Alabeo Piper PA-44 Seminole
The Piper PA-44 is a twin engined aircraft, developed from the Piper Cherokee and used mainly for multi-engine flight training. In keeping with the names of other aircraft by the American company, Piper, it is named after a Native American tribe, the Seminole. The aircraft is powered by two 180HP Lycoming engines. The two engines rotate in opposite directions and this makes the aircraft more controllable in the case of losing one engine. The aircraft has a cruise speed of 155kt, a range of 1000 miles and a service ceiling of 17100 ft. The Piper website describes the aircraft as the best multi-engined trainer available today.
Having spent most of my flight time learning to use X-Plane with the Cessna 172 and the odd sortie with the other supplied aircraft I very much looked forward to using and reviewing the PA-44 Seminole. I have read previous reviews on both Alabeo and Carenado aircraft and expected a good quality product.
Installation and Documentation
Alabeo state the model includes custom sounds, volumetric side view propellor effect, a high quality 3D model and textures and accurately produced flight characteristics.
The technical requirements are:
– Windows XP -7-8 (or higher) or MAC OS 10.8 (or higher) or Linux
– Fully XP11 or XP 10.5x compatible
– Intel i5 (or equivalent) 2.5 GHz – 8GB RAM – 2GB Video card
– 435MB hard disc space
– An internet connection
The download from the Alabeo site was quick and easy and whilst this review is X-Plane 11 based I installed into both XP10 and XP11 as this aircraft is compatible with both. Once the download folder had arrived I moved it across to the Extra Aircraft folder in both versions. In each version of X-plane I was given two aircraft options with one conveniently marked incompatible so that there was only one option to fly. This is a helpful way of avoiding having to try each aircraft to establish which works with the particular version of X-Plane.
The download folder contains two .acf files, one for each version of X-Plane, and if you do not want icons marked “Incompatible” in the aircraft directory the removal of the appropriate .acf file prevents this. I selected the aircraft for flight and once loaded I was asked for the product serial number and once I had entered this I reloaded the aircraft and was ready to go.
The documents folder includes a variety of documents starting with Copyrights and Credits. There are then several PDF documents covering the Autopilot Flight System, Emergency Procedures (Airspeeds, engine failure, air start, engine fire, spin recovery), Normal Procedures (Check List, Preflight, Starting engines, Takeoff, Climb, Descent, Landing and Post Flight), Performance Tables and Quick Reference Tables. These are interesting documents in themselves and their application takes the flight in to an extra level of realism. The final documents are recommended settings PDFs for XP10 and XP11.
I find that, similar to other models, this aircraft would benefit from a small document about the switches, warning lights and controls in the cockpit. A lot of attention has been paid to creating an accurate cockpit and this can be quite daunting for lesser experienced users or those without a PPL. A diagram of the cockpit and its layout would be a great reference for learning to use the aircraft and an indication as to what the lights and warnings mean would enable greater use of all the hard work put in to creating the model.
Basic Flight Experience
Having never flown in an actual PA-44 my comments on realism relate to whether or not the simulation had an authenticity rather than a comment that any sounds or activities are identical to the real thing. The flight experience was totally immersive and enjoyable. For a “pilot” who has restricted himself to learning as much as possible on the Cessna this was a considerable step up. Whilst a twin engined trainer in reality, this model not only makes a good platform for learning about piloting with two engines it is also a great platform for learning how to use X-Plane in more advanced scenarios.
This aircraft is great if you are looking to get in and fly and also gives great scope for more complicated scenarios. The engine sounds create a very realistic atmosphere and the 3D model certainly puts you in the cockpit. Flying is a pleasure both in free flight and in take off and landing. Taxiing is straight forward and easy to do. On the runway the aircraft responds well to the controls and is easy to keep going straight, though I am yet to introduce cross winds into the equation!
The aircraft feels comfortable in the climb and cruising and the realistic sounds do help to focus on the throttle settings. Any turbulence can be felt but the aircraft is generally stable. The aircraft remains responsive enough to encourage a good degree of concentration during the flight but once cruising allows the pilot to take in the surroundings. I found landing challenging, though through no fault of the aircraft, and it is easy to drop speed too much and create a quicker rate of descent than hoped for, but once this is mastered landing is smooth and realistic. Flight controls are good and the introduction of flaps and landing gear make the expected changes to aircraft responsiveness.
Flight in autopilot is affected by turbulence and terrain but the aircraft is stable and smooth. I found it well worth learning to use the autopilot from the PDF supplied in the documents, and X-Plane tutorials, to fly the aircraft in that manner as it gave time to appreciate all of the effects, reflections and shadows that make this a very realistic experience.
The interior of the PA-44 is very realistic and shows great attention to detail. The textures and modelling, whilst not over the top, add to the enjoyment of flying this aircraft with even the patterns on the seat belts being faithfully recreated. The texture and material of the seats looks very good. The interior detail stands up well to comparison to photographs of the real thing with all the dials and buttons correctly positioned. Side windows and catches are replicated accurately. A small menu is positioned at the bottom left of the screen which allows quick movement from one view to another and free camera views are easy to navigate whilst the graphics are very responsive.
Light and shadow move around the cockpit very accurately and reflections off the dials and windows are subtle but effective. The menu at the bottom left also allows the view to move to the back seat so you can experience what you are putting your passengers through! This view shows the panel lighting rheostats mentioned later under systems.
The cockpit has many working buttons and levers and there are few controls that are merely visual representations, that do not interact. The labelling of buttons and lights in the cockpit is legible even close up. The cockpit side window opens by movement of the catch and the sun visors pull down on both sides, revealing legible aircraft information and check lists on the back of the one in front of the pilot. I found the best way to explore the cockpit and its controls was to go to the view menu and then to click on “show instrument click regions”.
This highlighted all moveable controls, buttons and levers in green allowing them to be moved and altered, establishing what they do and where they are. Hovering the mouse over the yokes creates an option to click on them. When this is done the yokes are removed so that the cockpit display is easier to see. This leaves two Alabeo labels on the cockpit panel, where the yoke columns would be and clicking on these quickly restores the yokes.
The small menu at the bottom left gives an option to show window reflections, instrument reflections and static elements and these are set to on as default. Whilst using these within the model may have a bearing on computer performance they do add to the realism and, in my view, are well worth keeping switched on if possible.
The passenger model in the aircraft is well created and moves independently whilst being kept waiting by my aircraft inspection!
When the aircraft is loaded without engines running it has its “remove before flight” markers in place and it is also attached to a push pull mover. This does not function within the model but is a realistic part of the experience. When zoomed in the writing on the propellors is visible. The panels are modelled well showing separate marks and indentations. Details such as brake callipers, fluid lines and screws in the control surfaces are very clear.
Comparing this model with pictures on the Piper Seminole web page it shows that this is a very accurate representation. Detail is very clear and even close up there is no distortion or blurring and the colours and signage remain constant. Looking out of the cockpit along the wings the light and reflections add to the flight experience, the rivets and panels maintain their shape and the propellor effect make this aircraft great to use. External details also include weathering marks around the fuselage at appropriate places and the reflections on the glass and metal work are clear but not overdone.
The lights on the aircraft are also very well modelled and even show bulbs and lenses when viewed close up. Again the small menu allows quick movement around the various views from the wing tips to the tail so navigation is quick and easy and movement with the other external views provided by X-Plane are smooth and clear.
The menu in the lower left also offers the opportunity to open and close the passenger door, luggage door and nose door. The download in XP10 allowed the use of the passenger door and luggage door but disappointingly the XP11 version allowed only use of the passenger door. Neither version seemed to control the use of a nose door and I spent some time trying to make these work. In XP11 the movement of the opening and closing passenger door is smooth and realistic with the reflections and shadows accurately adding to the effect.
The aircraft comes with six different liveries and these can be changed either through the aircraft menu in X-Plane itself or the small menu which appears at the bottom left of the screen. All liveries are produced in realistic colours and lettering. The menu also offers an immediate option to change the volume of the model sounds and field of view during a flight.
The volumetric propellor effect is best appreciated after seeing the aircraft with engines off and the propellor blades at a standstill. Once the engines are started the propellors have real presence either side of the cockpit.
The sound within this aircraft is of high quality and compliments the other modelling. The Alabeo introduction to this aircraft refers to custom sounds and the model certainly lives up to this. The various 3D sounds add to the immersive experience. The engine sounds are very realistic both inside and outside of the aircraft and the bass tones when the engines are working hard create that deep vibration experienced when an aircraft takes off or when it is pulling load. Switches, levers and buttons all have their own sounds to confirm operation and opening the side window in the cockpit changes the engine volume heard inside as would be expected.
Whilst these sounds are similar for all switches and levers I would imagine that is no different in the real thing. The various alarms are capable of catching the pilots attention so no event should go unnoticed. The sound quality is very good during all manoeuvres and interactions drawing you in to the whole event.
The autopilot in this aircraft is the X-Plane 530 based on the Garmin 530. The switch to enable the AP is in the lower middle of the panel. The AP is straight forward to operate and when in use a separate window showing an enlarged AP panel appears on screen making it easier to see the dials and readings. The guidance documentation is relevant and helpful and there are X-Plane tutorials available if the pilot is new to AP or needs more assistance.
The flight planner in the model is also based around the Garmin 530. The system sits in the middle of the control panel and an enlarged version in its own window can be created by clicking the screen.
The aircraft responds well to plans put in to the system. Loading a flight plan may seem a bit of a challenge but there are several tutorials on line which explain how to do it on the Garmin 530. The system can be used in a very straight forward form to fly from one place to another and the model does this very well. This model also allows complicated flight plans with departure and arrival procedures, controlled airspace and METARS information if required.
Once correctly input, and with autopilot switched on, the aircraft flies smoothly and easily moves from one input to the next. Flying in this manner allows the pilot to study the reflections and shadows, the instrumentation and modelling in this aircraft which responds as expected during flight. The aircraft maintains its characteristics when flown in this way as it is a forgiving platform for those new to flight planning yet maintaining enough realism to challenge the pilot, for example, and from experience, if you take time to input a flight plan with the engines running make sure that when it comes to take off you still have enough fuel to complete the flight, as there is no autopilot that can keep an aircraft in the air with no fuel!
I found that the lighting for the instruments and buttons was set to off by default whilst the radios remained illuminated at all times. The switch and panel rheostats are situated at the lower left side of the instrument panel behind the yoke. Its worth adjusting these before it gets too dark as they are not lit themselves and become difficult to find as the light goes, as would the real thing with the settings at zero. Once set to the brightness I wanted the display was very clear. Whilst not being a highly experienced night flier I flew over London in to Heathrow successfully and was able to see all the instruments clearly.
The Piper PA-44 Seminole lives up to the real life aircraft as, not only does it replicate the looks, textures and flight model of the actual aircraft but creates a good training platform for multi-engined flight and the more extensive use of X-Plane allowing for a comprehensive use of other aircraft. The presentation of the aircraft and the special touches, such as the push pull trolley when the aircraft is parked with engines off, really draws the user in to the whole experience.
Alabeo have not only worked on their attention to detail but have also enabled that environment to be accessed quickly and easily. As mentioned a comprehensive document covering the cockpit, instrumentation, what warnings mean and how to deal with them would be great and make the use of such a well modelled aircraft less daunting.
The model is such that simply getting in to fly the aircraft and enjoying the flying experience is possible. It is a steady, undemanding platform that allows the user to enjoy the other pleasures of X-Plane such as the scenery and yet it is not so unforgiving as to be unrealistic and remove the challenge of completing different aircraft operations. The aircraft is stable whether flying manually or by the auto pilot yet it reacts enough to different conditions to make the pilot concentrate. Climbing and cruising are smooth and enjoyable allowing even the less experienced pilot to relax into the scenario.
Adabeo highlight the custom sounds and accurate 3D modelling on their website when promoting this model and these really do make a difference. The sound is very impressive and responds appropriately to the different scenarios, changing appropriately as activities change, and the modelling is accurate to the real thing.
There is something in this model for all users of X-Plane and whilst it will develop the confidence of less experience pilots, allowing access to straight forward multi-engined flight, it will continue to challenge those with more experience. A very good representation of the real thing and a great experience to fly.
More information about the Alabeo Piper PA-44 Seminole can be found at the dedicated Alabeo web and store page. And of course, the Seminole can also be bought via X-Plane.Org and Aerosoft. Mant thanks to Fernando Herrera who offered us this press copy for Andy Clarke for reviewing this X-Plane product.
Feel free to contact me if you’ve got additional questions related to this review. You can reach me via email info@X-Plained.com.
|Add-on:||Payware Alabeo Piper PA-44 Semicole|
|Publisher | Developer:||X-Plane.Org | Alabeo|
|Description:||Realistic rendition of the Piper PA-44 Semicole|
|Software Source / Size:||Download / Approximately 448MB (unzipped)|
|Reviewed by:||Andy Clarke|
|Published:||May 25th 2017|
|Hardware specifications:||- Intel i5 3.5Ghz|
|- AMD Radeon R9 M290X 2048 MB|
|- 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM|
|- Logitech Force 3D Pro|
|Software specifications:||- Sierra (10.12.4)|
|- X-Plane 11.01 Private Use|
|- A variety of freeware and payware airports|