Photos Courtesy of Pilatus Aircraft
Standing next to an airplane shrouded in black fabric, we eagerly await to see what hides underneath the cloth. Editor Rebecca Groom Jacobs and I are attending the debut of the newest Pilatus at Henderson Executive Airport during NBAA in Las Vegas.
Markus Bucher, CEO of Pilatus Aircraft, stands at the podium, extolling the virtues of the new aircraft and detailing the lineage of the PC-12 and PC-24. With 1,700 PC-12s now in the market, a fleet that has amassed more than 7 million flight hours, Pilatus partnered with suppliers like Pratt & Whitney Canada and Honeywell to advance its PC-12 turboprop further. The result of this development: the PC-12 NGX.
The PC-12 NGX is probably the most extensive update of the venerable PC-12 aircraft since they started building the aircraft. As Bucher mentioned, Pilatus Aircraft was determined to improve the safety, performance and cabin experience with the NGX. One of the first features highlighted was the new Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) PT6 E-Series engine – the PT6E-67XP. Maria Della Posta, president of Pratt & Whitney Canada, also took the podium and was aptly proud of this new engine.
It is the first production turboprop engine with a dual-channel EPEC (Electronic Propeller and Engine Control) that controls both the engine and the propeller. This affords the pilot a single power control lever (PCL) that is now electronic, servo-controlled rather than mechanical. The pilot now has three detents – Idle, Maximum Continuous Power (MCP) for cruise and Takeoff (T/O). It is another feature that reduces pilot workload but still offers full control when necessary.
With optimum control of the engine and propeller for all phases of flight, the engine can be optimized to operate at even higher recommended ITT temperatures. This can result in a faster climb to altitude, greater speed and a 10 percent increase in power (at sea level compared with the PT6A-67P). Another unique feature of this new engine is the ability to operate in quiet mode. By simply pushing the Prop Low Speed button, the EPEC can operate the propeller at 1550 RPM rather than 1700 RPM. The quiet mode is even available for takeoff with available runway length. The EPEC optimization of the propeller, through an electronic governor, should also help reduce maintenance on this component.
An additional benefit of the new engine installation is a reduction in maintenance costs. The new Data Acquisition Unit collects over 100 data signals for trend monitoring. This information should prove invaluable to operators and maintenance personnel. If the owner is enrolled in PWC’s engine maintenance plan (ESP), it can also be sent wirelessly to PWC for trend monitoring. The existing 300-hour maintenance schedule has increased to 600 hours, and the TBO interval increases from 3,500 to 5,000 hours with the new E-Series engine.
The NGX incorporates not only a new engine but also an autothrottle. This feature involved an extensive development effort between Pilatus Aircraft, PWC and Honeywell. With the new servo-controlled PCL, the pilot can set a speed and the system maintains it. It is another feature that reduces workload – especially when ATC requests a specific speed, or you are flying a speed-restricted departure or arrival procedure.
I spoke with Steven Slijepcevic, president of Honeywell’s Electronic Solutions, and Jason Bialek, director of EPIC Cockpit Systems, regarding the new Honeywell suite in the NGX. In addition to Honeywell’s contribution to the autothrottle, the avionics and systems upgrades are so extensive that Pilatus Aircraft renamed the upgraded cockpit the Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE). In addition to theautothrottle, Honeywell updated the avionics suite to incorporate the features in their Epic 2.0 platform. The upgrade is significant and includes more powerful processors, updated synthetic vision, Emergency Descent Mode (EDM) and the Crew Alerting System (CAS). It can also call up the associated electronic checklist on the MFD when a condition occurs.
I was able to explore the new avionics with Anthony Vallon, a test pilot for Pilatus Aircraft. Vallon, who flew the airplane from the factory in Switzerland, was understandably excited about the NGX. A pilot with substantial experience in all Pilatus aircraft, as well as his own RV-8, he took me through various profiles with the new suite. The new system incorporates advanced features that have been implemented in Honeywell’s other platforms, such as the intuitive touch controller. This controller can control a number of functions, including quick COM and NAV tuning, environment control, weather display and datalink.
The upgraded avionics also incorporates Honeywell’s SmartLanding and SmartRunway awareness and advisory system. This system offers several unique features like advising the pilot if they are lined up on a different runway from the approach they have loaded into the FMS.
The third major area of improvement that Bucher highlighted was the cabin experience. Pilatus took the already-large cabin windows of the PC-12 and made them 10 percent larger. To the passengers, it provides a substantial change in their outside view. Pilatus also improved passenger and crew comfort by improving the air conditioning and interior. The company worked with BMW Designworks on six different interior options and now offers passengers seats with full recline, taller seatbacks and more headroom. It is clear that their experience with the PC-24 has had a synergistic impact on the PC-12 as well.
As someone who flies the PC-12 regularly, I am thoroughly impressed by the advancements Pilatus has incorporated into their latest turboprop – one that is sure to raise the bar for other manufacturers. Stay tuned for a PC-12 NGX flight review in an upcoming issue.