include a flight tutorial to see how the systems work together along with the manuals on a typical short flight. For example, the fuel system on this aircraft is slightly more complex than the average Cherokee or C172. Therefore, it would have been useful to provide some information on the systems of the aircraft and how they operate. This not only makes these systems easier to use, but it also creates a more excitement for the user as her or she will have the feeling that they are actually learning about the aircraft while having fun.
Ultimately, the manuals seem to be sufficient for the average user who already has a working knowledge of how piston aircraft operate.
The interior of the aircraft is stunning to say the least.
Carenado has always had ability to produce stunning visual models and this product is no exception. From the moment you step inside the Navajo, you immediately get the sensation of being in the actual aircraft with its dated cockpit layout and finishing.
The overall look of the cockpit was of the highest standard with gauge and window reflections that were very convincing. As we move into the passenger cabin of the aircraft, it was clear to see that Carenado speared no effort in ensuring that the cabin was of the highest quality. The tan leather seats, 3D like curtains and the dated carpet all enhanced the overall feel of this aircraft.
In the past, Carenado made an extra effort to create virtual cabins that offered more animations. Lately they have steered away from adding too many animations and this has paid off in having better PC performance. Nonetheless, despite the simple layout of the interior, it was still quite stunning. Here are a few screenshots.
The exterior of the aircraft, just like the interior, was equally stunning to look at.
The detail of this aircraft model is quite remarkable and it is obvious that Carenado spent quite a lot of time ensuring that every detail of this aircraft was captured. In addition to the stunning aircraft model, other special features such as volumetric side view props, dynamic propeller shine and wheels chocks have all been included. While it’s nice to list the many features of the exterior model, these screenshots speak for themselves.
While this aircraft isn’t promoted as a “study aircraft”, the manuals and performance charts seem to be comprehensive enough to keep you busy while flying the aircraft. For today’s test flight I decided to do a short hop from Palm Beach International to Freeport in the Bahamas. Other products used for this test flight include ASN, Accu-Feel and EZCA. It is my opinion that these products, along with the Navajo, create a balanced flight experience. While on the ramp at KPBI, I ran through the checklist in preparation for our departure and I was surprised that many of the items covered on the checklist can indeed be checked and verified in the virtual cockpit. The only exception I found was the fact that the takeoff checklist made mention of prop sync, but this aircraft did not have a prop sync feature. Carenado mentioned that this was an inconsistency with the checklist and the aircraft they modeled the PA31 after.
Starting up the PA31 was relatively simple and I liked the fact that Carenado included cockpit vibrations during the startup. This truly added to the realism of being in a small twin engine aircraft and I was also impressed with the sound quality of the aircraft. While some have made mention that the sound could be better, I think that Carenado did a great job in covering the startup and basic sound of the aircraft.
Prior to our departure, the engine run up is another key aspect of a piston engine aircraft that has to be modelled correctly. When testing the magnetos, there should be a drop in the RPM and while this was modeled in the aircraft, I thought that the drop was a bit too subtle and it lacked dynamics. For older aircraft, the needles do not always move smoothly and it would have been nice to see a more realistic needle movement during the run up test.
For the takeoff you immediately get the sensation that you are flying a heavy twin aircraft. Apart from the quick acceleration and Heavy handed controls, the aircraft displayed the characteristics of what any twin piston in its class should feel like. Hand flying after takeoff was a pleasure due to the fact that the aircraft felt very stable in the air. With programs such as ASN, shifting winds posed no problems in keeping this aircraft under control. From a performance perspective, I thought that the aircraft flew in accordance with the manuals to an acceptable degree. Performance numbers weren’t always the most accurate, but they were sufficient to keep the aircraft within normal operating limits. Part of staying within the aircrafts recommended climb and cruise performance is leaning the mixture to ensure the best fuel burn rate. This being the case, one of the key things I tend to look for in piston aircraft is the change in the sound of the engines as you lean the fuel. In the real world, while pilots monitor engine instruments, some have mastered the ability to perfectly lean the mixture by ear. To my surprise, there was a very subtle change in the sound which is consistent with what you should hear in the real world but it could have been enhanced a bit more.
Since my cruise altitude was 7000 feet, I decided to hand fly the aircraft all the way. My overall impression of the aircraft was that you can literally fly it with two fingers. The Navajo was very stable and it was easy to pitch and hold any speed you so desired. After getting to 7000 feet, I decided to use the autopilot for the remainder of the flight to see how well it functioned. The autopilot that comes with the Navajo was very basic and it worked like a charm when either holding a VOR radial or using the GPS. Pitch control was also well simulated and it was neither too sensitive nor too slow.
Apart from the amazing hand flying characteristics, my favorite feature of this aircraft however, is the ability to switch the default Carenado Garmin 530 for the integration with RXP G530 or the GTN 750 by flight 1. While I don’t have the RXP G530, I was able to do some personal tweaks to have the Mindstar G530 installed and this worked beautifully. The GTN750 was also a great addition to this aircraft and perhaps my favorite option while flying the Navajo. The GTN750 makes flying so much easier and it gives you that “glass cockpit” feel with the ability to see a moving map with safe taxi and other high tech features that are well known in the GTN series. With the GTN750, flight plan entries are quick and easily edited in the event of any last minute changes to your flightplan. Another useful feature is the ability to see charts for US airports. This feature has proved to be invaluable when flying to new or unfamiliar destinations and it allows you to get acquainted with the approach procedures without having to minimize FSX to open any external navigation programs. If I had to recommend a unit that you should purchase based on features and support, the Flight1 GTN750 is definitely the winner and I hope more products from Carenado will offer this integration where practical.
As we approach Freeport, I was able to use the GTN750 to select my approach and have the aircraft fly the ILS approach to the active runway. Overall the performance of the aircraft during descent was balanced and controlling your speed wasn’t difficult at all. While on approach to the runway, I couldn’t help but notice the lovely sunset and how the light effects on the cockpit windows truly add to the realism of this aircraft. Given the fact that this aircraft was designed more than 30 years ago, it goes without saying that the cockpit windows may have a scratch or two. This effect is a hallmark of Carenado and it looks amazing very time you look at it.
Going back to our approach, the landing at Freeport can only be described as uneventful. Despite the fact that at slower speeds the weight of the aircraft becomes more apparent, it was still easy to fly with the right power and trim settings. The touchdown itself was just like any other, but if you plan on greasing all of your landings with this aircraft, you may have to practice quite a bit! After shutting down the aircraft, and seeing the cockpit vibration effect in action again, I felt quite satisfied with my overall experience with this aircraft. In the past, some have had bad experiences with Carenado products but this is by far one of their best products to date. The Navajo is a balanced aircraft and literally any and everyone will enjoy flying it.
In summary, I think that the PA31 is a great product for anyone who wants to fly a twin piston aircraft. Given the fact that this aircraft is widely used around the world, the possibilities are endless as far as where you can fly this aircraft. At $37.95, the price seems to be fair and given the fact that you can integrate the GTN750 and the RealityXP G530, this aircraft is a must have for you GA fanatics. In the past, some of the releases from Carenado had been plagued by autopilot and other issues. In this case however, I am thrilled at the fact that this aircraft works just fine. Is it perfect? No, this isn’t an A2A aircraft but it surely is a balanced product that can be enjoyed by just everyone. My only recommendation to Carenado is to add to the immersion of this aircraft by enhancing cockpit sounds such as cabin air that changes depending on the speed of the aircraft and a passenger/cargo loader that allows you to have greater control over the loading of the aircraft. Notwithstanding these effects, this is a solid product for everyone to enjoy when you’re not in the mood to spend 30mins setting up an airliner. Well done Carenado!
Thanks to Fernando for the quick assistance with some of the issues I encountered.
Special thanks to Flight1 for the GTN750!