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Aircraft Review - PA31 Navajo HD Series from Carenado

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Aircraft Review - PA31 Navajo HD Series from Carenado


I am flying directly west from Brisbane, Queensland towards the great dividing ranges that protects the coastal areas from the red dirt interior of Australia. My transport is the latest from Carenado in the PA-31 Navajo. A small Twin-Engined cargo or 5 to 7 passenger feeder aircraft from the late sixties.


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The dividing range is not very high, more a line on a beach than the tall high mountains like the Rockies or the Alps. So six thousand feet is more than high enough to clear them easily. But you feel comforted up here, cocooned in your own world, it is a smoothed out world that is created by the billowing clouds around you.  The PA-31 purrs along with those two 310 hp (231 kW) Lycoming TIO-540-A turbocharged engines in their "tiger shark" cowlings which are pulling you effortlessly through the air at just under 200knts.


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The Navajo's cockpit is a nice place to be, no glass or G1000 thingamajig's here, just dials and gauges like in the olden days.

I have a reason to be going west out here, well two actually. One is a group of investors on board that want to...  well invest money. The other is my destination, in an interesting airport called Wellcamp Airport.


Wellcamp Airport has an interesting history, it is 145km west of Brisbane and is just situated 15km outside of Toowoomba on the Darling Downs. The airport is brand new, venture more than a service by a wealthy family in the Wagners that made a fortune in construction products, quarries and concreting. Toowoomba already has an airport, but mostly in a regional domestic capacity and the Wagner's wanted a bigger one, Toowoomba Council said "no" and so they built their own, a huge one right in the middle of nowhere really and called it Brisbane West!... cheeky buggers.


Point is no one today build's their own airports on this scale, is it a brave statement on the future or a folly of rich people doing things because other people see more sense in the idea than they do. The great thing of going around government bureaucracy and 100 million dollars is that things can get done very quickly in the way that construction was started in April 2013, and everything was completed by October 2014 with the first regular Qantas service being on the 17th November 2014 in connecting with Sydney Airport.


And here is Wellcamp on my starboard wing thanks to fhvanhal and his excellent "YBWW Brisbane West Wellcamp" scenery (link is at the bottom of the review).


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YBWW Wellcamp is hard to find and line up to the 12/30 single runway in this open landscape, so you have to do a little homework before you leave.


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But the runway once found is huge...  a mammoth 2870 m long by 45 m wide, and easily capable of handling aircraft to Boeing 747 size. The airport is rated at Code E, and has already been visited by a Cathay Pacific B748F freighter. To save an eon of time taxiing I floated a little down the runway before settling down and taxiing to the modern terminal area to unload my greedy investors. 


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I have wait a while before taking them back to Brisbane, so let us have a look at the Navajo.


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Like a bewitched teenager it was lust at first sight with the Navajo. A beautiful aircraft created out of the smaller PA-31 Twin Comanche and an early relative of the PA-31-350 Chieftain, PA-31T1 Cheyenne and the PA-31P-350 Mojave.  The aircraft first flew on the 30th September 1964 and deliveries started in March 1967, production by Piper ran till 1984 and altogether 3942 Navajo's were built... and many if most are still flying.


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You would think that design and high quality construction had peaked a few years ago on Carenado aircraft, but they just keep on pushing the boundaries higher with every release. Highlights are many, but those propeller spinners are excellent, engine internals peak out of the tiger shark cowlings above and below the wing through the air vents. Tie-downs, antennas and all sorts of fuselage detailing is very good. Engine vents and wing light assembly is sublime as is the small metal airflow lip on the wing/engine join. All screws and riveting is par-excellence and note the one and only wiper for the pilot.


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Undercarriage assemblies are almost perfection, and they all come with great realistic animation when moving. Note the great glass work in the landing taxi lights (wing light is excellent as well) and all the glass work and reflections on the fuselage. You can almost touch the realism of the paintwork....  it is all so good...  great.



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Carenado provide you with three tabbed menus on the left lower screen. A ) is for the pop-up Autopilot panel.  B ) Is the standard Carenado views, Field of View and Volume panel. And C ) is the Options panel.


Options gives you Window and Instrument reflections, passenger, luggage and nose door animations. Static elements finally you can change the livery on the bottom of the panel.


All are certainly great options. but we don't have the old Carenado features of luggage in the front compartment and in the large rear cargo area, and you really miss them here as the areas feel very empty. Static elements are odd as well. You can have your wheel chocks but only with the aircraft hand puller on the nose? What if you just want to chock the aircraft until you fly again.  No engine inlet or tags either but you do get wing cones.


We will look at pop-up autopilot when we are flying again.




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Quality cabin is luxury defined. Four seats in a club layout with spot overhead lighting. The rear cargo entrance area does feel a little large and empty with the cargo door open as well, so overall you feel you are missing a few seats or one on the right rear...


Lovely wooden paneling behind the pilots gives the aircraft an expensive feel, overall the internal fit-out is excellent with excellent leather and deep wool pile carpets.




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Power off and the panel looks dark but highly detailed, instrument reflections are superb. Overhead is a molded roof with set in switchgear and three dials.


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Power on and the whole feel and character of the cockpit changes. Two high panel set red down-lights cast a colourful glow over the instruments. On the roof the two fuel gauges are angled lit as is the amp gauge internally. Highlights are the two over-head blue lighting units with one in the cockpit and one over the entrance door. The bulbs are internally beautifully recreated and when switched on they both cast a blue glow over each area.


Panel and Instruments


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The instrument layout on the Navajo is a little haphazard and can be confusing if you swap over piloting positions. Yes both stations have the standard six layout instruments. but even these are not set out in the same order in both areas.


Airspeed Indicator and the Attitude Indicator are both in the same position top left and right with the Turn Coordinator and Vertical Speed Indicators set directly below. But the Artificial Horizon and Heading Dials are different instruments with the pilot's set centre of the panel and the co-pilot's set more correctly in the standard six layout. The co-pilots Artificial Horizon is adjustable but the pilot's is not. The pilot's Heading Dial has a built in Course Deviation Bar (CDI) and can be set to the course angle and heading change knob. but the co-pilot's only has a rotary heading adjustment.  And that is the commonality between the panels.


On the pilot's side there are also instruments for radar height, localizer indicator and ADF pointer. There is a very nice EDM 760 digital readout and an analogue clock.


On the co-pilot's panel besides the standard six you get only one instrument in the VOR/ADF pointers. Very nice but in the wrong place for me as I use the VOR/ADF pointers a lot for airport or runway alignment, and being right over the other side of the aircraft's panel for me makes it useless...  unless I fly in the right hand seat.


The rest of the right side panel are gauges for pressures in gyro, fuel, oil and cylinder head/oil temperatures. Oxygen supply is set out below.


Centre panel has at the top a very nice set of annunciators and below are four dials that covers both engines, Manifold Pressure, RPM, EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) and engine fuel flow.


Equipment stack is very good. Standard issue Garmin 347 audio panel is top left with the X-Plane Garmin GN350 GPS system below. Then there are a set of three Bendix/King units in one KR87 TSO ADF unit that is hard to adjust, and two KR 64 VOR/DME speed and range sets.


Right stack includes a Bendix/King KX 165 TSO Comm/Nav (VOR2) tuner and a Garmin GTX 320 transponder. The weather radar is a Bendix/King and comes with a manual that notes you can adjust the range and radar angle, but I couldn't do any adjustments accept to turn it on, test and adjust the brightness.


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Lower panel switchgear is minimal except for the landing gear lever and position display as most switchgear items are on the roof. The wiper switch is great with a three way action in park (which is actually intermittent) slow and fast. Side panels are excellent with nice fuse panels, there is (Goodrich) Prop-Ice amp gauge that works when you turn on the de-icing...  a nice touch.


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Centre pedestal is excellent. All twin-engine levers are well done as are the three trim wheels and knob, all have great position marks that are easily noted. Built in Autopilot is mostly use with the pop-up, but the pedestal panel is not too hard to use either if you want to. The "Cowl Flap" switches are low down (one each under the engines), but the position indicators are great to use  


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The roof rocker switchgear is great. Upper panel has, ground fan, seat and no smoking switches. left panel has lighting switches and right panel has pitot/windshield heating and anti-ice switches with the main Amp gauge central.


Lower left are four magneto switches and engine left/right starter switch. Lower right are two left/right fuel pump switches and the Hobbs meter.


Center lower are the two fuel tank gauges and four rotary knobs for the panel and overhead lighting. A note is that at night the switch gear is mostly not illuminated and can be hard to use, the in built X-Plane torch feature is the only way to use them...


Flying the Navajo


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My investors are back and so it is time to load them up and head back to Brissy...  Sorry Brisbane.  Putting the mixture levers right forward and hitting the start switch does not fire up the engine?  You have to give each engine a little bit of throttle (each engine separately) before it will catch and fire and only when they have a bit of heat in them can you back them down to idle and the volumetric side view prop effect3 feature is visible as well. Open the small window and the engine noise powers into the cabin. Carenado sounds are really first rate and Carenado have done a completely new sound architecture on the PA-31, it as 360º movement will give you a dynamic range and totally realistic sound, internally and externally, and they are noted as HQ digital stereo sounds that are recorded directly from the real Navajo...  they sound about right.


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The Navajo idle taxiing speed is great to perfect as well, a little extra throttle to get you moving and then back to idle will give you the right speed.

It is bye, bye Wellcamp and fhvanhal has certainly done a great job. There is a few far too many animated vehicles though, and enough police cars to fill out the Blues Brothers movie, but otherwise it is excellent scenery.


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The sound change from idle to full power is very, very good, but save (your best takeoff) and do a replay of your takeoff roll and watch the excellent undercarriage animation flexibility, it does show on how far X-Plane in sheer detail has really come...  watch the wheel struts as they absorb the bumps on the runway and as the aircraft gains its lift with the airflow, just amazing.


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Those Lycoming TIO-540-A 310 hp (231 kW) engines are really powerful and you need to bring them in gradually and smoothly, building more and more speed with the slow forward throttle movement, rotation is around 110knts and the climb rate is officially 1,445 ft/min, you can easily keep it around 1,200 ft/min as you climb away and hold speed. 


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Turn coordination is great, you bank with ease and with total control...  this is a nice aircraft to fly manually. Which way do I go to Brissy?  "Oh the pointers are over there right on the other side of the panel!"


Two notes though. The Navajo can be a bit of a handful even in a bit of a crosswind and more so on the runway on taking off or landing, so you have to have your wit's about you if you are above a blowing 5knts. Another was I had a few flicks of the aircraft flickering quickly, I am running for the first time here 10.50 in the RC2 setting, so It could be that, but I don't get these flicks with other aircraft in the same settings and the weather is set at calm?


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Range for this Navajo is 1,011nmi (1,875 km (1,165 mi)) and the ceiling is a mighty 26,300 ft (8,015 m). Top speed is 227 knts (420 km/h (260 mph)) at 15,000 ft (4,600 m) and the Cruise speed is around 207 knts (383 km/h (238 mph)) with an econ cruise is best at 20,000 ft (6,100 m). Here I was just under the standard 200knt zone at 7,000ft and it felt quite right.


Note those lovely spinners!, look great in flight.


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In the air you get a great look at those under engine vents, note the detailed internals.


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The drop down blinds have built in light reflection that looks authentic with the roof lighting... nice touch.


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The sight of Moreton Bay and lots of water means I am over Brissy. So a heading north over Mt Cootha (those television station antenna's are seen from all over the city) is required as I am using the smaller regional cross runway of 16/32 at YBBN.


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You have to release the ALT (Altitude) hold before you can descend, I tried to hit the DN button for ages (idiot) before I caught on.


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A final turn over Redcliffe set me up for the approach to RWY16. I found the flaps were best to control the final descent speed into the final approach, as this aircraft can go in too fast unless you do. You can easily fly over the boundary line at 100kts, but your speed aim is more 85kts for a more controlled landing, stall speed is 63kts so you don't have too much room for error.


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That landing speed is crucial as you don't have any reverse thrust, so slowing down requires a bit of space before touching the brakes.


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And like noted the PA-31 can be twitchy with a bit of wind from any direction.  As my investors piled into a waiting limo for the ride back to the city, I gave myself a little bit of a smile...  as I was certainly the one who got the best deal of the day...  The Navajo!


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Lighting is controlled by those four knobs on the roof panel and the two blue (one cockpit and one left over the door in the cabin) overhead units.


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Highly adjustable (for a GA) you can easily find the nice environment for night flying. Overhead Switchgear however is as noted hard to find in the dark...


I found a sweet spot for landing in using the overhead blue lighting and a little glow from the instruments to be perfect. 


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Cabin has four individual seat spot lights... very nice.


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But you need them all out and just the over door blue light on for landing or for taking off in the dark.


Externally you have a landing and taxi light on the front wheel strut, and a wing light on the starboard side. The navigation lights and both strobe and position lights (both selectable) and the position lights work very well in the approach and on the ground. The high tail beacon just stays on all the time, and the white spinners do glow a little in the dark?


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The lighting spread on approach or on the ground is very good...


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One blank and six liveries are provided...  One mustard with yellow, red and black stripes, then five white base liveries with Blue Stripes, Blue/Gold, Red and Stripes, Blue/Gold Stripes and Green Stripes. All are 4k HD high-quality (4096 x 4096) 350 pixel / meter texture liveries...


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I can easily be bias here with the Carenado PA-31 Navajo, as it easily went straight on to my active flight-line along side of my beloved Bonanza F33A, Caravan C208B, Beech B1900D and CT206H Stationair, and that is against an already stiff competition in the twin-engined category with the C404 Titan coming to mind...  and it is cheaper as well, only mostly by US$2.50 but still cheaper.


So I quickly loved the aircraft, and it is totally great from the start...  but it is not completely absolutely perfect.


The most glaring omission is there are no rain or fog effects? These are staple Carenado features now, and the PA-31 would be great with that single wiper thrashing through a storm filled night searching for a runway. The other things are purely cosmetic, the empty spaces could be filled with another Carenado staple in luggage and it does feel a bit too empty at the rear. No tiger shark" cowling covers or tags?  And is the weather radar correct and is the manual wrong, or vice-versa and I will just have to fly that right seat to find my way home with the placement of the VOR and ADF pointers (there is a ADF on the left side panel but not together to line up a runway).


The Navajo is tricky to fly in winds, but the power and lovely flying feel is excellent, in quality it is above and beyond in detail and it is another if slight step towards to total nirvana. Sounds are very good as well.


So the Carenado PA-31 Navajo ticks every box, in almost every area that you would want... even the value for money one. It is that good, even great and certainly a far, far better investment than an airport west of Toowoomba in the middle of nowhere.



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The PA31 Navajo HD Series from Carenado is NOW available! from the X-Plane.Org Store here :


PA-31 Navajo HD Series


Your Price: $32.95
Special Features
  • All-new sound architecture
  • Volumetric side view prop effect3
  • X-Plane G530 installed
  • Original Navajo autopilot installed
  • Default X-Plane GNS530 installed
  • HD quality textures (4096 x 4096)
  • 350 pixels / meter textures
  • Custom audio plugins with extra effects for added realism
  • 3D gauges
  • Original HQ digital stereo sounds recorded directly from the real aircraft
  • Customizable panel for controlling window transparency, instrument reflections and static elements such as wheel chocks and turbine inlet/exhaust covers.
  • Realistic behavior compared to the real airplane. Realistic weight and balance. Tested by real pilots.
  • Realistic 3D night lights effects on panel and cockpit.
  • Individual passenger 3D reading lights and numerous HDR lighting effects.
  • Dynamic loading/unloading of 3D parts and plugin logic for FPS optimization.




Windows 7+ (64 bit) or MAC OS 10.8 (or higher) or Linux - 64bit Operating System
X-Plane10.40 + (any edition) - 64bit mode
3 GHz processor - 8GB RAM - 1Gb+ VRAM - 2Gb VRAM Recommended
Windows users: Please ensure that you have all the Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributables downloaded and installed.
Current version: 1.1 (last updated June 24th 2016)

Installation and documents:

Download for the PA31 Navajo HD Series is 394mb and the unzipped file is deposited in the "General Aviation" X-Plane folder at 440.60mb.

Key authorisation and a restart is required.


There is Normal and Emergency procedures (checklists), excellent sets of performance tables and weather radar manual.


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Review by Stephen Dutton
26th August 2016
Copyright©2016: X-PlaneReviews

Review System Specifications:

Computer System: Windows  - Intel Core i7 6700K CPU 4.00GHz / 64bit - 16 Gb single 1067 Mhz DDR4 2133 - GeForce GTX 980/SSE2 - Samsung Evo 512gb SSD 

Software:   - Windows 10 - X-Plane 10 Global ver 10.45 and also used in X-Plane v10.50RC

Addons: Saitek x52 Pro system Joystick and Throttle : Sound - Bose  Soundlink Mini


Scenery or Aircraft

- YBWW - Brisbane West Wellcamp 1.1 By fhvanhal (X-Plane.Org) - Free

- YBBN - Brisbane Airport 1.0 by tgd - (X-Plane.Org) - Free


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