Swiss manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft received simultaneous approvals for its new PC-24 “super versatile” jet on December 7 from EASA and the FAA, including authorizations for flight into known icing and single-pilot operations. The $8.9 million (list price) 10-passenger aircraft is “the first ever Swiss business jet,” said the company, which added it was the culmination of eleven-and-a-half years’ work.
The first indication that Pilatus was developing a jet came in its annual report in May 2011, but the company did not reveal details until two years later, when it unveiled a mockup at EBACE 2013 in Geneva. Further details and performance targets came out at the Paris Air Show in June 2013.
At EBACE 2014 Pilatus opened the PC-24 order book, with chairman Oscar Schwenk and CEO Markus Bucher signing contracts, starting with launch customer the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) of Australia for four aircraft. PlaneSense, the U.S. fractional share PC-12 operator, ordered six, and in total Pilatus ended the day with 75 commitments. In the first 36 hours, it had recorded 84 orders, enough to cover the first three years of production. Pilatus then closed the order book while it developed the aircraft. It plans to begin taking more orders starting later next year. Pilatus held a formal rollout ceremony for the PC-24 at Buochs Airport in Stans on August 1, 2014.
The first PC-24 prototype completed its maiden flight in May 2015. Three prototypes were built and ultimately flew a total of 2,205 hours in a certification program that took them around the globe, in a variety of environmental conditions, to expand the operating envelope by taking it to design limits.
Pilatus said that the first PC-24 will be handed over to PlaneSense in Stans this month. The aircraft will then be flown to the U.S. in January “for official delivery to the customer.”
Schwenk said: “In 2013 we announced that the PC-24 would be ready in 2017, and now, shortly before the end of the year, we have achieved exactly that. And all performance data promised to our first 84 customers has been achieved or even exceeded. The PC-24 delivers a maximum speed of 440 knots compared to the contractually agreed 425 knots, to cite just one example.”
Pilatus said it has invested more than 500 million Swiss Francs ($502 million) of its own funds in the PC-24 development program. A further 150 million Swiss Francs ($151 million) went into buildings and production machinery at Stans to expand PC-24 series production capacity.
The company revealed it currently has eight PC-24s on the assembly line in Stans, with 23 deliveries to customers around the world planned throughout 2018. In the U.S., Pilatus has created a new completions and support center in Broomfield, Colorado, scheduled to be finished in mid-2018.
Genesis of a Jet
Operators of Pilatus’s PC-12 turboprop single had for some years been asking the company for an aircraft with the capabilities of the PC-12, but faster and with a bigger cabin. The RFDS, for example, had been grappling with “how to combine a turboprop’s strengths, like its dependability and its ability to operate from short and unimproved surfaces, with a jet’s speed.”
The PC-24 was the solution. Pilatus dubbed the aircraft the first “Super Versatile Jet,” or SVJ, creating “an entirely new category for business jets” as the only aircraft “combining the versatility of a turboprop with the cabin size of a medium-size jet and the performance of a light jet.” And it offers a huge (4.1 feet wide by 4.25 feet tall) aft cargo door. The baggage compartment is pressurized.
Its airframe is all-metal, and the jet is designed to operate from short and unimproved runways. The PC-24 needs as little as 2,690 feet (balanced field length) at its 17,650-pound mtow. Landing distance over a 50-foot obstacle is 2,525 feet. At 5,000-feet field elevation and ISA+20, the PC-24 at mtow needs a balanced field length of just 4,430 feet.
These numbers mean that the PC-24 can operate from more than 21,000 airports worldwide, including 8,383 airports in North America and 2,928 airports in Europe—91 and 79 percent, respectively, more than its closest competitor, according to Pilatus.
The aircraft has a wingspan of 55 feet 9 inches, and the wings, while tapered at the leading edge, are straight and not swept. Wing area covers 332.6 sq ft and wing loading is 53 lb/sq ft.
With a height of 17 feet 4 inches and length of 55 feet 2 inches, the PC-24 is two to three feet longer than the Embraer Phenom 300 and three feet shorter than the Cessna Citation XLS+, but with seven inches less wingspan than the XLS+.
The PC-24’s dual-wheel main landing gear swings inward and retracts into uncovered wells in the fuselage center section. Tires are inflated to a low pressure of 72 psi. Fueling is via a single-point pressure refueling port.
Two Williams International FJ44-4A engines help the PC-24 climb directly to its maximum altitude of FL450 in less than 30 minutes and achieve a high-speed cruise of 440 ktas at FL300. Range with an 800-pound payload (four passengers) at long-range cruise speed and NBAA 100-nm IFR reserves is 1,950 nm or 1,800 nm with six passengers. At maximum payload, range drops to 1,190 nm.
The PC-24's type certificate data sheet reveals that stall speed in landing configuration at sea level, at max landing weight, is 82 knots, while the maximum operating Mach number is 0.74, with 0.81 the maximum design Mach number.
Maximum takeoff weight is 17,640 pounds and maximum payload is 2,500 pounds. Usable fuel load is 5,965 pounds and maximum payload with full fuel is 915 pounds.
Its customized avionics suite is dubbed PACE—for Pilatus Advanced Cockpit Environment—and is based on Honeywell's Primus Apex system. According to Pilatus, the aircraft is NextGen ready and RVSM compliant.
The jet's flat floor passenger cabin will come with seven different interior options for layouts that include executive, commuter, combi, and quick-change configurations, as well as options for galleys and an externally serviced lavatory, placed either forward or aft. With seating for six to eight passengers or up to 10 in commuter configuration, the PC-24 has a cabin volume of 501 cu ft, “much more than bigger aircraft that cost twice as much,” Schwenk said at the aircraft’s launch. The cabin is pressurized to a maximum of 8.78 psi pressure differential, providing a sea level cabin altitude at 23,500 feet and 8,000-foot cabin altitude at 45,000 feet.
Key to the PC-24’s short-field performance is a unique design feature of the jet’s two Fadec-controlled 3,420-pound-thrust Williams International engines. An additional 5 percent power (to 3,600 pounds) is available via a new automatic thrust reserve feature, according to Williams.
The engines also employ Williams’s Exact passive thrust vectoring nozzle technology, which uses the Coanda effect to provide a three-degree “vectored” thrust during high power operations. The Exact feature was planned for Piper’s canceled Altaire single-engine jet, although using a higher seven-degree vector. An anti-iced and noise-suppressing inlet is supplied by Williams, as is an integral pre-cooler “to condition engine bleed air and reduce drag losses.”
The PC-24 doesn’t need an APU because the FJ44s have Williams’s Quiet Power Mode—a first in the industry—to provide ground power efficiently and with little noise. The engine has a 5,000-hour TBO and hot-section interval of 2,500 hours.
In June 2016 Pilatus Business Aircraft broke ground on a dedicated 120,000-sq-ft facility for both PC-12 and PC-24 completions at its U.S. base in Broomfield, Colorado, planned to be fully operational by mid-2018. The schedule call for the first eight PC-24s to be completed at the Pilatus plant in Switzerland; the ninth aircraft is slated to arrive in Broomfield next year.