Carenado Piper PA-31 Navajo Review
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Piper PA-31 'Navajo'
For FSX / Prepar3D Published by Carenado
Reviewed by Andrew Godden
September 2015

Introduction

Over the years, Piper has been one of the 'Big Three' in the field of general aviation manufacturing. From its early years with the J-3 'Cub', Piper has produced some very successful single and twin engine general aviation aircraft. The Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is a family of cabin-class, twin-engined aircraft targeted at small scale cargo and feeder liner operations and the corporate market.

Carenado have produced some of the best, if not the best, general aviation aircraft for FSX / P3D. Twin piston engine models have featured in this product range and Carenado's Piper PA-31 'Navajo' adds further to this list and complements the aircraft category beautifully. The PA-31 'Navajo' has been popular with private individuals and companies and is also operated by air charter companies and small feeder airlines. It has a reasonable range and payload capacity, with a comfortable cruise speed.

History

The Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is a twin engine, low wing monoplane with a conventional tail, in the general aviation aircraft category. It is powered by a pair of Lycoming TIO-540-A, air cooled, six cylinder, horizontally opposed, turbo-supercharged, 310 hp engines in 'tiger shark' cowlings, a feature shared with the Piper PA-30 'Twin Comanche' and the PA-23 'Aztec'. The PA-31 'Navajo' can have seating for up to seven passengers and is used for passenger, utility, and cargo purposes.

Development of the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' began in 1962 and first flew on 30 September 1964. It was introduced in March 1967 and had an extensive production run across 11 variants. The PA-31 'Navajo' was also produced under licence, primarily in South America. Production of the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' culminated in 1984, after a production run of 3,942 aircraft.


Piper PA-31 'Navajo'

Availability and Installation

The Carenado Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is currently available direct from Carenado and Carenado 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$37.95, or the equivalent on currency cross rates. The download file size is 369MB and it requires 940MB 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 Carenado for the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' are typical of models in the Carenado range and include:
        • high quality 3D model;
        • high definition textures;
        • Carenado Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit;
        • Flight1 GTN 750 integration;
        • Reality XP GNS 530 integration;
        • dynamic propeller shines and volumetric side view propeller effect;
        • custom Lycoming TIO-540-A 3D sounds; and
        • realistic behaviour.

Visual Appearance

General. The Piper PA-31 'Navajo' was designed as a passenger / corporate and utility aircraft. Carenado have modelled the initial production variant of the PA-31 'Navajo'. The modelling is excellent and highly detailed and Carenado have produced a marvellous rendition of this aircraft.

Exterior. At first glance, the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' can appear very disproportionate due to the enlarged vertical stabiliser and, along with the elongated propeller shaft and propeller spinners, and 'tiger shark' engine cowlings, it gives the aircraft a very distinctive, if not odd, appearance. Carenado have captured the essence of these distinctive features with the exacting high quality 3D model and very detailed, high definition textures. Such are the quality of the textures and detail, you can virtually see imperfections in the smoothness of various fuselage panels. The finish on the various liveries display paint chips, scratches and scrape effects to portray very real, lifelike representations of this aircraft. A comparative review of photographs of real world aircraft to Carenado'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 View


Nose View


Engine View


Tail View

Interior. Carenado have modelled the interior on a standard passenger configuration for the variant. The cabin layout has a four seat passenger configuration in a club seating arrangement, and a generous space for baggage / cargo. The quality of the textures of the seating, carpet, and side and roof panelling display the Carenado trademark for quality and detail and include scratches and evidence of 'wear and tear' to give the interior a less than pristine appearance. A comparative review of photographs of real world aircraft to Carenado's rendition reveal the interior shape and dimensions to be very accurate and an excellent 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.


Cockpit


Rear Cabin

Flight Instruments and Systems. The cockpit of the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is typical of Piper aircraft. The cockpit represents the typical layout for Piper aircraft and is supplemented with the Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit and Bendix/King weather radar. The standard analogue flight instruments are typical of the model range and consistent with an aircraft of this category and age. All elements of the cockpit are highly accurate and very detailed, and are clear and easy to read, with various alternative cockpit camera views available to provide more detailed clarity. Taking into account the various avionics suite fit out options available for the PA-31 'Navajo', 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. There was a noted significant problem with the ADF gauge. A heading between 340 and 359 degrees cannot be set as the gauge skips through this range. A review of this gauge on other aircraft in the Carenado range revealed this problem to also be present. This indicates there is a major coding issue with this ADF gauge which has not been rectified by Carenado across a number of product releases. Even though Version 1.1 of this aircraft has been released, it did not correct this problem and there is no advice from Carenado as to when it will be rectified.


Pilot Position


Main Panel


Engine Controls & Autopilot


Overhead Panel

Models and Liveries. Carenado provide the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' in a single model with six individual liveries (a selection only shown below), each having a unique aircraft registration number, as well as a blank texture for aircraft painting enthusiasts. The liveries display the usual Carenado high quality. Surface textures, reflections, and shadings give the aircraft a crisp and realistic appearance, with additional scrape effects, dirt, oil, and grease stains providing a used appearance.


D-IPCH


N992W


N84372


N8432D

Animations, Lighting, and Sounds

The animations of the primary and secondary control surfaces and other moving elements on Carenado's Piper PA-31 'Navajo' are all modelled faithfully and include:
        • primary control surfaces – ailerons, elevator, and rudder;
        • secondary control surfaces – flaps;
        • others – rolling wheels, elevator trim tab, cabin doors open / close, cockpit windows open / close, cockpit window visors raise / lower, and
           pilot chair armrests raise / lower; and
        • various static elements.


Door, Hatches, & Static Objects


Door, Hatches, & Static Objects - 2

The lighting and lighting effects on the PA-31 'Navajo' 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. It was noted that the lighting can be switched on whilst the master battery and alternator switch is turned off.


Cockpit Lighting


Cabin Lighting

The custom PA-31 'Navajo' sounds are excellent and representative of the aircraft. They provide good stereo separation with view movement in the Virtual Cockpit view and external views and are a good representative of the real world aircraft. Of particular note are the sounds associated with the engine start up and the rattling noise of the landing gear on take-off and landing. Both these sounds give the sense of being in the cockpit of the real aircraft, though the volume of the rattling landing gear seems to be louder than expected, particularly when the engines are at full power.

General Characteristics and Performance Specifications

The general characteristics and performance specifications for the Piper PA-31 'Navajo' are provided in the table. This is based on data from the official Piper PA-31 'Navajo' Pilot Operating Handbook, data provided by Carenado, 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 Carenado



Flight Performance

A specific Test Flight was conducted to test the flight performance of Carenado's Piper PA-31 'Navajo'. 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 10,000 ft was adopted and the route distance was particularly chosen to provide a basis upon which to test the range characteristics of the PA-31 'Navajo'. Like most aircraft of this type, adjustments must be made to fuel / pax loading to remain within the MTOW limitations.


In Flight - 1


In Flight - 2

The aircraft was easy to taxi. With flaps set at 0°, aircraft rotation occurred at approximately 85 KIAS and the climb out was consistent with the performance specifications for the aircraft. Even at MTOW, the PA-31 'Navajo' quickly establishes on the climb to cruise and climbed effortlessly until the aircraft was established at the cruise altitude.


In Flight - 3


In Flight - 4

During cruise, a power setting of approximately 55% was established for cruise, with a manifold pressure setting of 26.0 inHg and an rpm setting of 2200 rpm. This cruise setting produced an average speed of approximately 160 KTAS, and a fuel flow rate and an endurance reasonably consistent with the range characteristics of the aircraft. Any noted variances in performance were minor and had negligible impact on the operation of the aircraft. The Test Flight confirms the modelling of the aircraft for speed and range performance to be reasonably accurate.


Oil & Exhaust Stains


Landing Gear Operation

Configured for landing, with full flaps, and trimmed for a descent rate of approximately 500 ft/min, the aircraft’s approach speed was approximately 95 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.


Landing Configuration - 1


Landing Configuration - 2

The performance of Carenado’s Piper PA-31 'Navajo' was very good in flight, displaying the expected general flight characteristics of this aircraft. The PA-31 'Navajo' is a reasonably large aircraft and yet, it is responsive, handles beautifully, and is a delight to fly. Overall, the aircraft model displays a reasonably accurate rendition of the flight characteristics and performance of the real world aircraft.

 Documentation

There are seven manuals / documents provided in Adobe Acrobat format (.pdf) for the Piper PA-31 'Navajo':
        • Carenado GNS 530 Users Guide - this two page document details the operating of the Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit;
        • Weather Radar Manual – this three page document details the operating of the Bendix/King Weather Radar;
        • Normal Procedures - this 10 page manual details the procedures for the normal operation of the aircraft;
        • Emergency Procedures – this 14 page manual details the emergency procedures for the aircraft;
        • Performance Tables – this six page document details the performance tables for the aircraft;
        • Reference - this three page document details the airspeed limitations for the aircraft; and
        • Recommended Settings – this two page document details recommended display and realism settings for the aircraft.

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

Value for Money

On a value for money assessment, the Carenado Piper PA-31 'Navajo' 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 Carenado Piper PA-31 'Navajo' and FSX continued to perform smoothly.

Technical Requirements

This version of the Carenado Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is for FSX / P3D only. Other specified technical requirements are as follows:
         • Windows XP (with SP3 installed), Vista, or Windows 7 (32 or 64bit);
         • Microsoft Flight Simulator FSX with SP1 and SP2 installed (or Acceleration Pack) or Lockheed Martin Prepar3d Flight Simulator (v1.4 or v2.0); and
         • Pentium V, 3GHz or similar, 2GB RAM (4GB RAM recommended), 512MB graphics card, and 940MB 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 GTX980 G1 Gaming, 4GB, 1228/1329MHz;
        • 12GB, Kingston DDR3, 2000MHz, XMP T1 CL9 HyperX;
        • 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 Global openLC Alaska/Canada; Orbx FTX Trees HD; Orbx FTX region series;
           and Orbx FTX airport series.

Conclusion

The Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is a beautiful aircraft which displays the Carenado hallmark traits of detail and accuracy. The identified problem with the ADF gauge is particularly disappointing as this continues to carry through from previous Carenado releases and no action has been taken to rectify it.

The ease of handling and the overall performance characteristics of the PA-31 'Navajo' make this is a fantastic aircraft, and one which will provide hours of enjoyable flying.


A Pleasure To Fly

Verdict

Carenado have done another fine job with the Piper PA-31 'Navajo'. It is a very good product which displays a high level of quality and detail and represents excellent overall value for money.

Pros:
High Quality textures and attention to detail.
Very good documentation.
Excellent value for money.

Cons:
Malfunctioning ADF gauge.

Scores:
   ● External Model: 10/10
   ● Internal Model: 8.5/10
   ● Sounds: 9.5/10
   ● Flight Characteristics (does it fly by the numbers): 9.5/10
   ● Flight Dynamics (does it feel like what it looks like): 9.0/10
   ● Documentation: 9.5/10
   ● Value for Money: 10/10

The Carenado Piper PA-31 'Navajo' is awarded an overall Mutley’s Hangar score of 9.4/10, with an "Highly Recommended" and a Mutley's Hangar Silver Award.

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