Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC Review
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Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC
For FSX / Prepar3D Published by Alabeo
Reviewed by Andrew Godden
December 2014

Introduction

Founded in 1927, Piper Aircraft have had a long history in light aircraft manufacturing. A prolific producer of a range of aircraft models, the Piper name is synonymous with some of the most iconic and popular aircraft models in the general aviation category. Models such as the J-3 'Cub', PA-18 'Super Cub', PA-20 / PA-22 'Pacer' / 'Tri-Pacer', and the extensive PA-28 'Cherokee' range, all have a prominent place in aviation history.

Alabeo continue to add to their offering of general aviation aircraft with the Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC. The 'Saratoga II' TC was the last model variant in the broader PA-32 'Cherokee Six' range and it is a beautiful complement to the Alabeo range. With its high performance and good range characteristics, the 'Saratoga II' TC is a brilliant aircraft for personal use or in an air taxi or freight role.

History

The Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is a single engine, low wing, passenger aircraft with a retractable tricycle landing gear. Powered by a Lycoming TIO-540-AH1A, turbocharged, 6 cylinder, horizontally opposed, fuel injected, 300 hp engine, the 'Saratoga II' TC is used for private transportation, air taxi services, and freight and utility flight operations.

Until 1972, when the Piper assembly line in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania was destroyed in a flood, the PA-24 'Comanche' was Piper's luxury, high performance, single engine aircraft. Rather than re-establish 'Comanche' production, Piper began modifying its heavy lifting, single engine, PA-32 'Cherokee Six', by adding retractable landing gear and designating the type as the PA-32R.

The PA-32R design began life as the Piper 'Lance', using the 'Hershey Bar' wing design from the 'Cherokee Six'. Common with the 'Cherokee Six' line, it also features a baggage compartment in the nose between the cockpit and the engine compartment, as well as a large double door in the back for easy loading of passengers and cargo. Having its first flight in August 1974, the PA-32R was introduced in 1975. After a redesign to a tapered wing, the type was redesignated the 'Saratoga'. Production culminated with the 'Saratoga II' TC variant in 2009 after a production run of some 2,721 aircraft.

Availability and Installation

The Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is currently available direct from Alabeo and Alabeo resellers as a 'download only' product (some resellers also offer a master back-up CD / DVD service for a minor additional cost). It is priced at US$29.95, or the equivalent on currency cross rates. The download file size is 338MB and it requires 887MB of HDD space for installation. An ‘activation key' is issued on purchase and is used during installation and the installation process is intuitive and seamless.

Model Features

The model features listed by Alabeo for the Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC are typical of models in the Alabeo range and include:
        • high quality 3D model;
        • high definition textures;
        • Alabeo Garmin GNS 530 and GNS 430 GPS units;
        • Flight1 GTN 750 integration;
        • Reality XP GNS 530 integration;
        • custom 'Saratoga II' TC sounds;
        • gauges reflections and windows scratches;
        • blades shines and volumetric side view prop effect; and
        • realistic behaviour.

Visual Appearance

General. Piper aircraft designs are practical and functional, reflecting the role the aircraft are designed for. The 'Saratoga II' TC is reflective of this design concept and its looks are true to its role and capabilities. Alabeo have specifically modelled an early production model of the PA-32R-301T 'Saratoga II' TC variant and, as regularly demonstrated by Alabeo, their modelling has accurately captured the essential, design of the 'Saratoga II' TC.

Exterior. The Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is distinguishable from the broader PA-32 'Cherokee Six' range by its engine cowl, with smaller, round air inlets, and retractable landing gear. Alabeo have established themselves with a reputation for quality, attention to detail, and sheer consistency in their development of aircraft add-ons, and the modelling of the 'Saratoga II' TC displays all of these attributes with the high quality 3D model and high definition textures. A comparative review of photographs of real world aircraft to Alabeo's rendition reveal the exterior shape and dimensions to be very accurate and a true representation of the real world aircraft. Any noted variations were minor and are considered to be related to real world production variations or a degree of artistic licence on the part of the developer.

General


Top Down


The Front End


Wing & Passenger Door

Interior. Alabeo have modelled the interior on the standard club seating configuration for the model and the cockpit represents the archetypal layout of aircraft in the Piper 'Cherokee' and 'Cherokee Six' range. The cockpit layout, with its plush leather club seating and foldaway table, provides the 'Saratoga II' TC a fantastic environment for those long flights. The quality of the textures, such as the leather on the seats and the wood panelling on the table, display the Alabeo trademark for quality and detail, and the carpet and side panelling displayed some evidence of 'wear and tear' to give the interior a less than pristine appearance. However, the quality of the textures on the cabin side panelling appeared to be of a lower quality and wasn't as crisp as other cabin textures. Nevertheless, a comparative review of photographs of real world aircraft to Alabeo's rendition reveal the interior shape and dimensions to be extremely accurate and a true representation of the real world aircraft. Any noted variations were minor and are, again, considered to be related to real world production variations or a degree of artistic licence on the part of the developer.


The Cockpit


The Cabin


Comfort & Pleasure

Flight Instruments and Systems. As with any aircraft of this type, avionics suite fit outs are numerous and varied. Notwithstanding model specific variations, the cockpit of the 'Saratoga II' TC presents as a familiar environment. Later models of the 'Saratoga II' TC were fitted with Avidyne 'Entegra' and, later, Garmin G1000 glass cockpits. However, Alabeo have modelled the 'Saratoga II' TC on an early production model for the variant with standard analogue flight instruments, supplemented with the Garmin GNS 530 and GNS 430 GPS units, the Garmin GTX 327 digital transponder, and the S-TEC System Fifty Five X autopilot system. The cockpit configuration also provides full co-pilot instrumentation with a standard 'six pack' instrument layout, something not often seen in general aviation aircraft add-ons of this type. All elements of the cockpit are highly accurate and very detailed, and are clear and easy to read. Naturally, at lower zoom ranges, some of the clarity is lost on some of the flight instruments and panel labelling and can be difficult to read, however, various alternative cockpit camera views are available to provide more detailed views. There was a noted issue with the elapsed flight time function on the Garmin GTX 327 in that it does not display the elapsed time correctly. The features and operation of the GPS units and the autopilot system are covered in the supplied manuals. Taking into account the various avionics suite fit out options available for the 'Saratoga II' TC, a comparative review of photographs of real world aircraft reveal the panel layout to be a highly accurate rendition of similar real world panel layouts.


Instrument Panel


Pilot Position


Engine Instruments & GPS Units


Throttle Quadrant


Overhead Switches

Liveries. There are six individual liveries (a selection only shown below) provided with the Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC, each having a unique aircraft registration number, as well as a blank texture for aircraft painting enthusiasts. The liveries display the usual Alabeo high quality. Surface textures, reflections, and shadings give the aircraft a crisp and realistic appearance, with additional dirt, oil, and grease stains providing a very natural appearance. 


PR-FHM


PR-CLP


N5491


N84969

Animations, Lighting and Sounds

The animations of the primary and secondary control surfaces and other moving elements on Alabeo's Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC are all modelled faithfully and include:
        • primary control surfaces – ailerons, stabilator, and rudder;
        • secondary control surfaces – flaps;
        • others – retractable gear, rolling wheels, antiservo tab, cockpit door open / close, cabin door open / close, forward baggage compartment door
           open / close, pilot vent window open / close, cockpit window visors, and cabin window shades; and
        • various static ground elements.


Parked Up


Shades Down

The lighting and lighting effects on the 'Saratoga II' TC are very good and are a realistic representation of the real world aircraft. In particular, the interior night light effects for the instrument panel and the cockpit replicates the night lighting seen in photographs of real world aircraft.


Cockpit Lighting


Cabin Lighting 1


Cabin Lighting 2

The custom 'Saratoga II' TC sounds are also effective. They provide good stereo separation with view movement in the Virtual Cockpit view and are reasonably representative of the real world aircraft.

General Characteristics and Performance Specifications

The general characteristics and performance specifications for the Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC are provided in the table. This is based on data from the official Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC Pilot Operating Handbook, data provided by Alabeo, and general research sources. Some of this data varies between sources and also may be an approximation due to variances in data and the specific aircraft modelled by Alabeo.



Flight Performance

A specific Test Flight was conducted from Lady Elliot Island (YLTT) to Essendon (YMEN) to test the flight performance of Alabeo's Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC. The flight was conducted in clear weather with a full fuel load and the aircraft at maximum take-off weight (MTOW). A cruise altitude of 6,500 ft was adopted and the route distance was approximately 910 nm. The route was particularly chosen to provide a basis upon which to test the range characteristics of the 'Saratoga II' TC. Like most aircraft of this type, adjustments must be made to fuel / pax loading to remain within the MTOW limitations.


In Flight


Easy Cruising

The aircraft was easy to taxi. With a flaps setting of 'Flaps 1' (10°), aircraft rotation occurred at approximately 75 knots indicated air speed (KIAS) and the aircraft easily maintained a best rate climb speed of approximately 95 KIAS at the specified initial rate of climb of approximately 1,050 ft/min. Alternatively, with a flaps setting of 'Flaps 0' (0°), aircraft rotation occurs at approximately 80 KIAS, however, the former takeoff setting provides for a nicer takeoff. Even with the 'Saratoga II' TC at MTOW, the turbocharged engine made the takeoff roll comparatively short and relatively easy, quickly establishing the 'Saratoga II' TC on the climb to cruise. Established at the specified rate of climb, the 'Saratoga II' TC climbed effortlessly, but as altitude increased, it required the natural adjustments to the rate of climb to maintain an optimum climb speed until the aircraft was established at the cruise altitude.

During cruise, a 55% power setting was established for long range cruise, with a manifold pressure setting of 25.0 in Hg and an rpm setting of 2200 rpm. This cruise setting produced an average speed of approximately 136 KTAS (125 KIAS), a fuel flow rate of approximately 10.5 gph, and an endurance reasonably consistent with the range characteristics of the aircraft. This represented a variance in fuel flow performance compared to the Performance Tables provided by Alabeo. The Performance Tables indicate the performance settings, as used in the Test Flight, should have produced a fuel flow rate of approximately 12.5 gph. The Test Flight confirms the modelling of the aircraft for speed and range performance to be reasonably accurate. Whilst the detected variance in the fuel flow rate had a significant, albeit positive, impact on the range performance of the aircraft, it does not detract from the flying characteristics of the aircraft. It is estimated the variance in the fuel flow rate, over the duration of the Test Flight, resulted in fuel consumption being approximately 15 gals less than expected.


Underbelly


Landing Gear

Configured for landing, with full flaps, and trimmed for a descent rate of approximately 500 ft/min, the aircraft’s approach speed was approximately 90 KIAS and it touched down at approximately 80 KIAS, with a landing roll out comparable with the specifications for the aircraft.

In testing the accuracy of the instruments, based on the measured Test Flight, the speed indications on the airspeed indicator, were consistent with the averages measured. Additionally, when establishing a set rate of climb on the vertical speed indicator, the respective gain in altitude on the altimeter was achieved within the measured minute, and a standard rate turn was achieved within the measured two minute period using the turn coordinator.


Turning for Finals


Final Approach

The performance of Alabeo’s Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC was excellent in flight, displaying the expected general flight characteristics of this aircraft. The aircraft handles very nicely and is a delight to fly. Overall, the aircraft model displays a very accurate rendition of the flight characteristics and a reasonably accurate rendition of performance of the real world aircraft.

Documentation

There are seven manuals / documents provided in Adobe Acrobat format (.pdf) for the Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC:
        • Alabeo GNS 530 Users Guide - this two page document details the operating of the Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit;
        • Alabeo GNS 430 Users Guide - this three page document details the operating of the Garmin GNS 430 GPS unit;
        • Alabeo Autopilot and AVSS - this two page document details the operating of the S-TEC System Fifty Five X autopilot system, and the Altitude
           and Vertical Speed Selector;
        • Normal Procedures - this 13 page manual details the procedures for the normal operation of the aircraft;
        • Emergency Procedures – this 10 page manual details the emergency procedures for the aircraft;
        • Performance Tables – this five page document details the performance tables and specifications for the aircraft; and
        • References - this three page document details the airspeed limitations for the aircraft.

Additional documents provide information for P3D users and information on the integration of the Flight1 GTN 750 GPS unit and the Reality XP GNS 530 GPS unit.

Value for Money

On a value for money assessment, the Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is considered excellent.

Simulator Performance

The aircraft model performed excellently within the existing settings I have in FSX. I have most of my settings set very high and there was no need to make any adjustments. There was no discernible frame rate impact directly attributable to the Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC and FSX continued to perform smoothly and as it would with any default aircraft.

Technical Requirements

This version of the Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is for FSX / P3D only. Other specified technical requirements are as follows:
        • Windows XP (with SP3 installed), Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (32 or 64bit);
        • Microsoft Flight Simulator FSX with SP1 and SP2 (or Acceleration Pack) or Lockheed Martin Prepar3d Flight Simulator v1.4 or v2.0 installed; and
        • Pentium V, 3GHz or similar, 2GB RAM, 512MB graphics card, and 887MB available HDD space.

Review Computer Specifications

The specifications of the computer on which the review was conducted are as follows:
        • Intel i7 990X Extreme 3.46GHz;
        • NVidia GTX580, 1536MB graphics;
        • 12GB Kingston DDR3 2000MHz;
        • Windows 7, (64bit);
        • Microsoft Flight Simulator FSX Acceleration; and
        • additional major add-ons include: Active Sky Next, REX Essential Plus Overdrive; Ultimate Traffic 2; Orbx FTX Global BASE;
           Orbx FTX Global VECTOR; Orbx FTX Global openLC EU; Orbx FTX region series; and Orbx FTX airport series.

Conclusion

Alabeo have delivered again, doing an excellent job with the Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC and it is a fantastic complement to the other general aviation aircraft in their repertoire. The 'Saratoga II' TC displays the hallmark Alabeo traits of detail and accuracy and provides an excellent balance of quality and detail at an excellent price. With excellent cruise speed and range characteristics, the 'Saratoga II' TC is a wonderful aircraft for touring and one you will enjoy flying.


High Performance & Luxury

Verdict

Displaying the usual high quality and attention to detail, the Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is another fine product from Alabeo which represents excellent overall value for money.

Pros:
High quality textures and attention to detail.
Realistic modelling and performance.
Very good documentation.
Excellent value for money.

Cons:
Minor issue with the elapsed flight time function on the digital transponder.
Minor variation in fuel flow compared to flight performance data.
Low texture quality in some areas of the cabin.

Scores:
   ● External Model: 10/10
   ● Internal Model: 9.0/10
   ● Sounds: 10/10
   ● Flight Characteristics (does it fly by the numbers): 9.0/10
   ● Flight Dynamics (does it feel like what it looks like): 9.5/10
   ● Documentation: 9.0/10
   ● Value for Money: 10/10

The Alabeo Piper PA-32 'Saratoga II' TC is awarded an overall Mutley’s Hangar score of 9.5/10,
with an "Outstanding" and a Mutley's Hangar Gold Award..


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