My Flight Safety training and check ride was in this amazing “PC-12 NG” with the Honeywell APEX system (max T/O weight 10,450 and fully redundant systems). This plane is a masterful, fully realized expression of automated flight control. You can program it from 500′ on T/O to 200′ AGL decision height and it will fly it flawlessly. There may certainly be times where this is undesirable but the capability is there and the systems are reliable and predictable. Our fleet however contains only two NGs and a variety of other Pilatus versions that can provide challenges and surprises.
We fly a variety of older “legacy” airframes and avionics systems in the fleet and often are flying right down to minimums with our shuttles to the islands (why do they want to go there if it is gray?) Since we dispatch on an app, anything may change by the next day and various different systems are at our disposal depending on the schedule and maintenance. Our oldest plane, the famous Pilatus #2 (“NE” or fondly called”Never Ever”) has only the Bendix King EFS 40/50 5″ attitude indicators and HSI with a primitive autopilot and completely non-intuitive vertical speed controller. One knob sets altitude, twist for vertical speed, arm and then activate. It has the evil habit of memorizing the last input (even after shutdown) When you next take-off you better not activate this system immediately or it will direct your last descent for approach (and into the weeds). This is one of those “live and learn” training lessons you discover just when you want it to work.
The flight management controllers on the older models reside just above the throttle quadrant and have little in common with the functionality found in the “NG.” A particularly annoying habit of this set-up is not switching the nav source when you set up an ILS. And you will certainly still be on GPS unless you carefully select and verify a LOC source. And of course no paperless charts here (horrors) Just get out the Jepp books and search out your diagrams for the approach.
Between the NG and NE is another “legacy” that has G600 on both sides and the GTN 650/750 stack. This plane has touch screen with another unique functionality. This has the Garmin chapter/page logic that I rather like. We seldom get to fly longer legs in any of the legacy aircraft but I am almost familiar with this set-up and it works well. We recently shot two missed approaches trying to get into East Hampton on a flight from KBWI. The only wart here was the vertical speed would not command a climb with the flight director. Anyway, the bigger plan was obviously was not working and we had the client send his transportation to Montauk where we flew a visual for their pick up. (And that was the end of a 14 hour duty day).
The back end of the Pilatus also can come in astonishingly different configurations. Our oldest PC-12 has all the charm of a big yellow school bus. This plane was limited in weight and also does not have fully redundant generators. This plane is often utilized for the shuttle to the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
Another feature of the older model 45 are remarkably heavy aileron forces. In the newer model 47, Pilatus added “Flettner tabs” that use aerodynamic forces to assist the ailerons and lighten the roll handling considerably. These are much nicer to handle. The interior of the new NG was created by BMW Designworks. It’s pretty luxurious.
These later Pilatus models, starting with serial #683 also have a 530 lb. gross weight increase, creating the PC-12/47 (which also has fully redundant electrical capacity). This happened in 2006 and makes it possible to do long-distance flights with a full cabin. With full fuel you can load 900 lbs in back! Here is the very cool iPad app for figuring weight and balance.
We flew the trip to Chicago in this plane and have a trip scheduled to Missoula, MT later in the month I am looking forward to. Unfortunately, you never do know if these will happen though since they are totally at the whim of our customers. This Sat. we are scheduled to be at SYR at the same time as the airshow…but who knows? I will keep you posted!