by Todd Hotes
A New Generation of PC-12’s
The Pilatus PC-12 is a majestic-looking airplane, standing 14-feet tall with a 53-foot wingspan. Its footprint rivals that of a small to mid size jet, but it’s not. It’s a single-engine pressurized turboprop. The latest version, the PC-12/47E, also known as the NG (Next Generation), was introduced in 2008. Yes, its price tag may approach that of a small jet. However, this is where the similarities end. In the case of the NG, the profit is in the purchase.
Described as the high-performance sport utility vehicle of the sky, the PC-12NG provides a high ratio of cost to performance. Boasting 330 cubic feet of cabin space, a 4’5″ x 4’4″ cargo door, and an increased maximum takeoff weight of 10,450 lbs (compared to 9,920 lbs in the previous model), the PC-12NG, and all of its predecessor upgrades, delivers the ability to carry a heavy payload across a vast expense of earth, at a reasonable speed. Dependable,
efficient, and eloquent are just a few adjectives that describe the NG. Propelled by the large, dependable Pratt and Whitney PT6A-67P engine, and with a glide ratio of almost 2.4 nm per thousand feet AGL, the fear of an aircraft having only one engine quickly subsides. With intelligent piloting, combined with the reliability of the engine, the PC-12NG is as safe (arguably safer) as any aircraft of its size.
I’ve now flown the NG for almost five years; the airplane never ceases to amaze me. Whether it’s the performance on any particular day, the flexibility of suitable airfields (including unpaved airstrips), or the reliability of the airframe, the NG always delivers what we’ve grown to expect from the Pilatus. If you’re looking for a personal airplane, this is it. If you’re looking for a cargo hauler, this is also it. And if you’re looking to maximize business travel, well, this is it, too. It’s a horse of many different colors, and this is what sets the airplane apart. Follow along, as I walk through different stages of flight to describe the Pilatus PC-12NG. But first, let’s note the differences among previous models.
Old Dog, New Tricks
Initially appearing in 1995, the PC-12/41 had a gross weight of 9,036 lbs, quickly upgraded to 9,920 lbs with stronger landing gear as the PC-12/45. Pilatus deserves much credit for providing retrofits for older airplanes to bring them up later standards. Larger winglets in 1998, panel changes in 2001 and the increase in gross weight in 2006 to create the PC-12/47, continued the upgrades. Pre-NG aircraft used the PT-6A-67B engine, limited to 1,000-shp after five minutes.
The NG has had a few significant upgrades over the earlier model PC-12s. For one, the airplane now comes standard with the Honeywell Primus Apex Integrated Avionics System. Very robust, the avionics package includes four 10-inch reversionary screens that can easily be reconfigured in the event of a failure. The screens are arranged in a “T” shape, with two PFD’s on either side of the upper MFD and one additional MFD below that. The information is divided in quadrants for easy viewing and interpretation. Maneuvering around the system is made easy with a cursor control device, in addition to the standard joystick, which helps tremendously in turbulent conditions. Housed in the modular avionics unit, subsystems controlled by computers and line-replaceable modules allow the integrated avionics system to produce easy-to-manage information, system functionality, and graphical depictions.
Moreover, the NG also benefited from new winglets (for a myriad of efficiencies), a rudder/aileron interconnect (for improved lateral stability and coordination), servo tabs on the aileron (introduced on the PC-12/47 for boosted roll performance), and lastly, as mentioned earlier, increased power from the PT6A-67P engine, capable of 1,845-shp but flat-rated to a continuous 1,200-shp by Pilatus, coupled to the increased maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 10,450 lbs. All of these upgrades have continued to make the NG a formidable player in both the turboprop and light-to-small jet markets.
The PC-12NG handles as well as she is beautiful. With all of the new upgrades, versatility is unsurpassed. Whether the mission is flying in a congested terminal environment, where adaptability in airspeed and automation are paramount, using unimproved airfields, with help from trailing link gear and large tires, or flying in mountainous terrain, requiring agility and ultimate pilot control, the NG has you covered, for rather reasonable fixed and variable operating costs. The aircraft doesn’t satisfy every mission profile, but it has quite a large operating envelope.
Powering up the PC-12NG gives the feeling of being in a larger aircraft. Its sights, sounds, and spacious cockpit, along with the ergonomics and “switchology”, resemble that of a “big airplane”, albeit, a single-pilot friendly one. Pilatus and BMW have gone to great lengths to design the cockpit (and cabin) with eloquence, durability, and functionality in mind. Cockpit organization is made easy with side storage areas for paper charts, mini drawers behind each seat to fit Jeppesen-binder size items, coat hooks aft of the seat, cup holders for the ever-important cup of coffee, and cockpit lighting in just the right places. The cabin isn’t too shabby either; it’s usually configured with four club-facing seats and two forward-facing seats, plus room for two more, with access to entertainment.
Power-up is simple, but proper procedures need to be followed, due to start-up logic within the computers. Along the same lines, using a ground power unit for preloading the flight plan/performance information, as well as ground heating and cooling, gives the feel of a larger airplane. Be that as it may, the airplane does have two NICAD batteries that are fully capable of battery starts: One powers the starter/generator and the other provides power to maintain essential systems during start.
Taking to the Sky
Taxiing the NG is fairly easy, despite its size. Although it appears to have a very long nose, the sight picture from the pilot seat makes it relatively easy to see everything in front of you. With the help of brakes, turning radius is a reasonable 32 feet, wing tip to wing tip. Similarly, it’s an easy airplane to taxi in and out of small spaces, thanks to a large viewing range and easy “tribal knowledge” aircraft reference marks to locate the position of tires, etc. Additionally, the aircraft’s lighting makes it easy to see and be seen at night. Having a large prop with beta control also limits the required braking, so as to facilitate smooth and steady taxiing. There is no separate propeller control.
After completing the before-takeoff checklist and ensuring that the “takeoff configuration” Crew Alerting System (CAS) message is extinguished, you’re ready to advance power. With 1,200 shp coming to life, torque is strong. Right rudder to counteract the pulling tendency is necessary, although steadily advancing power reduces the extreme pull. Power response is smooth and, with the help of the torque limiter, takeoff power is set easily. Unlike older models of the PC-12, the NG’s flat rating means the time limit for power reduction is a thing of the past. Observing proper temperature limits, however, must be maintained. Once off the ground with flaps and gear retracted, the aircraft accelerates nicely. With the help of the yaw damper and autopilot control of the rudder trim, rudder control takes little effort.
Although automation can take over at this point, hand-flying the PC-12NG is part of the fun and experience. Unlike previous models that felt boxy and heavy, the NG, although still semi-heavy on the controls, feels more steady than cumbersome. With the help of the aileron servo tabs, the airplane rolls much faster and smoother. The one drawback I find is having only electric trim. Call me old fashioned, but I still like to have a manual way of trimming. Nevertheless, with alternate trim and pitch-runaway control, the worry dissipates quickly.
The Wild Blue Yonder
Happily at home at 28,000 feet and 280 kts, generally speaking, the PC-12NG’s ride is smooth and relatively quick. Heading west to east and dipping into the jet stream, ground speeds are often in the mid-to-high 300-kt range. At max power, full fuel, and averaging a 55-gph burn in the high 20,000’s, range is generally upwards of 1,500 nm with IFR reserves. Of course, having a small bathroom on board (especially on trips into the wind) makes those legs more pleasant. The airplane is RVSM capable but, generally speaking, the extra 2,000 feet is not worth the cost of enabling. The ride in turbulence is fairly smooth. A wing loading of 37.6 lbs/square foot facilitates the fantastic low-speed flight regime Pilatus is famous for. However, the byproduct can be a slightly bumpier ride than that of a higher wing-loaded airplane, although the NG is usually able to find smooth, clear air with a 30,000 foot service ceiling. Another nice feature of the NG is its wide center-of-gravity envelope. It’s very hard to exceed limits if proper POH limitations are followed. The aircraft has all 402 gallons of its usable fuel in wing tanks, resulting in very little CG change as fuel is consumed.
Down We Go
The Primus Apex system makes descent and approach planning easy, even for the single pilot. VNAV capability, charts on the upper MFD, and the aircraft’s performance, all assist with getting the airplane on the ground in every circumstance. Similar to many turboprops, having almost nine feet of aerodynamic braking out front enables mistakes to be easily accounted for. Furthermore, while managing the automation as a single pilot takes time to learn, once understood, information is easily found and usually only two clicks away, via the CCD. Once on the approach, the NG is very stable and the sequence of events unfolds systematically. Gear operating speed is 180 kts and the first notch of flaps is available at 165 kts. With the propeller and power reductions, the airplane slows fairly rapidly. Vref is easy to calculate, as it’s essentially taken from the dynamic speed bug (1.3 X VS0) that’s derived from the AOA vanes, air data computer and actual aircraft weight from the flight management computer.
Speaking of Vref, for those uncomfortable flying at slow landing speeds, the Pilatus will offer a challenge. As mentioned earlier, with a low wing-loading and 40 degrees of Fowler flaps extending wing area, Vref speeds can easily be in the low 80-kt range. For an airplane of this size, it definitely takes time to adjust to. That being said, the airplane is perfectly happy at slow speeds, and in fact has a Vso of 64 kts at max-landing weight. With the help of trailing-link gear, just about every landing (assuming the wheels stay attached) makes the pilot out to be a hero. Deceleration is effortless with the reverse-pitch propeller.
All in All
The older model PC-12 is a tremendous aircraft. The PC-12NG is just that much more capable. Whether the mission is executive charter, medical evacuations, cargo hauling, or pleasure cruising, this aircraft has something for everyone. It’s an easy aircraft to maintain and has a rather high 3,500-hour TBO. From a department manager’s perspective, it delivers the cost/benefit analysis every flight department dreams of and it completes the missions safely, quickly, and comfortably. From a pilot’s perspective, it’s a sleek, advanced and, most importantly, thrilling airplane to fly. Pilatus has again hammered the nail on the head with the PC-12NG.