Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Big-Time Adventure


Tackling the wilds of Utah in a do-it-all turboprop


It only takes one low-level flight through southern Utah to see why many consider it to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It's not just one spot, mind you, but, the whole southern half of the state. We're talking about Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Canyonlands, Arches, Capital Reef, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the LaSal Mountains, Kodachrome Basin and everything in between. There's a good reason that there are five national parks, multiple national monuments, numerous state parks and a wide scattering of recreation areas in this small region. Whether the spectacular hiking, technical rock climbing, whitewater rafting, backcountry roads, mountain biking, canyoneering or raw scenic beauty draws you, there's no better way to get around and take in the vast scenery than by airplane. So, when the invitation arrived to fly a brand-new PC-12NG around the wilds of southern Utah with Vaughn Olson of Western Aircraft (www.westair.com), I jumped at the chance to check out the new airplane while doing some sightseeing over my favorite desert stomping ground.

We agreed to meet at the Canyonlands airport (KCNY) outside of Moab. Even though the airport is non-towered, it's served by Great Lakes airline service, and there can be a lot of traffic—particularly when the jump zone is active and sightseeing aircraft are operating. The 7,100-foot runway looks recently resurfaced and is in great shape. The friendly folks at Redtail Aviation provide fuel and parking; Enterprise offers car rentals. Just keep in mind that the airport is about 16 miles from Moab, so you're in the middle of nowhere when you step out of your airplane. Still, Moab is the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as a common put-in for numerous white-water rafting trips on the Green and Colorado rivers. Moab can get overbooked when the weather is nice in the spring and fall, so it's best to make reservations ahead of time—even for the campgrounds.

The PC-12NG
As Vaughn pulled onto the ramp, it was hard not to be amazed by the size of the PC-12NG—it's indeed a great big airplane. With a wingspan of over 53 feet and a length of a little more than 47 feet, the PC-12 occupies similar ramp space as a King Air 250 or a Citation 3. The large forward airstair and high-gear stance combine to create a stately presence. Walk around the airplane, and you'll quickly notice that there's nothing lightweight about the PC-12NG. Everything from the trailing-link gear to the cabin doors up through the T-tail is built hell-for-stout with near-perfect fit and finish. The large 52x53-inch rear cargo door made it easy to load a full compliment of camping and climbing gear along with a couple of inflatable kayaks—just in case!

The Pilatus PC-12 is a remarkable airplane, so I was eager to try it out on a sightseeing run. Whether you need to get to a distant business meeting or into the backcountry with four friends, a couple of mountain bikes and supplies for three weeks, the PC-12 can make it happen in style. This Swiss-made overachiever is built to handle the rigors of short dirt strips in the backcountry and yet mix it up with jet traffic back in the city. With a single, highly reliable Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engine, the speed, range, load-hauling capability and operating economics of the PC-12 are hard to match. Still, Pilatus has taken the new PC-12NG to a new level of performance and capability with the addition of even more horsepower and the SmartView synthetic vision system.

Cabin size and versatility have certainly played a key role in the success of the PC-12. Pilatus offers multiple seating and cargo configurations, and the brand-new airplane we flew is equipped with the six-seat executive configuration. Six widely spaced, large leather seats, five with foldout tables, provide unsurpassed comfort. Each seat is on a swivel and can slide sideways so that it's easy to get comfortable and stretch out. While it's not quite a stand-up cabin, the 330 cubic feet of space feels quite spacious with tasteful wood trim, recessed lighting and window shades. Each seat is equipped with a backlit entertainment system outlet. The size, fit and finish of the cabin is on par with the highest-level business jets—many costing more than the $4.6 million price of the Pilatus. The large netted baggage area in the rear of the fuselage can accommodate up to 40 cubic feet and 400 pounds of baggage. As an added bonus, the newest /47 series of the PC-12NG now boasts a 530-pound increase in useful load over the earlier /10 series models. Immediately behind the cockpit, there's a full-width lavatory that's handy on longer flights.



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