One of the airports we flew into was Steamboat Springs, which is just over the hill from Denver and which features a very steep circle-to-land approach. This would be perfect for trying out the extensive VNAV capability of the PC-12’s Honeywell Apex avionics system, which has gotten a number of new
features since I first flew it a few years ago. We’d also get the opportunity to pop over the Front Range on our way over. While just a short hop, the trip would show some of the great strengths, literally and figuratively, of the PC-12.
Evolution of the Type
Over the years the Pilatus PC-12 has gotten numerous upgrades, including a gross weight increase, a more powerful dash model PT6, improved flight controls, a greatly enhanced cabin experience and new avionics.
While early models have some rough spots, today’s PC-12 is a very mature product. I got a chance to see some of the few places where it is still evolving.
The airplane is powered, as I mentioned, by a Pratt & Whitney engine, the PT6A-67P model, which is flat-rated at 1,200 shaft horsepower continuously, as opposed to the previous model’s five-minute limit, after which it is rated at 1,000 shp. The power upgrade allows pilots to keep the lever forward on climb and achieve rates of climb starting at around 2,000 feet per minute and holding steady at around 1,000 fpm — with a watchful eye on temps — all up through 28,000 feet. Once there, the airplane can cruise at around 280 knots on just over 55 gph.
With a light load (pilot plus three passengers), the Pilatus PC-12 settles in at high speed cruise for better than 1,500 nm with reserves. For someone like me, who lives in the middle of the country, that means a nonstop flight to just about anywhere in the country in all but the worst headwind scenarios.
Because it’s a sub-300-knot cruiser, that max range trip takes a while to unfold. Naturally, most trips are much shorter than that, but even on the longest nonstop legs, the PC-12 can accommodate such endurance because of its great cabin, which rivals those of even large light jets, like the Cessna Citation CJ4 and the Embraer Phenom 300. Those airplanes are, admittedly, around 150 knots faster than the Pilatus PC-12, but they also cost more than twice as much as the PC-12 and are far costlier to operate. Of course, if you’re regularly flying 1,500 nm trips, the speed of a jet makes great sense. But for most business users, typical trips are half that distance or less, and that’s where the benefits of a turboprop, especially a single, really pay off.
Most PC-12s are outfitted with a club-plus-two cabin, giving the airplane seating for the single pilot plus seven. Designed by BMW Designworks, the interior was ahead of its time when it was unveiled a few years ago and is state-of-the-art even today. There is an optional upgraded entertainment system with individual displays and music and video inputs. If work is the mission, there are stowable desks between the club seats and individually adjustable LED lighting throughout the cabin. In an airplane that often gets bought and flown for family and personal use, the nice big lavatory in the PC-12 is an important selling point.
So too is the airplane’s ability to get into and back out of short strips.
One of the improvements in the PC-12 with the NG model in 2008 was the addition of “boosted” ailerons, which use anti-servo tabs to greatly improve roll rate
and reduce forces. So hand-flying the big single is no longer the upper body workout it used to be. It’s no Pitts, still, but it’s a pleasant airplane to fly by hand.