Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Second-Generation Pilatus PC-12
Pilatus takes another look at its PC-12 and makes a good airplane even better
|One of the realities of delivering corporate airplanes for part of your living is that you don’t get every job you bid. For a variety of reasons (many of which have nothing to do with price), you’re lucky to be awarded one out of 20. Some jobs just go away because the planned delivery never happens. Others get assigned to someone’s brother-in-law who used to fly fighters in Korea, and still others wind up flown by a factory pilot. I probably realize less than 5% of my bids because I’m becoming pickier (i.e., more expensive) in my bidding after 30 years. The older I get, the better I used to be. |
Still, Apex is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new airplane. Pilatus looked at a variety of options before choosing a glass panel for the PC-12, and the Apex is indeed talented, playing through four 10.4-inch displays. This is more typical of a midsized jet system than a turboprop single.
Describing an avionics operating system in print is a little like trying to learn brail by reading about it, but the Apex is about as intuitive as they come. This is avionics by computer, and if you have a semblance of computer smarts, you’re bound to catch on quickly. Electronic charts, XM Weather, synthetic vision and the gamut of readouts make the Apex multi-capable. Entries are through a keypad and transferred to the specific box. If you have even modest facility with the Garmin G1000 system, Apex won’t present any special challenge.
Considering the limitations inherent in FAA-certification requirements, the changes labeled “Next Generation” on the 2009 PC-12 represent a veritable thunderclap of innovation. Pilatus apparently listened to its customers and made enough improvements to make the PC-12 NG a different airplane in essentially the same skin.
Typical of so many Swiss products, the PC-12 is beautifully constructed, exquisitely appointed and heroically designed. If you have any engineering experience, you can’t help but shake your head in wonder at the airplane’s remarkably intelligent systems design.
Updates start with the new Pratt & Whitney Canada turbine engine. It represents a significant improvement on the same basic design. The new PT6A-67P enjoys the same power, 1,200 shp, but it’s now continuous rather than limited to five minutes. That’s because the new mill features higher heat tolerances, owing to better compressor and turbine-blade design.
Max cruise power is still 1,200 shp, and the engine maintains it to a higher altitude, resulting in better cruise numbers. At just under 10,500 pounds max ramp weight, the PC-12 is far from overpowered. Rather, the match of horsepower to airframe seems about right.
If you compare the old PC-12 with the new, you’ll notice the winglets are notably different. Pilatus optimized the tips, switching from the first-generation, tall, vertical winglets of old to the newer, shorter, angled, blended shapes that integrate nicely with the radar dish out on the right wingtip.
Inside the cabin, the new interior is the result of a collaboration between Pilatus and BMW DesignworksUSA. As you might expect in a $4 million airplane, the interior is about as luxurious and comfortable as it’s possible to make. There’s plenty of room for passengers to unwind in back. The cabin is five feet wide, broader than in some medium jets, and you can choose from a variety of wood veneers, fine leathers and audio/video options to suit any taste.
Flying from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport on a warm afternoon, density altitude was probably at least 8,000 feet, yet the PC-12 settled easily into an 1,800 fpm climb at 140 knots. ATC stepped us up to altitude so we couldn’t time a continuous climb, but the book boasts of 30,000-foot climbs in 26.5 minutes in ISA conditions, and I believe it. (All PC-12s are RVSM ready, by the way, though few pilots operate above FL280.)
Max cruise numbers sometimes mean more to piston pilots than to turboprop and jet aviators, primarily because the fuel burn can be disproportionately cheaper on turbine engines at lower power, and the difference in cruise numbers may not be that significant. Level at FL270 with everyone breathing 8,500-foot air (max pressurization differential on the PC-12 NG is 5.75 psi), we saw 275 knots, about five knots better than book, meanwhile burning 375 pph. That’s slightly faster than book speed on less than book fuel burn, a combination that’s hard to beat.
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|One of the new PC-12’s main assets is its state-of-the-art, four-screen Honeywell Primus Apex avionics panel. The two PFDs and two MFDs integrate flight information, engine monitoring, aircraft configuration, pressurization and environmental controls. Flight and weather data, charts, aircraft system information and trip-planning functions are also incorporated into the system. |
The PC-12’s POH
suggests the airplane will manage to touch 280 knots at 20,000 feet while guzzling 491 pph. With 2,704 pounds of fuel aboard, that means you’ll be looking for a place to land within about four hours on an IFR mission. At 28,000 feet, the airplane’s range is nearly 1,500 nm at 260 knots.
Range/payload is where the PC-12 truly shines. This is a long-range airplane by any definition, with or without a big cabin payload. When I was considering the solo flight to Mongolia, it was encouraging to know the 402-gallon fuel capacity was more than adequate for the long legs involved.
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