So you have decided it is time to expand your flight simulator fleet, probably yet again, if your obsession is strong. Maybe you have mainly flown single engine general aviation aircraft and you could be looking to step up in the world and try something slightly larger. Then again, you could be planning some long distance flying and want the range, reliability and added safety of a twin engine aircraft. Whatever the motivation, of course, the next quandary is, "Now, what am I going to buy?".
Looking around the market only serves to compound the issue as the range is wide and diverse, but something with a little old world charm and yet, with enough technology to ease the workload of flying, is what appeals to you. Deciding to refine your search, you create a list of requirements, and after some further research, you finally decide on the Piper PA-23 'Aztec', a venerable and beautiful aircraft from one of the most renowned aircraft manufacturers in this category. Knowing that Piper has produced some of the most successful twin engine general aviation aircraft, you feel comfortable and assured that your choice is perfect for your needs.
Now to the market and you realise that Alabeo not only have a focus on aircraft with old world charm, but they have just released a Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F. You are in luck, the aircraft you want, from a company which has established itself as one of the leaders in its field.
The Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F 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-C1A, air cooled, six cylinder, horizontally opposed, fuel injected, turbocharged, 250 hp engines and has seating for up to five passengers.
Originally designed in the early 1950s by the Stinson Aircraft Company, the design was inherited by Piper when they purchased the Stinson Division of the Consolidated and Vultee Aircraft Corporation. The prototype first flew on 2 March 1952 and after a redesign of the tail, the Piper PA-23 became known as the 'Apache' and entered production in 1954, becoming Piper's first twin engine aircraft. An upgrade to 250 hp engines in 1958 saw the name changed to 'Aztec' and after an extensive production run of 6,976 aircraft across 17 variants, including two military variants, production culminated in 1981.
The Alabeo Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F 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$34.95, or the equivalent on currency cross rates. The download file size is 364MB and it requires 1.1GB 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.
General Overview. The pedigree of the Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F is immediately evident and it is a perfect passenger aircraft for long distance cruising. Neat and compact, the PA-23 is a nice progression from a single engine aircraft into the twin engine general aviation aircraft category. Its size is not daunting, thus providing a visual reassurance that it is not too much aircraft to handle in flight.
Exterior. The Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F exudes the old world charm consistent with the production era. There is nothing ostentatious about this aircraft, it is simple and functional, displaying a fundamental fit for purpose design philosophy. The elongated, pointed nose provides additional baggage storage space and gives the aircraft a very distinctive, if not slightly aggressive appearance. An additional separate baggage storage compartment is located in the rear section of the fuselage. The twin bladed, Lycoming engines are housed in 'tiger shark' cowlings, a design feature shared with the PA-30 'Twin Comanche' and PA-31 'Navajo', and they certainly give a comforting impression of reliability.
Interior. The interior is a standard passenger configuration for the variant with a cabin layout of four seat passenger seats in a row arrangement. Textured seating, carpet, and padded side panels are typical of the era, and again, this provides a simple and practical environment in which to fly.
Flight Instruments and Systems. The cockpit of the Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F represents the typical layout for Piper aircraft and the production period. You can rest assured that you will not need an electronics engineering or computer engineering degree for this cockpit. The standard analogue flight instruments are typical of the model range and consistent with an aircraft of this category and age, and they are supplemented with the Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit, Century III autopilot flight system, and Stormscope WX-11 weather radar.
Models and Liveries. The Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F is provided in a single model with six individual liveries (a selection only shown below) and two different cockpit panel colours. Each aircraft has a unique aircraft registration number and there is an additional blank texture for aircraft painting enthusiasts. The supplied paint schemes are of a retro style, again, consistent with the production era. Displaying high quality, the surface textures, reflections, and shadings, along with additional scuff marks, scrape effects, dirt, oil, and grease stains, give each aircraft a realistic appearance.
Summary, Issues, and Variations. Alabeo's rendition of the Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F is highly detailed and accurate, the visual quality is excellent, and it provides a faithful representation of the real world aircraft. All elements of the cockpit are clear and easy to read, with various alternative cockpit camera views available to provide more detailed clarity. Any noted visual 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. Any noted issues and variations with cockpit functions and operation were considered minor and / or in the interests of simplifying the function for practical flight simulator use. Specific attention to the manual for the correct operation of the Century III autopilot flight system will ease any frustration or confusion in its operation.
The animations of the primary and secondary control surfaces and other moving elements on Alabeo's Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F are all modelled faithfully and include:
primary control surfaces - ailerons, elevator, and rudder;
secondary control surfaces - flaps;
others - elevator trim tab, cabin doors, baggage compartment doors, cockpit windows, and cockpit window visors; and
various static elements.
The lighting and lighting effects on the PA-23 'Aztec' F are very good and are a realistic representation of the real world aircraft. The engine sounds provide a reasonable representation, if not a somewhat generic, with good stereo separation with view movement in the Virtual Cockpit view and external views.
The general characteristics and performance specifications for the Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F are provided in the table. This is based on data from the official Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F 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.
A specific Test Flight was conducted to test the flight performance of Alabeo's Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F. 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-23 'Aztec' F.
The aircraft was easy to taxi. With flaps set at 0°, aircraft rotation occurred at approximately 65 KIAS and effortlessly lifted off the runway, with a climb out which was consistent with the performance specifications for the aircraft. Even at MTOW, the PA-23 'Aztec' F is reasonably nimble and quickly establishes on the climb to cruise and climbed effortlessly until the aircraft was established at the cruise altitude.
During cruise, a long range power setting was established for cruise, with a manifold pressure setting of 24.0 inHg and an rpm setting of 2200 rpm. This cruise setting produced an average speed of approximately 157 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.
Configured for landing, with full flaps, and trimmed for a descent rate of approximately 500 ft/min, the aircraft's approach speed was approximately 80 KIAS and it touched down at approximately 70 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.
The performance of Alabeo's Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F was very good in flight, displaying the expected general flight characteristics of this aircraft. The aircraft handles beautifully and is a delight to fly. It is responsive to control inputs and also very steady once trimmed for level flight or established on approach. Overall, the aircraft model displays a reasonably accurate rendition of the flight characteristics and performance expected of this type of aircraft.
There are eight primary manuals / documents provided in Adobe Acrobat format (.pdf) for the Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F:
Alabeo GNS 530 Users Guide - this two page document details the operating of the Garmin GNS 530 GPS unit;
Autopilot Operation - this three page document details the operating of the Century III autopilot flight system;
Stormscope - this single page document details the operating of the Stormscope WX-11 weather radar;
Normal Procedures - this five page manual details the procedures for the normal operation of the aircraft;
Emergency Procedures - this six page manual details the emergency procedures for the aircraft;
Performance Tables - this eight page document details the performance tables for the aircraft;
References - this single 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.
On a value for money assessment, the Alabeo Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F is considered very good.
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-23 'Aztec' F and FSX continued to perform smoothly.
The Piper PA-23 'Aztec' F is a beautiful aircraft and displays the Alabeo hallmark traits of detail and accuracy. The ease of handling and the overall performance characteristics of the PA-23 'Aztec' F make this a wonderful aircraft, and one which will provide hours of enjoyable and easy flying.