Whenever I'm around a Pilatus PC-12, either standing on the ramp, or inside the cockpit or cabin, I am dazzled by the size of this turboprop single. The wingspan is more than 53 feet. The tail is 14 feet above the pavement. And the cabin is as roomy as some midsize business jets. The PC-12 cabin is often compared to the stately Beech Super King Air 200, but the Pilatus cabin is actually a little bigger with several more inches of width and length.
No airplane offers more cabin room or range for the money. And because it is a single the PC-12 is more economical to operate than any turbine airplane of similar size. Sales of the PC-12 have been accelerating rapidly and backorders are building because no other airplane can deliver so much for the money. When the PC-12 entered service in the mid-90s it was most attractive to owner pilots who appreciated the benefits of a turboprop single and to utility operators who needed the cabin space and rough field capability. Those groups still represent big chunks of the PC-12 customer base, but in the past couple of years the number of nonpilots and charter and fractional operators on the order list has been growing fast. In every case, it's for the same reason-size and comfort of the cabin.
Over the dozen years of PC-12 production Pilatus has made many improvements to the original design, increasing its capability and performance. For 2006 the company made changes that every pilot will appreciate, but are also important to the owner, whether he flies the airplane or hires a professional pilot. The big change in utility is another maximum takeoff weight increase to 10,450 pounds, up 530 pounds with no significant change in empty weight. With full fuel tanks, that leaves more than 1,400 pounds of payload available in a standard airplane with an executive interior. Over shorter distances where full fuel is not required, the new PC-12 can carry more than 2,600 pounds of stuff. More payload is always good because it translates into more range when the cabin is full, or the ability to cruise faster because more fuel is available.
The PC-12 airframe has always been extremely rugged, actually overbuilt for its previous lighter max takeoff weights, so structural change was not an issue with the recent weight increase. The big deal is stall speed at maximum weight, which in singles is restricted to 61 knots. The logic of the maximum stall speed is that in a forced landing a lower approach speed improves the odds of a successful outcome. However, Pilatus has shown the FAA that its structure, stronger seats and restraint systems deliver the same level of crashworthiness at 66-knots stalling speed as a conventional single does at 61 knots. Of course, the higher stalling speed is only at the new maximum takeoff weight, which won't be an issue on most trips, and as soon as fuel burns off the stalling speed will drop, so even after a max weight takeoff stall speed will be down to 61 knots or less before long.
The extra available payload does not change the unusually large CG range the PC-12 enjoys. Even with a single pilot and no passengers, or a single pilot and 400 pounds all the way back in the cargo area at the rear of the cabin, the airplane is still within limits. All fuel is carried in the wings so there is no significant CG position change during a flight. Cabin room is great, but the CG range to use all that space is equally important.
The easiest way to identify a new PC-12 is to look at the winglets. The original winglets stood close to vertical and had a fairly wide chord. The new winglets-which grew out of Pilatus' development of its new military trainer, the PC-21-are smaller, less upright, and more smoothly faired into the wing. The new winglets reduce drag, and by smoothing airflow at the tip, they improve aileron effectiveness.