Pilot Journal
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.
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If you’re willing to settle for 218 knots at the 30,000-foot service ceiling, you can enjoy a burn of only 279 pph. Your endurance at FL300 is nearly eight hours plus reserves, worth almost 1,700 nm between pit stops. That’s a 22% reduction in cruise speed in exchange for a 43% improvement in fuel burn. That should make sense to any executive with an eye on the bottom line.

pilatusAll the same, time is money in this airplane, and many PC-12 pilots think nothing of loading up with six to nine passengers and then choosing a setting halfway between the two extremes above; they’ll still enjoy block speeds of 230 to 240 knots in exchange for perhaps 350 pph. In piston speak, that’s 52 gph, about 4.5 nmpg, but you could be transporting the entire first-string Los Angeles Dodgers plus a batboy in the bargain. It’s true the PC-12 isn’t exactly “bonkers fast” like the TBM 850 (310 knots cruise) or Epic Dynasty (330 knots cruise), but those are pure six-seaters. What you sacrifice in pure speed, you more than make up for in payload.

Whatever the weight, the PC-12 handles it better than ever before. That’s because Pilatus has made a major improvement in roll response. When I flew the original airplane a decade ago, I felt that aileron effectiveness was somewhere between heavy and ponderous. It’s true the Pilatus is a large machine that doesn’t lend itself to light controls, but the current PC-12 handles far better than the original, with anti-servo tabs on the ailerons providing significantly lighter roll forces and what at least feels like a quicker rate. There’s certainly no question you’re directing more than five tons of airplane around the sky, but the PC-12 NG nevertheless maneuvers with panache.

That becomes especially significant when it’s time to return to earth. As with most turbines, the trick is to stay as high as possible for as long as possible, then descend with dispatch. That often means with the thrust lever at the backstop and nose pointed downhill at 1,500 fpm. The PC-12 doesn’t employ speed brakes, because it doesn’t need them. Simply reduce thrust to idle, and the big single will descend like a falling Baldwin. Planning pattern entry or joining an ILS is no tougher than programming a Mirage or P210 for landing. Prop rpm remains 1,700 for the entire flight, and you need merely adjust the thrust to home in on the proper power setting.

If patterns are relatively idiotproof, landing characteristics are even more benign. Vso at max takeoff weight is a low 66 knots, and that means you can trundle down a VFR final at 80 knots without violating the 1.2 Vso rule. Veteran PC-12 pilots like Duncan report that 100-knot approaches work perfectly in the clag. The flare is easily predictable, and you can plant it on the mains and stop in a hurry, with or without help from beta.

Pilatus worked with BMW DesignworksUSA to equip the PC-12 NG with an ultraluxurious cabin.
The trailing-beam gear is famous for cushioning the most ham-handed efforts, and even without finesse, the airplane will grind to a stop in less than 2,000 horizontal feet. If you do use beta, it’s considered poor form to maintain it below about 40 knots. Above that speed, there’s almost no possibility of ingesting any FOD material, even on a rough gravel strip.

The day after our evaluation flight, it was time for the air-to-air photo session, and mine was the cushy job, especially in view of the PC-12’s improved aileron response. We flew to Leadville, the highest municipal airport in America. Leadville is 10,000 feet closer to the sky than the sea, technically perched 9,927 feet tall in the Colorado Rockies. Our photo ship was a defenseless Skylane RG, 30 feet ahead at two o’clock, with our photographer pointing his Canon in my direction as we gradually lofted above the big rocks. The long, hot climb wasn’t a problem for Duncan and me with 1,200 hp out front, and pressurization, air-conditioning and peeled grapes in the back. Fortunately, I only write the stories these days. I no longer have to shoot them as well.

The PC-12 NG is targeted at companies or individuals who need a choice of lots of seats, seats and cargo, or a huge cargo area (along with a forklift-loadable door in back), 270-plus-knot speeds and the reliability of Pratt & Whitney’s near-legendary turbine engine. So far, some 200 folks have anted up for the newest PC-12, roughly $800 million worth of airplanes.

It’s true there’s only one turbine out front, but in the case of the PC-12 NG, that’s all you need.

Learning In The Next Generation

If the physical task of flying the PC-12 is relatively simple, the systems installed in the airplane demand a little more attention. For that reason, Pilatus has contracted with SimCom Flight Training Center in Orlando, Fla., to provide initial and transition training on the PC-12 NG.

SimCom provides a variety of upgrades and initial courses for pilots transitioning to the NG. “The initial training is a six-day course on the airplane plus two days to learn the Honeywell Apex avionics suite,” says Training Center Manager Tom Evans. “Pilots already schooled in the PC-12 go through a five-day transition course that brings them up to speed on the changes to the airplane and the Apex system. Once pilots are totally up to speed, they can take an annual three-day recurrent class to keep current on the airplane.”

SimCom uses a fixed training device that exactly duplicates the cockpit of a PC-12 NG in both day and night VFR/IFR representations. Each student receives 10 hours of left-seat PIC time and another 10 hours of right-seat experience, observing the mistakes of a partner.

In addition to schooling all students in normal flight operations, the SimCom training presents a variety of emergency scenarios, allowing each pilot to experience every possible failure mode.
At this writing, SimCom has put some 40 students through the initial or transition course. For more information, contact: SimCom at www.simulator.com or (800) 272-0211.


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