Pilatus has brought both its PC-12 turboprop single business/utility aircraft and PC-21 trainer to the Paris Air Show, but the prototype of the company’s latest product, the PC-24 business jet, is not here because it is now fully engaged in its flight-test campaign, which began last month.
Prototype P01 undertook its maiden flight from Buochs in Switzerland on May 11, taking off for a 55-minute flight, during which the landing gear was left extended. Pilot in command Paul Mulcahy and test pilot Reto Aeschlimann reported “beautifulhandling.” Registered HB-VXA, the prototype had flown six times as of this week, and had chalked up 14 hours in the air as part of what is planned as a 2,300-hour trialscampaign.
Pilatus initiated the PC-24 program in 2007. “After eight years wait it was very exciting to see it fly,” Pilatus chairman Oscar Schwenk told AIN. The company is building two further prototypes to complete the test and certification process. While P01 is undertaking initial envelope expansion tests, P02 is being prepared for a first flight around the end of October. This machine is expected to spend much of the campaign with Honeywell in the U.S., trialling the avionics and autopilotsystems.
P03 is the third test airframe, and will be completed to production-representative standards, with a full cabin. It will be the compliance item for certification, and will also be used for customer demonstrations, which are scheduled to start at the end of 2016. Under current planning Pilatus expects to fly P03 in the middle of next year, although Schwenk noted that its completion may be delayed to incorporate improvements that may arise from the tests with P01 and P02.
Part of the campaign involves hot- and cold-weather trials, the former likely to be undertaken in southern Spain. Icing trials are perhaps the most difficult to plan. Tests can be performed using molded foam to simulate icing, but certification requires demonstration in real heavy icing conditions. The test crew cannot predict where and when this will occur, so it inevitably involves some waiting around and rapid deployments to find the right conditions.
Rough-field testing will start in early 2017 as one of the last elements to becleared. Certification is planned for mid-2017, with initial deliveries commencing a month after.
Serial production will commence at least 10 months prior to that, initially with a 10-aircraft pre-production batch. Production will ramp up with increasing batch sizes, and Pilatus has a maximum capacity planned for producing 50 aircraft per year.
Pilatus opened the order book for its PC-24 “super versatile jet” at the 2014 EBACE show in Geneva, and in just 36 hours had notched up 84 orders. Pilatus is expecting to deliver those aircraft by the end of 2019. For now the order book is temporarily closed so that Pilatus can concentrate on the flight tests and finalizing production details to fulfil the initial batch of orders. Schwenk expects Pilatus to be in a position to begin accepting new orders in mid-2016.
The Swiss company has designed the baseline PC-24 to a high specification, but also is examining a range of options, including special missions. “We see this aircraft as being excellent for government use,” said Schwenk. One mission fit that will be available from the start is a full medevac configuration. The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia–a major operator of the Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop–is one of the launch customers for the PC-24, having ordered six aircraft. Pilatus will work closely with the RFDS to introduce the aircraft, especially as it will be used regularly for rough-field operations. “It’s good to have customers who fly a lot under extreme conditions,” said Schwenk. “We can learn a lot about operating the aircraft fromthem.”