Since its certification back in 1994, the hallmark of the remarkably successful Pilatus PC-12 turboprop single has been its tremendous flexibility and utility -- with a cabin full of passengers and cargo, it can go from a cozy dirt strip to the city lights a thousand miles distant, flying far above the terrain and much of the weather, and do so at very respectable speeds. Today, with the rising cost of fuel, the cost savings associated with having a single powerplant instead of two makes the airplane all the more desirable. Pilatus has more than 200 orders for the latest model, and used airplanes are typically going for 100 percent of their original price. To say that owners love this airplane is a huge understatement.
As with very few other airplanes, the Pilatus PC-12 has no real direct competition. A relatively fast, pressurized short/rough field, single-engine turboprop with a huge cabin, the airplane pretty much defines its own niche. The closest you can come is the Beech King Air B200, a great airplane, yes, but one that has two PT-6s instead of one.
When it came time for Pilatus to upgrade the PC-12, the first major move was obvious. The big Swiss single was one of the only high-end models still lacking flat-panel avionics. So the introduction of glass was a given, especially since the core mission of the airplane has become predominantly executive transport.
The Pilatus PC-12 NG is more than an avionics upgrade marketed as a new model. The NG incorporates dozens of substantial changes from spinner to tail, some intoduced on the NG model and some with recent upgrades. The result is an airplane that is better in very real ways than any previous PC-12.
I recently flew up to Denver to fly the PC-12 NG out of Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (still referred to as Jeffco [KBJC] by most pilots) on a warm, gray and soon to be bumpy early summer day. Demoing the airplane for me was Pilatus North America chief pilot Peter Duncan, who even after a few months of getting to know the next-gen model was still clearly enthralled by the changes.
As Peter walked me around the airplane, still ensconced in its air conditioned corporate hangar, we had to stop every few steps so he could show me an upgrade. It soon became clear that there was a lot more behind this PC-12 than just new avionics.
The New Avionics
When Pilatus announced the PC-12 NG at the National Business Aviation Association Convention last fall, it went with a new brand from an old company, the Honeywell Primus Apex. In reality, Apex seems a lot more like Honeywell's bizjet suite, Primus Epic, than a whole new suite. It incorporates many of the features you'd find in the biggest Gulfstreams and Falcons while using right-sized technology for features where it makes sense.
The system is anchored by four 10.4-inch displays, bounded by a pair of PFD/radio controllers alongside each PFD and an autopilot controller (for the excellent Honeywell digital autopilot) directly above the top MFD.