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Aircraft Review : PA-31 Chieftain 350 HD Series by Alabeo

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Aircraft Review : PA-31 Chieftain 350 HD Series by Alabeo


Only back last year in August 2016 I sampled Carenado's Piper PA-31 Navajo. It didn't take long (about 10 minutes) for the aircraft to become a firm favorite in my hangar and I have flown it constantly ever since. It is just one of those really sweet aircraft that fits your flying like a glove.

So I was pleasantly surprised with the announcement of another variant on the Navajo in the big brother (or sister) the PA-31 Chieftain.


The Chieftain is the stretched version of the Navajo B with more powerful engines and counter-rotating propellers to prevent critical engine handling problems.The fuselage was lengthened by 2 ft 0 in (0.61 m), allowing for up to ten seats in total. Also variants of the Lycoming TIO-540 developing 350 hp (261 kW) were fitted to the Chieftain (this version), with an opposite-rotation LTIO-540 installed on the right-hand wing; MTOW was increased to 7,000 lb (3,175 kg). After certification was achieved for the PA-31-325 in May 1974, and production commenced in the 1975 model year.


In the Navajo review I flew the aircraft from YBBN (Brisbane) to the new YBWW (WellCamp) by Toowoomba, Queensland, and well I thought why not fly the Chieftain on the same route and see how they both fare.




You can see the extra length of the Chieftain, but it is deceiving at first, more noticeable is the bulkier engine housings with their overhang of the rear of the wing.


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Quality wise and design thoroughness you can't tell the two aircraft apart, both excellent. Which one is the Carenado...  the first one, but it doesn't make any difference really.



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.


There are certainly great options. The usual Static elements are again odd. 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.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Menus 1.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Menus 2.jpg


One feature is a really great one in two types of versions. The "Standard" wing version gives you the door and an opening luggage door (but no luggage?)


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Select the "Winglets" tab on the Options menu and you get not only a lovely set of modern winglets, but a change in configuration with a single door door (no luggage door) and two extra seats in the rear with some beautiful teardrop windows to look out of known as the "Commuter" version


There is a nice luggage compartment in the nose as well. Aircraft panel work is excellent, note the very well done screw and rivet work.


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The Navajo had a club seating layout (below), but the Chieftain (above) is totally forward seating. At first glance the seating looks old, but they are actually not, but black leather, and they are the sames seats as well but because of the darker colour they look very different.


Navajo Cabin 1.jpgNavajo Cabin 3.jpg


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The all dial Navajo dark grey panel is on the left, with the brighter cream Chieftain panel on the right, the Yokes are a cream colour as well but the same style. So the panel is totally familiar, but are slightly different in layout.


Obviously the biggest difference on the Chieftain is the included Garmin G500 navigation system like which was included with the Seneca V a few weeks ago, unlike the Seneca V though the system is only installed on the pilot's side of the panel.


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Overhead switch panel is identical on both aircraft as is the pedestal.


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Power switches are left and right down....


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The main power only turns on the Artificial Horizon and Heading rose with Speed and Altitude tapes and bank guide on the left screen. To switch on the avionics and Navigation display the switch is quite hard to find, as it is small and situated lower centre panel.


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On start up I found the G500 screens are dull and very hard to see. This was caused by the Instrument Reflections option, and for the clarity of this review I turned them off. The dullness was the worse in X-Plane11, but they were also still quite dull in X-Plane10 as well.


Instrument Panel

It is a pretty fully equipped instrument panel.


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Pilot's side is of course dominated by the G500 navigation system, with just backup analog dials in Airspeed Indicator, Artificial Horizon (with built in Turn Coordinator) and the Attitude Indicator down the left side, but there is no Vertical Speed Indicator. Also added in is a VOR (2) localizer indicator and ADF pointer. On the Navajo there was a VOR2 pointer, but way over on the right hand side of the panel, but here it is now missing altogether?


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The Co-Pilot gets the full analog suite of instruments. It is a very impressive set of kit with Airspeed Indicator, Artificial Horizon and the Attitude Indicator on the top row, Turn Coordinator, Heading Dial and Vertical Speed Indicators second row.The rest of the right side panel are gauges for pressures in gyro, fuel, oil and cylinder head/oil temperatures, Volt meter, flap selection and indicator. The oxygen supply system is set out below, and it is all almost identical to the Navajo layout.


Centre panel is again identical to the Navajo which 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.


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Equipment stack is very good and again totally identical to the Navajo. 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.


Left side panel is a fuse box, with main power and voltage switches set below.


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Right side panel is just another fuse box.


Lower pedestal is the S-Tec Autopilot, three way trims, fuel panel with emergency fuel shutoff, crossfeed switch and inboard and outboard tank switches.


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You have that same blue overhead light and upper panel lighting which is the same as the Navajo, but the dial lighting here isn't as over saturated as the Navajo version and looks far better.


Flying the Chieftain


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Starting is easy in fuel pumps on and hit the side of the rocker switch for the engine you want. Keeping them running however is another matter again. Welcome to the new world of X-Plane11 and its highly refined engine dynamics. Even in X-Plane10 and for most Carenado/Alabeo aircraft they all seem to idle quite high, and you need to adjust the mixture to get some semblance of "holding the aircraft back, like you do a snarling dog on a leash" Here it is magnified, but you can find some sort of balance between engines running and not running. But you also have to let them warm up now before actually slowing them down to idle. Once done and still with a fast idle then you can fly.


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Another jolly that Austin Meyer has added to X-Plane is front suspension movement under power or braking. So combine a high idle with a pulling at the lease aircraft with constant braking and you get a very nosey bouncy wouncy taxi ride. These items will of course be fine tuned in time (we hope).


The two 350-hp engines over the Navajo's 310-hp gives you more uumph down the runway and you feel that extra power even though I am quite heavy at 6150lbs, but still a quarter under the Max weight of 7045lbs. Rotate is around 110kts...


Once in the air and you don't really notice the difference too much from the Navajo, slightly heavier and slightly faster the Chieftain is, but not too significantly to notice, they feel very much the same aircraft.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 5.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 6.jpg


The Chieftain will climb as well. The Navajo climb rate was 1500fpm, but I had no trouble in achieving 1800fpm and the gear (with excellent sounds) makes a dramatic fold-up into the aircraft.


Cruise speed is I found just under 200knts. noted speeds are 207 knots (383 km/h (238 mph)) econ cruise at 20,000 ft (6,100 m) with a range of 1,011 nmi (1,875 km (1,165 mi)), Max altitude is 26,300 ft (8,015 m)


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Very nice.


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Climb hard and turn, The Chieftain is nice under your command and unlike the Seneca V the engines don't foul the view.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 10.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 11.jpg


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I am a big fan of the Garmin G500 system. It is exactly the same installation as it is in the Seneca V and so you get the same benefits here in like the easy selection of: HDG (Heading) - CRS (Course) - ALT (Altitude) - V/S (Vertical Speed) - BARO (Barometer) and adjustment for each selection via the large knob. Unlike older Carenado/Alabeo aircraft you can't now select different cursor modes, so you always get the green coloured choices as you move your mouse over the knobs, selection is tight as well, and in turbulence it can become a bit of a game just to change your heading?  The font size is also a bit small but it a replica of the original G500, so I wonder how these things passed a FAA test...


ADF and VOR2 pointers are very fine and hard to read (zoom required) but handy on the display, but overall you get a large amount of information on this very well sorted system from Carenado. Navigation display has a great DCL (DeCLutter) and in turns the map rotation is now far smoother and keeps up with the turn.


The G500 also pops-out and can be resized and moved along with the default X-Plane Garmin GNS 530 which is the larger of the two standard gps systems. A neat trick is too use one map mode on the G500 for long distance range viewing and the shorter range distance for more current detail on the G530.


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The S-Tec (Genesys Aerosystems) Forty Five X autopilot is situated behind the pedestal. There is a pop-up from not only the autopilot itself (click to pop-up) but also the A ) menu tab option, although I found the menu tab option a bit "hows your father" in sometimes it worked and in other clicks it didn't? The same in both XP10 and XP11.


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Overall I prefer the older AP version in the Navajo, completely basic and easy to use, this S-Tec had smaller buttons and you had to be very careful in setting the V/S as 10 as it could be 10 or 1. The autopilot situation is shown on the centre panel display. The AP activation switch is also a little twiddly and hard to find even though it is centre panel and right in front of you (yellow arrow)...


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 19.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 18.jpg


I start my descent into WellCamp (YBWW) over Toowoomba. Note the excellent Australian autogen by Chris K (Australian Pro) it is excellent and quite a perfect representation of the city.


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The airport itself is just beyond the city but partly hidden by two hills, and once past I turned southwest to fall into a circuit landing for RWY12. Note the great terrain (in yellow) demonstrated on the navigation display.


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Three postion flaps (Off (0º) - 15º - DN) don't give you much lift if you get the speed under 100knts, and drag is controllable with only a little extra power inputs.


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"Whoa!" as an almost perfect landing is ruined by a last minute sudden gust of wind, it is gusty out here today as the whole flight was with the seatbelt's sign on and a lot of turbulence to make my passengers nervous.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 28.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Outbound 29.jpg


I corrected, but the wrong two wheels hit the ground first, and more worrying murmurs from the rear...  The Navajo was also noted as being very twitchy in the wind as well, and so it feels like a common trait amongst the Navajo Series.


YBWW's main runway is long...  really long at 2870 m long by 45 m wide and I used a lot of it to slow down and to try and not hit the early brakes so I don't start nosy bouncey movement too much.


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It is nice to be back at WellCamp, as the airport is very nicely modeled by fhvanhal.


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Setting up to return to Brisbane gives you a moment to admire the excellent panel, and there is a switch on top of the excellently covered glareshield that does nothing, but you try it anyway.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_YBWW 5.jpg


Return to YBBN

No hanging around I want to get back to Brisbane. So once the doors are closed and the engines started and tuned to idle, I'm "going".


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Funny thing is you need a fast idle to cover the long distance to the end of the runway...


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Inbound 3.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Inbound 4.jpg


My reason's for rushing back to YBBN are valid, as there are storms brewing over the dividing ranges. Storms in Australia are not to be sneezed at or taken lightly, as they are fast moving and very deadly in the mid-afternoons when the cold coastal air hits the inland heat..


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Internal lighting is very good. The panel is the same colourful patterns as the Navajo, so at night they are both very similar, except for the G500 displays.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Lighting 1.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Lighting 6.jpg


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The blue overhead lighting is here there as well, beautiful light in the dark, but the rear door version is missing, and neither does the "No Smoking" sign work. As noted the roof dials are not so over saturated here and looks far for the better for it.


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Rear cabin seating has overhead spot lights, but you can't turn them off? I don't know if this is a Carenado to Alabeo difference, but not being able to switch them off or on is a bit rich.


It is quite dark in the cabin, but very atmospheric. Wing (left) lighting is good, and you have one landing and one taxi light. Red beacon tail light didn't work?


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Over Redcliffe it is time to get ready for landing...  RWY 14 is quite tricky to find, as there are no visible landmark or runway lights to lock on too under VFR rules.


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It is the houses and the far set back location of the runway lights in daylight that make it tricky, but soon I have a bearing.


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Slow and low...  But this time I get it right, but the headwind helps.


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Job done and a just a wrap up of the aircraft to be finished...


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One blank and six liveries are part of the package. All are good and HD quaility. Most liveries have this hard worked and worn chipped paint look that is highly realistic.


Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Livery blank.jpg

Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Livery brown:Cream.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Livery Red:Black stripe.jpg

Alabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Livery Blue_White stripe.jpgAlabeo_PA31_Chieftain_Livery Dk Blue_Gold stripe.jpg

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If you liked the Navajo then the Chieftain is very, very similar, certainly to fly as they are almost identical, but for a little more weight and slightly more speed. If you put both aircraft on the ramp and said pick one, and only one then I would still pick the Navajo, but the problem with that equation is that the Chieftain has more to offer in the G500 avionics, extra seating and the conversion to winglet and those extra two seats...


So overall the Chieftain is the better choice, and the aircraft is far better suited to the flying I really like to do with short distance commuter work and island hopping, and the trip out to WellCamp is perfect for this machine and the role it has to be used in.


The rest is a no brainer. Carenado/Alabeo quality and everything else means you get a great aircraft.




Positives: Great design and that famous Carenado/Alabeo quality, Great sound, versatile aircraft, great to fly but tricky in crosswinds and great avionics and equipment.

Negatives: Not much, but some items like none operating lighting buttons, average or no versatile static element choices and tricky taxiing speeds.


X-Plane Store logo sm.jpg


The PA-31 Chieftain 350 by Alabeo is NOW available! from the X-Plane.Org Store here :

PA31 Chieftain 350


Your Price: $32.95
Special Features
  • Commuter and Standard
  • Part of the HD Series
  • High quality 3D model and textures . 4K textures

Two version of the PA31- Chieftain

High-Definition Aircraft


Alabeo G500 GPS

Volumetric side view prop effect

High quality 3D model and textures.

Blank texture for creating your own designs.

Accurately reproduced flight characteristics

SuperManipulator scroll wheel support

Custom Stereo Sound

Stereo Sound System

Custom PA-31 sounds

Comprehensive documentation

Normal and emergency procedures

Performances table

Carenado G500 documentation



X-Plane 10 fully updated  - X-Plane 11
Windows or MAC OS 10.9 (or higher) or Linux. 64bit Operating System required
2GB+ Video card
Current Version: 1.0 (March 7th 2017)
For WINDOWS users: Please ensure that you have all the Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributables downloaded and installed (click here)

Installation and documents:

Download for the PA31 Chieftain HD Series is 350.60mb 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,references and G500 and Autopilot manuals.






Review by Stephen Dutton
11th March 2017
Copyright©2017: 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 11b13/14 and also used in X-Plane v10.51 and checked with current flight route and details

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

Plugins: Environment Engine by xEnviro US$69.90


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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