The PC-12 cockpit feels like it belongs to an even bigger airplane, certainly something of the transport category. All the controls, knobs and switches are big and sturdy. This is the place for some serious flying, with no detail overlooked, down to the diagram on the center of the control wheel that identifies each of the many control buttons and switches mounted on the wheel.
Even though the cockpit at first appears complex, there is a high degree of automation. For example, there is no propeller control because the prop is automatically regulated to 1700 rpm. Fuel is balanced automatically by boost pumps that turn themselves on or off. The start sequence is automated, and you push the power lever full forward for takeoff, something that is not universal in PT6 powered airplanes.
Pilatus has switched from carbon brakes to conventional steel brakes. The carbon brakes had more stopping power, but it turns out that with its low approach speeds and propeller reversing, brakes are not much of an issue. Carbon brakes have a tendency to grab and chatter when they are cold-a phenomenon sometimes called morning sickness-so a smooth taxi was not always easy. The new steel brakes are easy to manage on your first try.
For takeoff from Centennial Airport near Denver we had about 1,600 pounds of fuel and three people onboard, bringing takeoff weight up to about 8,600 pounds. It was hot, nearly 90º F, so the density altitude was out of sight at Centennial's 5,883-foot elevation, but the PC-12 needed less than 4,000 feet of runway, a very short distance under such demanding conditions.
Over the years Pilatus has modified the various warning and annunciation lights in the cockpit, so now it has the desirable "dark cockpit" for takeoff. That means no lights are showing when everything is normal, so if you see a light during takeoff roll, you know it's an abnormal situation. The PC-12 is one of those airplanes that changes pitch attitude very little at liftoff. It just seems to levitate with only a little back pressure on the wheel. With so much horsepower into a single propeller you may expect it to be difficult to control the PC-12 during takeoff roll. It isn't. With rudder trim set in the takeoff position the airplane is no more demanding than any high performance piston single during takeoff. The rudder trim switch is on the power lever, but the yaw damper takes care of most trim requirements when it is engaged, which I did immediately after liftoff.
ATC gave me an immediate left turn after takeoff and I was astonished at how little control force was required to roll briskly into the bank. The new servo tabs on the ailerons really work. The PC-12 does, however, retain it's unusual trigger switch to arm the electric trim. You squeeze the trigger with your index finger and then move the rocker switch under your thumb to trim in pitch or roll.
Initial climb was around 1,800 fpm and decreased only a little as I approached 17,000 feet. At that altitude it was 15º C above standard, but with max cruise power set the PC-12 posted a true airspeed of 269 knots on 480 pph of fuel flow. From there a climb to FL 250 took less than seven minutes, and when level the true airspeed settled in at 261 knots, but fuel flow was down to 365 pph. The tanks were about half full, but the engine instrument system calculated that we could fly for three hours and 40 minutes to dry tanks. A rule of thumb for fuel burn in the PC-12 is 450 pounds in the first hour and 350 pounds per hour after that. With 2,704 pounds of fuel in full tanks, range with IFR reserves can stretch out to just under 1,500 nm while flying at high speed cruise. Pull the power back and range, particularly downwind, stretches out several hundred more miles.
And that's with the seats, as well as the tanks, full.