Hand flying the airplane out of Jeffco, I got a nice feel for the lighter ailerons. For the record, you're not going to mistake this airplane for a fighter jet, but then again, why would you want to. The control forces are much lighter and more pleasant than the legacy airplane, which had the rap for being somewhat heavy handed (though charmingly so, I always thought).
And before I forget, having the PFD on departure, as I followed the cues of the flight director, was a real boon. It's quite a commentary on the state of general aviation avionics that I've been flying with a PFD in my piston single for almost five years now, and it's gotten to the point that steam gauges simply seem antiquated. The PC-12 NG has caught up to the times in this respect and then some, as the high-level of integration and redundancy in its Apex cockpit is light years ahead of anything the aftermarket will be able to put together for existing PC-12s.
Peter had walked me through the flight planning on the ground back at Jeffco, but as we hit the airways and got a few route changes, I took over, making changes using the CCD on the MFD controller while referring to what amounts to the dedicated navigation display on the top MFD. Honeywell calls its FMS utility INAV, the "I" standing for "interactive," though it could just as easily stand for "intelligent," as it knows a lot about where you are and what you're doing as the flight progresses. And with so many dedicated resources available and with the next likely choice automatically nominated for you in many instances, there aren't many button pushes needed to do exactly what you want the system to do.
To continue the comparison, the FMS in the Pilatus PC-12 NG has all the capabilities of those in midsize jets. You can program a flight from takeoff to 200 feet agl with all vertical profiles and a mixture of airway and off-airway flying while maintaining an ease of editing legs that's enviable by any standard.
Despite the fact that my brain has been thoroughly "Garminized" now after years of GNS 430 and G1000 use, halfway through the flight I was able to program in all the arrival and approach waypoints, and set up the vertical nav and autoflight system with little help from Peter. That wasn't, I should point out, because the system has very few features -- far from it. It's because it is very well designed, a testament to the years that Honeywell invested in the creation of Epic and the smart way it leveraged that technology into Apex.
As I said, halfway through our roughly two-hour flight, I was confidently pushing all the buttons and turning all the knobs. It's really that easy, and Pilatus expects its owner-flown customers, who represent a large percentage of its customer base, to be able to make the transition to Apex with a modest transition course. As before, SimCom, which has a brand-new NG flight training device at its Orlando facility, will conduct initial and recurrent training in the PC-12 NG, with the initial course still taking just six days.
For most of its customers, the PC-12 has always been fast enough, but now it's even faster. In fact, the numbers we were seeing were about five knots faster than what Pilatus claims. At FL 280 we saw 278 knots true with a fuel flow of 360 pounds per hour (about 54 gph). The airplane's best cruise speed comes down at FL 200 but at a significantly higher rate of fuel burn, 491 pounds per hour, or about 20 additional gallons per hour.
For an airplane of its category, the PC-12 NG has about as long a range as you'd hope for, 1,595 nm at high-speed cruise with three passengers with reserves. From the middle of the country, you can get just about anywhere else in the lower 48 nonstop, and for regional trips of, let's say, between 500 and 800 nm, you can load up with passengers and cargo and make it every time.
Heading back into Jeffco on vectors from Denver Approach we flew an RNAV approach to 29L -- WAAS, it goes without saying, is standard with Apex -- but I switched off the automatic flight guidance and hand-flew it down the pipe. As we descended, I remembered just what this airplane is all about. Making my first landing in a PC-12 in more than a year at an unfamiliar airport, I came in a little too fast and used up a little too much runway. Despite my out-of-practice performance, we used less than 3,000 feet of the available runway with minimal braking and use of beta. Yeah, a guy could get used to this real fast.
A few days after I flew it, the PC-12 NG earned FAA certification, and Pilatus made its first delivery. As it's typically equipped, the PC-12 NG goes for just over $4 million. The company currently has more than 200 orders for the next-gen airplane -- the factory in Switzerland can turn out just over 100 airplanes a year.
The arrival on the scene of the NG model is good news for everybody. Those customers looking to upgrade will finally be able to get glass, spectacular glass at that, in their big Swiss single. And if they're lucky, buyers looking for a used PC-12 of any variety might finally be able to find one. When they do, however, it probably won't be long before they start thinking about glass, too, and all the other good things that come along with it.
For more information about the Pilatus PC-12 NG, visit pilatus-aircraft.com.