WE FLY: PILATUS' NEW PC-12 NGX
Flying|April 2020
The latest edition of the popular single-engine turboprop will make any jet pilot feel right at home.
ROB MARK

I FIRST FLEW A PILATUS PC-12 MODEL 10 BACK IN 2008 AND FOUND IT MADE A NICE, STABLE INSTRUMENT PLATFORM. AT 270 KNOTS, IT WAS NO JET, BUT A WALK THROUGH THAT GARGANTUAN CABIN ON THE GROUND WITH THE MASSIVE REAR CARGO DOOR OPEN MADE NO BONES ABOUT THE PLANE’S ABILITY TO CARRY TONS OF STUFF.

I think I called it an airborne Chevy Suburban. Pilatus chief pilot Jed Johnson offered a more descriptive tag line when I was in Broomfield, Colorado, for a December 2019 visit to Pilatus Business Aircraft, calling it a “turbine Suburban.”

No matter what nickname you give it, the PC-12 is famous for being able to haul a couple of Harleys and a few passengers out to a dirt strip and back (see “A Little PC-12 History” for more on the models). In fact, Pilatus specifically designed the PC-12 with a T-tail to make using a forklift possible while loading cargo through that big aft door. Johnson said, originally, Pilatus just saw the airplane as a robust utility, cargo and military airplane that was only later transformed into a luxury vehicle. Pilatus vice president of marketing Tom Aniello said it was actually the dealers who saw the potential for the PC-12 once the interior was spiffed up.

With 1,750 PC-12s built to date, new NGX owners— AIRabout 10 percent of whom will operate it single pilot—can carry a 2,000-pound load on a 3½-hour IFR flight with reserves and feel as though they were operating a light jet, except for the NGX’s 290-knot top speed. Adding to the airplane’s own capabilities is the venerable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 powerplant, which already has about 8 million flight hours under its belt, and Honeywell’s proven Epic avionics system.

Today, single-engine turboprops are almost commonplace with Daher’s TBM series, Piper’s M350, M500 and M600, and Cessna’s Caravan in addition to the PC-12. None can carry the load of the PC-12 except the Caravan, which is 100 knots slower. Only the Cessna Denali still in development might give the PC-12 a run for its money. Aniello mentioned that possibility but quickly added that the fact alone that Textron is building a PC-12 clone adds credibility to the role played by Pilatus’ airplane that’s been flying for a couple of decades.

What Happens in Vegas Is No Secret Pilatus kept development of the new NGX under wraps until the official unveiling at the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Las Vegas in October 2019, with EASA and FAA certification already in hand. “The NGX includes the biggest package of updates at a serial number that we’ve ever seen,” Aniello said. The NGX comes standard with a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6E-67XP with full authority digital engine control—a first for a single-engine turboprop— that includes an autothrottle and 10 percent more usable horsepower.

In the cockpit, pilots will find updated Honeywell Epic avionics that include four 10.4-inch high- resolution screens and greater processing power. Pilatus brands their cockpit as the Advanced Cockpit Environment. The cabin windows—10 percent larger than previous models— significantly increase the amount of ambient light flooding the cabin. The cabin also includes a new air-distribution system, better lighting, heating and cooling, and significantly increased maintenance intervals to reduce operating costs. BMW Designworks created more-comfortable seating reminiscent of that automaker’s ground-based products.

Johnson told me: “Putting a fadec on the PT6 is much more complicated than on a jet because of the need to control the prop. But you also need the avionics to take advantage of the autothrottle. With [the fadec], we can now operate the engine closer to its margins for better performance.” For those who worry about the effects of electrical failures, Johnson said, “If every single electrical bus on the airplane died, you’d still have backup instruments and engine control thanks to a backup permanent- magnet alternator available just to run the fadec.”

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