Carenado Seneca V

FSX. Firstly, let me start with this off with a short personal introduction. I’m a long time flight simmer from New Zealand, founder of the forum website and as much as I hate the term, describe myself as a ‘real world’ pilot in these circles. I fly light twins IFR and VFR for my day job, and (sadly, some would say) spend a fair amount of my spare time doing the same thing in FSX! After a few email exchanges with D’Andre recently, I’ve happily been assigned the new Carenado Seneca V as my first virtual aircraft to review here at Air Daily X, and have plenty of opinions to share about their classy new product.

Whilst I haven’t logged time on the Seneca itself, I’ve pax’ed in the a front seat of one, flown similarly configured six seaters from rival manufacturers, and used to love touring the Just Flight Flying Club Seneca model in FS2004. I grabbed myself the Carenado Seneca II when it was released in 2009 and have had it installed on my system for a number of years although to be fair it’s been gathering dust at the back of my virtual hanger as the likes of the Real Air Duke v2, MilViz 310 and Carenado’s own C340 have since stolen my fancy... however I’m stoked (that’s Kiwi for ‘thrilled’) to see a modern full glass cockpit update of an old favourite.

To get us started, a quick history of the aircraft from Piper: inspired originally as a twin variant of the popular Cherokee 6, it first flew in the late 1960’s. The Seneca I was put into production in ’71 powered by counter rotating of Lycoming IO-360s. The II’s started coming off the line from ‘75 onwards, with turbocharged variants of the IO-360 and club seating arrangements amongst other changes. Fast forward horse power and maximum takeoff weight increases, plus a few decades and we arrive at the PA-34-220T Seneca V at Christmas 1996. Now featuring an intercooled Continental TSIO-360-RB and a MCTOW of 4750 lbs, with a useful load between 1100 lbs and 1300 lbs depending on the amount of mod cons have been preinstalled!

Before loading up the sim, I always enjoy a bit of background reading and headed into the Carenado documentation folder to see what .PDF’s got installed from the 257mb zip file download. A Garmin 430 guide for those unfamiliar with it- (I’m not one of these people mind you). This one only has basic flight plan loading capabilities and unfortunately still comes without a functional OBS hold selector.

Another 10 page guide in the folder describes the dual Garmin G600 series avionics included as both a 2D panel and in the VC of each variant of the Seneca V. Those simmers who’ve owned previous Carenado G1000 equipped aircraft won’t struggle with grasps the functionality of this system, as again, it’s only the watered down basic version of the multiple pages and myriad of sub menus but the PDF promises working TAWS (Terrain awareness and warning system)TAS (Traffic Advisory System) and WX (Weather radar) displays. These will be fun to test out- deliberately setting myself up in some dicey situations!

Scans of a genuine flight manual are included for reference speeds, emergency and normal procedures, which I like to print out and have on my desk whilst I get to know the aircraft. A realism and display FSX setting guide can also be found in the same directory, particularly beneficial for new comers to simming who aren’t aware of how much of a difference those fine tuning adjustments can make to enjoyment.

For the purpose of this evaluation, I decided upon a two sector route. Hastings (NZHS) – New Plymouth (NZNP), VFR with clear weather conditions over sparsely populated open Orbx NZNI countryside, to get the best performance on my aging 2011 system. After a refuel, a dusk departure from NZNP to the capital Wellington (NZWN) with a stormy sky and a night time instrument approach will see the aircraft in a different light. It’s midwinter here in the Southern Hemisphere, so for the area that we’re flying in, that means an average daytime temperature of around 15°C and plenty of rain to keep the hillside bush land lush and green.

Carenado tell me at a normal cruise power setting of 30” manifold pressure and 2300 RPM, I can expect to burn 24 US gallons an hour (Or 90L an hour for metric readers). For simplicity’s sake, I’ll fly first the leg direct on the GPS at 13000 feet AMSL to clear the snow capped North Island Central Plateau volcanoes, estimating a time of 48 minutes airborne with a partial headwind. All going to plan, when I dip the tanks at New Plymouth, around 72L should have been burnt or 36L less each side. I’ll set my tanks to 50% full each side and see how accurate these figures are!

After warming the engines and cycling the oil around the CSU governors at Hastings, I backtracked runway 19 for a departure to the south. Full power got us rolling, and I broke ground at 88 knots as per the flight manuals recommendation. Gear went up, and the three greens went out.  

[Note: For format purposes, some images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]

The autopilot bug selection is controlled by the individual heading, course, altitude and vertical speed (HDG, CRS, ALT and VS) softkeys on the left hand side of the primary flight display, and then activated through the autopilot control box squeezed between the upper G430 and comm selector panel. Carenado have made manipulating these bugs easy to do with the 3D scroller knob at the bottom left of the PFD, which momentarily highlights in a light green colour as you mouse over it’s hotspot, to let you know it’s adjustable. The same goes for the two tier knob for cycling through menu pages on the bottom right side of the MFD, with ‘knob right outer’ and ‘knob right inner’ labels flashing up when you first mouse over to make you aware of your selection.

As Hastings is an uncontrolled airport in ‘class G’ airspace, I’d preselected to maintain my runway centreline heading for my departure, and a 1000fpm climb towards 13,000 feet. (In real world NZ, 13,000ft to FL150 is our transition layer, so we’ll just pretend ATC made an exception for us today).

I then bought the throttles back to 32” and the props back to 2500 rpm, the recommended cruise climb to give 110 knots IAS. A right hand turn was commenced to intercept the direct track between the two airfields of 264°M. Switching between VLOC and GPS is done so via selecting the CDI button on the Garmin430’s so don’t waste your time looking for a separate switch hiding on the panel like I did!  

As the autopilot coordinated the turn for me, I jumped to spot view and started smashing the V key- banking aircraft always look more aesthetically appealing to my eye than straight and level ones, and the excellent exterior modelling that Carenado are famous for combined with the 2048px high res textures looked stunning in the late afternoon light.

The continued climb was uneventful, periodically leaning my mixtures and dropping my rate of climb down towards 700fpm to maintain the 110 knot attitude. Once all squared out at top of climb, I bought my powers and pitches back to 30” and 2300rpm as per my printed reference guide and watched the Seneca accelerate to a cruise speed of 134 indicated, with TAS of 162 knots displayed on the G600 at the bottom of the airspeed tape. Checking my G430, I saw a groundspeed of 141 knots, and an ETA of just under 30 minutes to my destination on the western coast of the North Island.

With everything now under control, I jumped around the Carenado present camera angles and started filling up my screenshot folder. The angles pre chosen for the aircraft are impressively positioned and make for some really artistic images of the exterior. I also switched into the back of the cabin for a virtual leg stretch- the quality of the interior was one thing that really showed the old Seneca II’s age- but in the Seneca V, you can raise and lower a waxed wooden rest table, and actually drop blinds individually on each of the four window seats. Even the Real Air Duke doesn’t even let you do that! 

I passed the highest peak of the North Island on my right- Mount Ruapehu, knowing my top of descent point must be nearing. I’d been able to pick up the New Plymouth DME on 114.4 and when it counted down past 50 miles, I tipped the nose forwards and began my descent.

Unexpectedly, the Traffic Advisory System popped up on my MFD, with an option to expand. From eavesdropping on the control frequency that I was meant to be in contact with, I heard an AI Cessna passing my path perpendicular to me a few thousand feet below, and combined with my moving map picking up his transponder, was able to find him in spot view too. Neat!

Runway 23 was active at NZNP, with the south westerly final approach more directly into sunlight than you’d imagine (and a real pain landing here in the evenings if you’ve forgotten sunglasses!). The Seneca likes flying fast, and I had to drop the MP significantly once levelled at 1500 feet to get the airspeed to reach VLE (128 knots). The drag from the gear makes VFE (113 knots) an easy achievement, and from there, small power adjustments and bit of back trim for 90 knots on final approach is a piece of cake.  

A quick backtrack and park at the AvGas pumps allowed me to check the flights stats- a block to block time of just over an hour, 53 minutes in the air and 78 litres of fuel burned which was only 6L more than my calculation and accommodates the engine warm up and taxi time at Hastings.

I returned the tanks to 50% capacity a side, or 142L total and filed my flight plan for the IFR sector down to Wellington, where the cloud base was sitting at 800 feet and a crosswind gusting up to 22 knots would challenge the aircraft more than the easy into wind landing at New Plymouth. The planned route was 153 miles, NP- AKAVI - SWUTH - AVKEX – WN, although I expected ATC would break me off before reaching AVKEX with vectors for the runway 16 ILS. It was 1826 local time before I restarted the engines, with FSX on the verge of loading its dusk texture set.

I was cleared to backtrack and line up runway 23 again and cleared to climb on track up to 10,000 feet for the south bound flight. I chose to use the power settings and V speeds for the rotation and climb that had created a nice stable ride from the first leg, although this time decided to cruise at the more economical 27”, 2300rpm combination, which would yield slightly lower fuel consumption. This time I managed 138 IAS, 158 TAS and 153 GS.

As darkness fell, I started clicking around the panel to set up the cockpit lighting for the remainder of the journey. Whilst a fairly obvious NIGHT / DAY rocker switch is labelled in between the annunciator panels, I couldn’t distinguish any visible difference in lighting flicking between the too. However, down behind the click to remove yoke on the left hand side of the panel are three rotary knobs labelled DIMMING Switch, Panel and Avionics. The first is a simple click to activate and illuminates the panel back plate. The second controls the lighting seen through the other panel switches themselves, such as the autopilot, yaw damper and icing selectors. The avionics knob isn’t clickable, but delving into the AUX menu page of the G600 allows you to change the brightness function from AUTO to MANUEL, then reduce down from the preset 88% to a less contrasting value. I set 35% for a good balance of clarity and night vision.

I also discovered a secondary set of pages on the MAP toggle of the G600 opened up the TAWS, TAS and WX radar screens, with options to change the field of view from an arc in front of the aircraft to a 360 degree ring. The distance values can be increased or decreased to the pilot’s preference, and even overlaid with the magenta GPS flight plan line centred on the top down aircraft position.

70 or so miles from Wellington DME, control steered me off my track with a vector to intercept the ILS as expected. Cloud tops were building ahead of me, and as I commenced my descent, I switched on my ice light and windshield heat for my passage through the moisture. The TAS was flashing up so often on my MFD, with all the other airline traffic heading into the airport, that I elected to just set the TAS screen as my second display.

To maintain speed requirements, I had a steep profile of -900fpm down to a cleared altitude of 3000ft. Once the autopilot levelled off for me, I set 23”/2300rpm to get the airspeed down to 128 knots so I could drop my gear as I intercepted the ILS glideslope at 10 miles from the runway.

I was soon handed over to the tower frequency and cleared inbound, swapping back to the TAWS screen to ensure I was clear of the hilly approach on the PFD. Passing 2500 feet, I disengaged the autopilot and attempted to hand fly the glideslope as I crossed over the northern suburbs, but the gusty wind kept throwing me off the localiser and my drift corrections were either too little or too late. I reengaged APR on the autopilot panel and let it hold nose a good 12° right of the inbound course of 161° to fight the rest of the battle down to DH of 300 feet AMSL where I was lucky enough to receive a lull in the wind and place the Seneca on the centreline- carrying 105 knots over the fence.

It’s not until you’ve flown the Seneca V that the crispness and smoothness of the model makes you realise how much the old Carenado Seneca II has fallen behind the pack in terms of payware light twins. Apart from feeling oversensitive in the yaw axis whilst taxing (perhaps I should try differential power rather than just rudder pedals), I’ve found this to be a beautiful addon and a pleasure to fly. Small details such as the specialised prop textures that have been included for low sunlight and low RPM reflection combinations are really put the crème on the cake so to speak. The custom soundset that’s included really purrs, although I always find the noise levels startling loud switching from VC view to spot view- almost like the interior noises were recorded through a noise cancelling headset... but still, a small inconvenience that reflects my personal preferences more than anything.

By now you will have realised this isn’t the sort of review that just copies and pastes information about the product from its producers website. If you want stats about how many liveries are included or find out about Reality XP integration, you know where to find it :) When I’m looking to buy a new addon, it’s videos on YouTube that guys have recorded for fun on a typical flight and images in screenshot forums that sell me on whether or not it’s worth my dollars. I hope someone out there has picked up a similar sense of enjoyment from this review and gets as much fun out of it as I have!

Talking about performance is subjective, but on mid range Intel Core i5-2400, with 8GB RAM and an ATI Radeon HD 5750, my 30 FPS target was never in jeopardy. Some of the latest aircraft addons get my system stuttering whilst piles of textured polygons load each view change, but I didn’t have any cause to shift+z to see a low framerate readout at any time during my trials flying.

I’ve also read some users reporting unrealistic handling qualities on various forums after the release, but to be honest, if you’re flying the simulator with just a joystick on a desk, or even joystick and pedals, the position of a decimal place in the Carenado coding that determines the roll rate or pitch sensitivity becomes almost redundant when considering factors such as one’s own realism settings, null zones and the fact the Seneca has a big weighted yoke in the real world. In my opinion, the overall feel to flying an aircraft of the Seneca’s power and size has been represented just about as well as it possibly can be within the confines of the FSX framework, and can’t recommend the addon enough for other GA fans looking for the latest and greatest virtual twin engine purchase!

Get your copy of the Carenado PA34 SENECA V today here:

Scenery Used in this review: 

Hastings: Hawkes Bay photoreal, Godzone Subscription Issue 3
New Plymouth:
Wellington: Orbx FTX NZNI

-Andrew Underwood