Pilatus PC12 NG
Latest version of single-pilot PT6A-67-powered bestseller features Honeywell Apex avionics in big iron flightdeck.
(L-R) Pilatus Sales & Marketing Director Daniel Kunz with Peter Berendsen and Michael Alb in front of PC12 NG HB-FVC at Stans.
These supply the 24V DC system and charge two 42Ah batteries. In addition, the emergency power system (EPS) acts as a backup with a 24V 5Ah battery. A standby-power bus supplies the most important systems and avionics, and is used on the ground to feed the FMS before engine start.
Honeywell's Apex offers the possibility of using the FMS airport database's landing altitude to control cabin pressurization, so Pilatus took the additional step of automating the cabin controls with a new digital environmental control system (ECS).
Preparing for flight
On the next morning we climbed again into the cockpit to try all this in flight. I took the left seat, while Alb instructed and assisted from the right seat. Once you are settled in the cockpit, it is very easy to forget that you are operating a single-engine aircraft. The cockpit is not only roomy-the new PC12 NG's very professional-looking glass cockpit is more reminiscent of a large executive jet than a turboprop.
To get started, we switched on the standby bus on the overhead electrical system panel. Interestingly, Pilatus has abandoned the once fashionable push-buttons for regular switches, since the engineers felt that switch positions were not easily identified with push-buttons.
However, the electrical panel does not require a lot of switching during flight and is mostly automated. With the avionics awakened, we could now go ahead and program the FMS and other parameters for takeoff. The batteries allow up to 2 hours to complete this task, but in practice it only takes a few minutes.
This is because when entering data, the big-iron heritage of the Honeywell Apex glass cockpit becomes evident. Data entry is almost intuitive and is done using 4 tabs on the upper MFD-Init, Preflight, Takeoff and Landing.
Berendsen flies the PC12NG VFR over the Swiss Alps. The Honeywell Primus Apex flightdeck, combined with EGPWS and TCAS, gives exceptional situational awareness.
These tabs are similar to traditional FMS pages, but instead of inserting data with line select keys (LSKs), the cursor jumps from entry to entry according to a task-oriented workflow. We start on the Init tab with the check of the geographic (Lat/Long) position and the database cycle. After that it's on to the Preflight tab with weights and environmental data.
Departure runways and route are entered on the Takeoff tab, transitions, approaches and landing runways on the Approach tab. This all happens very quickly, since the cursor automatically jumps to the next required field after each entry.
In this way, a flightplan is created and displayed in tabular form on the left 1/3 portion of the upper MFD. The right 2/3 of the upper MFD are used for the INAV-a large map display with geographic and chart information. The flightplan is displayed on the INAV in graphical form as well.
You can even define flightplan waypoints by moving the central joystick to a certain point and selecting that defined position as a waypoint via a menu. As I found out during our flight over Switzerland, the cursor control device (CCD), the joystick and the 4 arrow buttons near it are among the few items that could be improved, since it may be difficult to move the cursor precisely in turbulence.
Other, larger aircraft have palmrests on the center pedestal for this reason, but, since the PC12 NG does not have a center pedestal, some other solution, maybe software-driven, should be found.
Flying the PC12 NG
After engine start, the PT6A engine turns the 4-blade Hartzell propeller at idle rpm. As the aircraft systems come alive one after another, a multitude of red and amber messages disappear on the crew alerting system on the lower MFD.
The status of gear, flaps and trim and important aircraft systems (fuel, electric, ECS) is always shown on the lower MFD. At this point the checklists are classic paper-a fact that I enjoyed, since electronic checklist are often cumbersome and inflexible for those professional pilots who fly many legs a day.
In very little time the PC12 NG was ready for takeoff and, after crossing a highway at a traffic light (typical for Swiss airports in narrow valleys), we took off VFR toward the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland's central range.
PC12 NG's large cargo door and executive interior allow operational flexibility. Cabin temperature and pressure are now controlled electronically.
Flying the PC12 manually over these 12,000-ft-high mountain tops is pure fun. After an impressive climb and a look at the few midweek skiers on the slopes, Alb demonstrates an equally impressive 8000-fpm descent back into the valley for a touch and go at Stans- Buochs. Thanks to the trailing-link landing gear and Alb's patient instruction, my first landing turns out quite well. After takeoff we continue IFR to QLS (Lausanne) on Lake Geneva.
Today the weather is defined by a southwesterly flow, with heavy clouds on the southern side of the Alps and mixed weather in the west with sometimes just a few miles' visibility. On approach to QLS, which has no IFR approach to its short 2600-ft runway with a 2.5% uphill slope, we cancel IFR and descend VFR through the haze.
The INAV map display and EGPWS database provide good situational awareness-essential at the high speeds at which the PC12 operates. After a good French-Swiss lunch at the airport restaurant, we continue to ZHV (La Chaux-de-Fonds)-another mountain airport with a short runway-and finally the international airport at ZRH (Zurich), where I will end my left-seat session in the PC12.
While waiting for our IFR clearance for these 2 sectors during climbout from QLS, mountains, clouds and other aircraft demand our full attention. I find the Primus Apex cockpit very reassuring as it provides enhanced situational awareness in the challenging conditions Pilatus PC12 pilots typically encounter.
With future software upgrades, terrain, traffic and weather will be displayed not only on the PFD but on the INAV, which seems to be assuming an ever more central role. At ZHV we fly the entire procedure turn and ILS approach coupled on autopilot, and land on another 2500-ft runway.
The aircraft performs very nicely hands-off (except for speed, flaps and gear). After a touch-and-go, we try out the other side of the PC12 and fit neatly with the 210-kt standard medium approach speed into the traffic flow at ZRH, where we land on the 10,000-ft Runway 14.
After a long rollout without reverse we taxi to Jet Aviation's ramp, where the PC12 NG has enough ramp appeal to make ground staff and executive jet pilots take notice.
PC12 NG owners will enjoy the ability of this aircraft to bring them safely, quickly and cost efficiently from large aviation hubs to the runway behind their ranch.
Peter Berendsen is a Boeing 747-400 captain for an international airline. He writes regularly on aviation-related subjects.
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