There’s a new twin engine prop aircraft available in the Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace and it’s Carenado’s Piper PA-44 Seminole! This easy to fly trainer became popular in the 1970’s and 80’s and its now available for Flight Simulator fans to fly around as well. Let’s have a look!
A bit of history
The Piper PA-44 was designed from the outset with safety in mind owing to the increasing number of twin engine related accidents as general aviation expanded in the middle part of the 20th century. The aircraft was designed to be a trainer although its benign handling characteristics lead to it becoming popular among those looking for a twin engine type for longer range cruises and for those regularly flying over water or mountains.
Among the PA-44’s safety features were the installation of two 180 hp Lycoming O-360-E1A6 engines. Each engine is counter rotating to the other which gives the aircraft remarkable stability and ensures that no one engine is considered the “good engine” in the event of a engine failure.
Piper’s PA-44 started production in 1976 and nearly 1,000 of them have been built up to present day.
The version that Carenado has put together for Flight Simulator is a pre-glass cockpit and features more traditional avionics with a GNS 530 and steam gauges.
Here’s the highlighted features from the store description:
- Default GNS530
- Custom S-TEC 55 autopilot
- Default KX165 NAV2/COM2
- Default KR87 ADF
- Custom BK KN64 DME
- Default G330 transponder
- Engine and wind sound effects when opening doors and windows
- Original HQ digital stereo sounds recorded directly from the real aircraft (engine, knobs, switches and different elements)
- Realistic flight dynamics compared to the real airplane
- Realistic weight and balance
- Tested by several pilots for maximum accuracy
- Physically Based Rendering (PBR) materials and textures
- PBR materials authored with industry-standard software used by the film and gaming industries
- Tablet interface for controlling static elements, pilots, opening doors, etc; and starting options such as cold and dark and ready to taxi
I once again have to applaud Carenado for making a superb looking representation of the PA-44 in Microsoft Flight Simulator. From nearly every angle, the PA-44 is superbly modeled and textured. It features all of the usual high-end graphical features that you’d expect from both Carenado and from Microsoft Flight Simulator.
High resolution textures stand up under close inspection and both that and the texture work including PBR and bump mapping really look incredible. There’s a fusion between the texture work and 3D model that really come together well here. I was sold on how good this looked when I noticed subtle bumps and divots on the bottom of the aircraft together with the appropriate dirt marks. It’s very convincing of a well maintained but also well used PA-44.
The only weak area reveals itself on close inspection and that’s on some of the lights and particularly the landing light. The glass effect is taken from a reference photo and so rather than modeling the light itself you have a texture where the light housing would be. It’s good enough that most of the time you’ll never see it but if you get up and close with it you’ll see the original photo and even the hangar it was parked near reflected in it.
This is a rare miss on what is otherwise an excellent exterior.
Go into the cockpit and quality stays just as high as with the exterior. There’s appropriate levels of dirt and scratches throughout high use areas of the cockpit continuing that well used but well maintained look.
The gauges are detailed and hold up under close inspection. They are also easily read while zoomed out.
There are tons of little details in the cockpit too. From the scratch marks to the sun visors which, when folded down, reveal a fuel and power chart for the aircraft’s engines as well as takeoff and landing checklists.
It doesn’t hurt that the PA-44 is quite a slick looking aircraft on its own. It’s far more traditional in appearance compared to the much newer DA62 twin that you can compare it to in the standard Microsoft Flight Simulator aircraft list. That said, I think that also part of the charm especially if you like your aircraft history.
Plenty of sounds
Another area where this aircraft impresses is in the sounds that Carenado has included. While taxiing you can hear the aircraft trundling along the taxiway with bumps and occasional deviations in the aircraft all being registered by the sound engine. Parts of the interior squeak subtly while taxiing over those bumps as well as during quicker rolls and turns in the air.
Take the aircraft to the sky and the reassuring roar of the engines and retraction of the gear and flaps all hold up extremely well. It’s satisfying to hear the gear motors come on and the gear to retract with a satisfying thunk. The same thing happens on landing.
Exterior sounds are good although there’s a mid-range frequency that sounds like it’s trying to be a background wind noise that I found somewhat irritating. It definitely feels out of place from the rest of the sound design and is an exception to an otherwise excellent set of sounds for the PA-44.
The PA-44 Seminole comes with five available liveries.
The stable cruiser
Carenado’s PA-44 in Microsoft Flight Simulator is a very stable and easy aircraft to fly. The AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) has a great aircraft fact sheet on the PA-44 which includes the aircraft’s history and some discussion of its flight characteristics. This one line, in particular, helped me to understand the aircraft’s character:
Seminoles continue to be one of the tamest, friendliest light twins ever built.AOPA.org fact sheet
Carenado and Microsoft Flight Simulator’s take on this type seems to match the description from the AOPA.
Flying the PA-44 under normal flight circumstances is easy. Although equipped with an autopilot, in good conditions this aircraft can be easily hand flown on its own. The counter rotating propellers play a big role here in ensuring that the aircraft flies stably. Reduce power on one of the engines and the aircraft does yaw a considerable amount, however, with appropriate rudder technique it’s easily controllable.
Carenado has taken some flak in the past with their aircraft in other simulators for being too easy to fly and having too much of an on rails experience. There is a bit of that here, however, Flight Simulator’s more nuanced flight model (than FSX) does come into play and things like weather effects such as turbulence near mountains and strong cross winds provide plenty of challenge. There’s very little asymmetric yaw in rolls and turns and I’m not sure if that’s a function of the aircraft’s design or a limitation of the flight model. Carenado says that the aircraft’s characteristics were tested by several pilots so it may just feel that good.
Stall’s in the PA-44 are easily managed and one engine off stalls will quickly result in the aircraft tumbling left or right depending on the engine that’s out. It’s easily recovered with a small amount of altitude loss. The experience doesn’t feel like it’s on rails in my opinion being just dynamic enough to feel like a real airplane – just one with few, if any vices.
Systems and features
Carenado of the past has sometimes been accused of being light on systems modeling and features. Although there are some questions about fuel burn rates on the forums right now, generally speaking, every feature and system I could test in the aircraft seemed to work. There’s no deep electrical model where you can pop a breaker in and out and watch the systems fail realistically but then again we haven’t really seen that kind of thing with MSFS yet anyways. There’s still certainly enough to fly and operate the aircraft as you would normally and, for me, that’s enough.
Carenado once again has their tablet system on hand that offers some nice extras. From here you can open the doors and windows, add an external power supply unit, and add and remove safety equipment and pylons. You can also use the control here to set the status of your aircraft. Ready for taxi? Ready for takeoff? Cold and dark. No problem.
Also on the tablet is a start-up, takeoff and landing checklist. The list is a nice to have but its not nearly as good as the interactive checklist that are part of the Asobo aircraft list. I don’t know if that system is not available to Carenado as a third-party developer, but I really wish that they had added it. Their checklist was also not quite detailed enough for me to do a cold and dark and I had to seek out information online to do that on my own.
There are some other nice touches around the cockpit. The doors open, the windows open, and nearly every switch is operable. The few that aren’t you can easily forgive as they are not especially relevant to the flight sim experience.
The PA-44 doesn’t have anti-icing equipment which posed a problem on a couple of my flights recently. With the colder weather in North America I ran into icing situations a couple of times with me being able to get the aircraft down and out of the situation in one case and with the aircraft spinning out of control in the other. That does add to the challenge while flying in colder climates.
As this review is coming after the review, I did of the Carenado M20R, I do have to provide an overview and update on some ongoing issues. The PA-44 itself has some problems related to the latest updates from Asobo Studios. Opening the windows and folding down the blinds can cause an immediate crash to desktop and the issues seem to have gotten worse because of the latest update.
Carenado seems to have done their best to put together a solid release but Flight Simulator right now is seemingly a moving target. Their M20R, which I gave high marks to, has also suffered from crash to desktop issues and features not working the way they should after major updates. This seems to be a struggle at the moment but hopefully one that is limited in time. Although it’s definitely an issue, it appears at this point that Carenado are not really to blame.
I really like the PA-44 by Carenado. The issues with Microsoft Flight Simulator from version to version aside, this is a solid release with a lot to like and a lot of nice details ranging from visuals, sound and systems.
Carenado’s pop-up tablet system offers an easy way to manage aircraft peripheral systems and it works well. The checklists for start-up, takeoff and landing are adequate but only just and they pale in comparison to Asobo’s interactive system.
At $29.99 USD in the Microsoft Flight Simulator Marketplace, the aircraft does command something of a premium for GA aircraft, however, that is pretty typical of well modeled types across multiple flight sim platforms and I think Carenado has offered just enough detail across all categories to justify the price.
The PA-44 is a great cruiser and a good teacher for basic twin engine operation. While I didn’t find controlling the two engines to be all that challenging in this aircraft, that is generally the point of something like the PA-44 which was designed to be easy to fly and a good trainer. It’s fast enough to be a decent tourer and agile enough that you can easily circle around and check out that landmark before moving on if you want.
If you’re looking for a good cruiser of a twin engine with steam gauges, autopilot and an older style GPS system, the PA-44 should fit the bill nicely! It doesn’t hurt that it’s so beautiful both inside and out.
No Stormbirds review is complete without ample screenshots. Enjoy these 51 screenshots detailing the PA-44 Seminole from Carenado inside and out!