Operator Report: Pilatus PC-12

 - May 6, 2008, 10:51 AM

PC-12 flight planning seems to work out best at 260 kt, which means a 1,200-nm trip with IFR reserves will keep you in the cabin for 4.5 hr. But passengers who have flown the airlines will find that spending a long trip time in the Pilatus is a treat because of all the extra space and the working toilet. Since the potty is up front, the crew can use the facility without disturbing passengers.

The Pilatus cockpit is ergonomically designed and well thought out. There are no memory items on the checklist. All the light switches are housed in an overhead panel and controlled by large, easy-to-manipulate rocker switches. All circuit breakers are color coded for easy identification.

The control wheel itself has a number of buttons–intercom, autopilot disconnect, control wheel steering, stick-pusher interrupt for short field landings–that first seemed confusing but got easier with time, except the trim. The trim trigger is behind the wheel and out of sight. It requires the pilot to pull it while moving his thumb on the trim, which includes aileron trim too. Rudder trim is on the throttles. The avionics incorporate a standby power switch that allows the pilot to call for clearance and load a flight plan without turning on the master switch. The PC-12 also has automatic fuel balancing to reduce pilot workload. Once the 24-volt minimum battery voltage is verified, starting doesn’t come any easier: hold the start button for three seconds and the pumps and ignition are automatically energized. Fuel is introduced at 13 percent and controlled with a single power control. On light off with an OAT of 22 deg C, the ITT peaked at 630 deg C. For some reason, the main generator would not immediately come on line. Cycling the switch a few times did bring it up and it remained on during the remainder of the flight. The flight began with 1,347 lb of fuel on board, or about the minimum landing fuel on most jets. Three people and no bags brought the aircraft to approximately 8,200 lb, or about 1,700 lb shy of mtow. The electronic engine instruments offer both aural and visual warnings. If you should approach an over-temp condition, the ITT gauge flashes red, and an aural warning of “engine, engine, engine” makes it tough to miss. On takeoff, the power lever is brought up to the firewall after the condition lever is moved to the takeoff range. The Pratt & Whitney Canada engine will keep a pilot used to flying jets a bit busy on the rudder at first, but the aircraft is still easy to keep headed straight down the runway. Pilatus demonstration pilot Peter Duncan and I rotated at about 80 kt. Once the gear was retracted, a 150-kt climb with the ITT set at 719 deg gave us about a 2,000-fpm rate. At 120 kt, the rate was about 2,500 fpm. By 12,000 ft, the climb rate had dropped to 1,500 fpm while holding 120 kt. The PC-12 is heavy on the ailerons and light on the elevators, mimicking the handling of a much larger aircraft. We held 118 kt through the rest of the climb to FL 260, where an ISA+8 temperature gave us 265 kt and a fuel flow of 351 pph. The climb from PWK’s 646-ft elevation to FL 260 took 23 min. Once level, I tried some steep turns and again found the ailerons quite heavy, but not so much that the airplane was difficult to control. With the sun at our back and falling across the EFIS, the instruments were difficult to read at times. Steep turns with the gear down and full flaps were not tough at all once I got past that pesky trim button. During the clean-up, there were minimal pitch changes with the power adjustments. Duncan and I discussed the emergency gear extension in the PC-12, which is quite a simple affair. Slow to 110 kt, put the gear handle down and pump the emergency handle if you’re short on time. If you’re not rushed, the gear will freefall and lock into place in about 30 sec. The cockpit noise level was rather high, confirming the need for the David Clark headsets on board. But it was certainly no worse than that of some other turboprops I’ve flown (except for the Garrett-powered Dornier 228, which was loud even with the David Clarks on). But the dramatic reduction in noise once the pilot wanders back into the cabin makes it quieter than most rear-engine jet aircraft I’ve flown. Certainly the ride for a cabin full of passengers is quiet indeed. On the way back down from altitude for the first pattern–a VFR approach to Waukegan–I pulled the power back to idle, pushed the nose down and held 180 kt in the descent, which gave us about a 2,500-fpm rate. Even at this speed and rate, we were able to lower the gear to slow the aircraft. Now that I was used to the trim button, flaps 15 deg at 163 kt and 30 deg at 130 kt were easy to deal with. The approach, once the gear was down, was made at about 78 kt to check handling. Touchdown produced only a slight bounce that the trailing-link gear hid pretty well. With only a small amount of reverse thrust, I made the turnoff about 2,000 ft downfield. I made my approaches only with flaps 30, which got the aircraft down and stopped pretty quickly. The PC-12 incorporates an aileron-rudder interconnect that some operators told AIN make the aircraft a bit squirrely in a flaps-40 crosswind landing. But we could not verify that since the wind was calm. A reduction in winglet size is said to be part of the fix for the flaps-40 issue. Duncan tried a maximum-performance takeoff with flaps 30. He held the brakes and ran up the power first, and the PC-12 broke ground swiftly after an 1,100-ft ground roll and climbed at a deck angle that I estimated to be 15 to 20 deg. The climb rate was in excess of 2,500 fpm once the gear came up, so getting away from a ground obstacle would be easy with a light load. Duncan handled the final landing back at PWK since he wanted to demonstrate a maximum performance maneuver. Crossing the end at about 75 kt, even with flaps 40, the aircraft floated ever so slightly. Once down, full reverse had us stopped in about 1,200 ft, reminiscent of the old days of flying single-engine piston aircraft.