Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Big-Time Adventure


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



There's no need to sacrifice speed and comfort to have some serious fun—this is close to a "take-it-all" airplane. The PC-12/47NG can accommodate bicycles, motorcycles, jet skis, kayaks, and of course, gobs of camping gear.
From Canyonlands, we headed to the nearby unattended Green River Municipal Airport for some practice landings. If good landings are how your passengers judge your skills, you'll look like a superstar in the PC-12. Add the first notch of flaps, lower the gear, go to full flaps, open the inertial separator, and you're ready for the approach. The beefy trailing-link gear makes for a smooth arrival with only a small flare. Even though the winds were howling across the narrow runway, my first touchdown still felt smooth and under control. The brakes are conventional without anti-lock, so it's important to be careful about touching the pedals while the plane is still light on the gear. We had plenty of runway, so I lifted the throttle past the gate and applied reverse to slow our speed before touching the brake pedals. As with all turboprops, some care is needed to avoid kicking up ground debris into the engine, so it's best to use wheel braking below about 40 knots.

As we pulled to a stop, shut down and stepped outside, empty desert stretched to the horizon. Which brings up a point about being prepared when flying into the backcountry in this part of the U.S. This is the desert, and it's essential to have an adequate supply of water and to let folks know where you're headed in case you get stuck somewhere. Don't forget that density altitude can become a huge factor in the summertime, so a little planning goes a long way.

A Little Sightseeing…And Terrain Avoidance
After some photo work on the ground, we departed for some airborne sightseeing. We stayed low to weave our way through the wide, rugged canyons carved by the Green River as it winds its way south toward Canyonlands, where it joins the Colorado before entering Arizona and the Grand Canyon. In the distance, the snow-covered peaks of the LaSal Mountains sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight. The Green River looked a bit like it sounds—a grey-green color with banks lined with ribbons of green trees that contrast with the red canyon walls.

It was late in the afternoon, and desert thermals made for a bumpy ride, damped somewhat by the high wing loading of the big Pilatus. Still, it was a good opportunity to see how the new SmartView synthetic vision system performed as we wound our way through the twists and turns of the canyon. One unique feature of the SmartView system is that it displays path-based flight information referenced to a zero-pitch reference line, which makes it easy to achieve level flight at all times. To test the synthetic vision system, we leveled momentarily the see the zero-pitch reference line showing where we would impact the far wall if we maintained the present altitude. It was an impressive demonstration of the capability of the new synthetic vision system and the improved situational awareness it can provide with respect to terrain and any desired flight path.

Even with all the cool equipment in the cockpit, it was hard to keep my eyes inside. The scenery in the area was just too spectacular to miss. With the sun sinking low in the west, we finally turned back toward Canyonlands airport, where we planned an evening camping under the stars just outside of Moab. Sightseeing over southern Utah in any plane, not to mention a brand-new PC-12NG, is a trip you'll never forget. It just doesn't get any better than this.



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