FLIGHTCHECK

Pilatus PC12 NG

Latest version of single-pilot PT6A-67-powered bestseller features Honeywell Apex avionics in big iron flightdeck.

By Peter Berendsen
ATP/CFII. Boeing 747, MD11


Pilatus PC12 NG is equally at home flying from grass strips or operating from big city airports.

There is no need for Pilatus to establish a market niche for the PC12. Since 1994, this fast single-engine turboprop with a pressurized cabin and seats for up to 9 passengers has been selling successfully to operators worldwide who need to get to remote, short, often unpaved runways with speed and economy. Pilatus Aircraft, a Swiss company founded in 1939, is well established in military turboprop trainers and STOL aircraft such as the PC6 Porter.

The company has sold more than 760 PC12s to private companies and government operators around the world-including the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Two thirds of PC12s operate in North America. Certification for single-pilot IFR operations and single-engine economy, paired with cabin space and cruise performance similar to those of a King Air, have made this aircraft popular with corporations, charter operators and even fractionals.

The PC12 is a great aircraft for getting to that sunny Bahamas resort from the wintry northeast US in a matter of hours, with no transfers involved. Of course, you have to get over the fact that the PC12 has only one engine-the tried and proven Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6.

Pilatus has a lot of literature and statistics to prove that this is not really an issue-but, as we all know, the single/twin-engine discussion will probably never end. Beyond statistics and flight performance, the discussion almost resembles a question of belief.

Walkaround

When you approach the PC12 on the ramp, you certainly forget that it is a single-engine aircraft. It sits tall and high, and looks solidly built-indeed, many business jets appear smaller. I visited Pilatus Aircraft in Stans, Switzerland recently, to be one of the first to fly the new PC12 NG after its Mar 23 FAA/JAA certification.

PC12NG features an ergonomically pleasing workspace. Four large 10.4-inch flat panel LCD displays are arranged in a T-shape, with a primary flight display (PFD) each for pilot and copilot and, between them, an upper and lower multifunction display (MFD).

Pilatus Sales and Marketing Mgr Daniel Kunz and Production Test Pilot Michael Alb were awaiting me at the Pilatus factory, which is located about an hour by train south of Zurich on the small joint-use military/civil airport of Stans-Buochs.

As Kunz was giving me a tour of the production facilities, a customer called, wishing to push his PC12 NG delivery forward. It turned out that Kunz could not really accommodate him, since every one of the 180 PC12 NG aircraft that Pilatus can manufacture in the next 2 years is sold, and the next open delivery slots are only available in 2010.

The Swiss do their manufacturing in a very traditional way-the happy result being strong aircraft built to exacting standards. All parts are milled from solid aluminum blocks at Stans and shipped to a plant in Portugal for fuselage and wing riveting.

The empty fuselage and wings are then trucked back to Switzerland, where the wings are joined and all final assembly takes place. There is almost no fluctuation in the workforce, with workers staying for their entire career with Pilatus-some are even second-generation plant workers. Stans seems a good birthplace for a solid aircraft, with the beautiful Swiss mountains offering alpine skiing and hiking and so doing their part to keep the workforce happy.

Alb invited me into the cockpit of HB-FVC, PC12 NG s/n 1001. (The new PC12s have serial numbers commencing at 1001.) After a few months as a company demonstrator, this aircraft, painted in silver and black, is destined for a private customer. It has a comfortable executive interior with white leather seats.

Avionics systems

Before our flight the following morning Alb wanted to get me acquainted with the new Honeywell Primus Apex flightdeck. Honeywell designed the Primus Apex glass cockpit-based on Primus Epic architecture for executive and regional jets-for turboprops such as the PC12 NG.

In recent years I'd had the opportunity to fly the PlaneView version of Primus Epic on the Gulfstream G450, and the EASy version on Dassault's Falcon 900EX. As a result, I was looking forward to see how this very advanced flightdeck would help pilots in a single-engine turboprop setting.

Just like Gulfstream and Dassault, Pilatus has joined with Honeywell and BMW DesignworksUSA to create a workspace that is well thought out ergonomically and made for the needs of the pilot. Four large 10.4-inch flat panel LCD displays are arranged in a T-shape, with a primary flight display (PFD) each for pilot and copilot and, between them, an upper and lower multifunction display (MFD).

Berendsen (L) and Pilatus Production Test Pilot Michael Alb review the flight route over the Swiss mountains at the Pilatus flight test center.

Since the PC12 NG is certified for single-pilot operations, the right (copilot) PFD is an option, but Pilatus says no customer has yet ordered the aircraft without it. Together with the various switching and tuning panels, this flightdeck offers a density and depth of information that are hard to find in other aircraft in this class.

Not only can the PC12 NG operate IFR at jet cruising levels between major airports up to 1500 nm apart-its takeoff and landing performance, coupled with impressive cruise performance, mean that it can also fly VFR to short and remote grass and gravel strips. This kind of operation shines a whole new light on the 2 integrated GPS receivers and the worldwide database of the enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS).

But, after all, Pilatus pilots operate closer to terrain than many of their executive jet colleagues, so the PC12 seems to be a good aircraft in which to install the very latest situational awareness tools. Flights are planned and executed on the flight management system (FMS).

Traffic and collision alerting system (TCAS) and weather radar returns are displayed on the PFDs. Since the PC12's single engine is in the aircraft nose, the weather radar antenna is located on the right wingtip.

Nexrad, airport weather and winds aloft can be received if the aircraft operating in the US. A modular avionics unit (MAU) coordinates the flow of all data with the help of 2 network interface cards (NICs)-2 advanced graphics modules (AGMs) calculate the subsequent display. The AGMs are also part of the MAU.

Two independent MAUs are standard in large executive jet installations such as the Gulfstream G450 and Dassault Falcon 900EX. Obviously, all these advanced avionics need more power than conventional avionics-as well as good backup systems-since they have assumed such a central role in new generation aircraft, and failure is not really an option.

Pilatus completely reworked the electrical system-but before the engineers even started on that project, the underlying power of this single-engine aircraft had to be boosted.

The new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67P delivers 15% more power then its predecessor, allowing for improved flight performance but also enough excess capacity to mount two 300A generators on the accessory section.

1


1 | 2| Next