The weather at Renton Municipal Airport was less than favorable. With blowing wind at 19 knots, heavy rain and limited visibility to 1,500 feet, I knew taking off now was going to be a challenge. In reality, I could either sit on the runway, waiting for the weather to clear, playing with the ashtray and all the click-able knobs, or I could attempt a takeoff and see what Carenado‘s latest model for X-Plane could do in such poor weather conditions. With white knuckles, I took off.
With such a strong crosswind, maximum deflection on the rudder pedals were required to keep this bird on the runway. Forget about maintaining center line, keeping it on the runway was challenging enough. Once airborne, the Piper Saratoga (PA-32R-301), took lightly to the skies, responding abruptly with every gust of wind. I struggled to maintain visual reference outside the window, blurred by the driving rain, but scanned the instruments quickly to maintain climb rate and speed as much as possible.
As I moved the yoke around struggling to keep the aircraft pointed in the general direction of 350 degrees, I learned how forgiving the inputs were. I then realized that I was over controlling the aircraft and just let it settle in to with the wind. The big problem was the driving rain… not only was it obnoxiously loud hitting the metal fuselage and windows, but it was making it difficult to maintain visual reference.
The goal was to fly directly north of Renton to Arlington field. A very short flight, but long enough to get a taste of the Saratoga’s flight dynamics in X-Plane. So, I started flying around rain cells using the weather map on my iPad (Carenado’s model doesn’t include one, but this is A Reality of My Own). The nice thing about dodging rain is that it presents an excellent opportunity to put the Saratoga through its paces and mimic an acrobatic pilot. I am happy to report that it handles quite nicely, predictably, and controlled. It is certainly not a Mooney, but in a high banking turn, a predictable correction to the yoke brings the nose back to level.
The six person cabin is a great place to spend sometime, especially when it is raining outside. The window curtains make you feel like you are visiting grandma’s house and there is that distinct aviation smell that really can’t be confused with that strange smell emanating from grandma. Whether or not the curtains turn you on, Carenado did an excellent job delivering detail inside; the seats are nicely covered in fabric, the ashtrays open and close, the visor contains a quick reference guide, and the door actually opens when you click on the door handle. Imagine that.
More seriously though, passing Everett (KPAE) the weather cleared up and I firewalled the throttles. With Arlington field in site, I made a shallow circle of the field from the south and prepared for landing on runway 11. Unfortunately, the deer were out and force today and they tempted the hunter in me by running across the field on short final. A distraction that would not deter me from a near perfect landing.
However, near perfect it was not. I wasn’t paying attention to speed and stalled the aircraft about 8 feet from the surface. Ouch! That was a hard touch down, but oh well, no one was bleeding. Besides, after a flight through horrendous rain storms around Seattle, it was a good idea to make sure the passengers knew they were safely on the ground.
In all seriousness folks, Carenado‘s Piper Saratoga for X-Plane 9 is a true gem. It belongs in your virtual hanger along side their exquisite Mooney M20J. The level of detail, both internally and externally, sets a new standard for realism. The flight dynamics are not scary and mimic the real thing (based on one flight in a real Saratoga). The only improvement for Carenado is to somehow bring that unique aviation smell to our desktops.
PS… here is one more exterior detail shot… checkout them rivets! The cool thing is that you watch the black antenna shake with aircraft movement! Sweet!