Pilatus PC-12 test flight

My friend David and I went up to Manchester, New Hampshire the other day to test-fly the Pilatus PC-12.  This is a competitor to the TBM 850 that I tested a couple of weeks ago.  The PC-12 has a much bigger cabin, a small closable toilet opposite the front stairs, and turned out to be much quieter.  It is more expensive than the TBM and significantly slower, but if you can afford $2.8 million you can probably afford $3.5 million and, “If you’re important, people will wait for you.”

The Pilatus has a profusion of switches, but David said that he thought they were more logically laid out compared to the TBM.  The fundamental instruments are 5″ glass tubes.  In 2008 the company will be shipping a revised PC-12 with a simplified panel and a three-screen glass set of flight instruments (the new design also has a higher cruise speed).

Handling of the airplane is very consistent from 90 knots right up to maximum cruising speed.  The controls never felt sloppy during slow flight and the plane can fly very slow indeed.  The FAA won’t certify a single-engine plane unless it can fly right down to about 70 mph.  The theory is that if the engine quits and you need to land in a potato field, you shouldn’t be zipping along at 100 mph where an impact with a ground obstacle would be fatal.  The requirement that a single-engine plane be able to fly slow means that the PC-12 can land on very short runways (less distance required to brake from 70 mph than 100 mph) and can be safely operated by less experienced pilots.

Fit and finish throughout the airplane were superb, visibly superior to the TBM.  This is not necessarily a tribute to Swiss craftsmanship because the interior is done in Colorado.  I had to bend forward a bit to see through the windows and standing up in the cabin is not an option for those over maybe 4’6″ tall.  Interior noise is obtrusive at low altitudes and while climbing, but abates in the 13,000′ cruise to 85 dBA in the pilot seats and closer to 81 in the back (supposedly quieter at higher altitudes).  An optional sound insulation package would bring the noise level down by 3-6 dBA at the cost of 175 lbs. in payload. Of course, after paying $42,000 for this option, you probably won’t have as much stuff or as many friends to haul around…  Options are priced at 100-400X what you’d pay for the same thing at Walmart.  A microwave is $20,000; a coffee maker is $7,000; a DVD player for the folks in back is $12,000.  Tell your friends to bring a novel from the library and a thermos.

Resale value of the PC-12 should be less affected than the TBM by the flood of very light jets (VLJs) hitting the market.  The typical VLJ can only hold 2-4 people in anything that might be called comfort or for any distance that you couldn’t drive in four hours in a Ford Pinto.  A PC-12, by contrast, can haul a huge amount of cargo or two families with kids all the way down to Florida.  The plane also handles ice very well and consequently is in extremely high demand over in Russia.  If U.S. yuppies eventually decide that they need to ride in turbojets, a PC-12 can be unloaded in two weeks to a happy Russian customer.

Conclusion:  A great step-up plane for guys like David, who has 600 hours, is planning to fly about once/week to remain current, and who plans one day to fly a twin-engine jet.  It is a shame that the market isn’t large enough to support mass production of planes like this and therefore there aren’t significant economies of scale bringing the price down.  Pilatus builds only about 100 per year and if you don’t have a spare $2.8 million kicking around, it is tough even to find an old one.

Related: TBM 850 quick review

7 Comments

  1. alext

    December 1, 2006 @ 5:39 pm

    1

    I have the pleasure of getting right-seat time in a PC-12 out of KCRQ at pretty regular intervals flying with a friend of mine who has about 2500 hours in the plane. I am a 200 hour private-working on instrument and found it to be a really easy plane to hand-fly (kinda heavy and solid at first), and the FD takes a little getting used to. He loaned me a bunch of training manuals so I am spending time on that instead of working on my instrument written – learning about turbines is pretty cool. I’m making him renew his CFI so I can log dual-received ;)

    It’s really an amazing airplane!

  2. Ghengis

    December 1, 2006 @ 7:30 pm

    2

    A couple of questions: Did your test plane have that weird pod on the wing (it looks like a FLIR, a little), do you know what it’s for?

    Is it legal for a pilot to put on the autopilot to go “use the facilities”?

  3. philg

    December 1, 2006 @ 7:55 pm

    3

    Ghengis: The pod on the wing is weather RADAR. Some sort of onboard thunderstorm detection equipment is required for most commericial IFR operations. Most pilots find datalink weather easier to interpret. Interpreting the on-board RADAR requires a lot of experience.

    If you’re alone in the plane, it is not legal to take off your seatbelt, much less back away from the pilot’s seat. On the other hand, a lot of people do this if the air is smooth and they have a long enough headset cord.

  4. Anonymous

    December 3, 2006 @ 8:21 am

    4

    Tell your friend to buy a PC12. I own one (taking a trip in it in a few hours) and could not be happier… The combination of range, comfort and that MASSIVE cargo door in the back make this the ultimate aircraft (for one that travels below 350kts.)

    Unless speed is the #1 priority (as you pointed out, it’s usually not) this aircraft blows away the TBM. I don’t have any direct TBM experience, but I know people who do and they typically agree. (I.e. the TBM owner who keeps driving by my airplane w/ a longing look in his eyes… Yes, I’m serious.) ;-)

  5. Julian Rubinstein

    December 24, 2006 @ 12:20 pm

    5

    Phil,

    Love your blog as I find it very informative. I am considering purchasing a Meridian and would like your thoughts. I have flown an SR22 for 600 hours and as per your blog on the Mirage, want a plane that would meet Joe Random’s expectations. While the SR22 performs very well at 14-15,000 I have also found that to get above the weather takes at least 18,000. With the new Avidyne screens in the Meridian, a transition should be much easier then to a non glass plane such as a Pilatus or TBM. In addition, I cannot justify the extra cost of $1 million on the 850 & $1.7 million on the PC12 for very little increase in performance. As with most pilots, I tend to carry one or 2 passengers the most so the Meridians 575 payload is enough. I think the TBM at 2.8 million will be in trouble once the Mustang is readily availble and hence resale will suffer. Maybe the Pilatus holds value but it seems like a lot of money for 270 knots. And I have to believe that their will be VLJS at $3.5 that will have a large enough cabin to suit most people. How much do u think the Meridians value will be hurt IF ? the Eclipse or A500 ever happen? Also, are u enjoying your Mirage? What altitude r u finding it takes to get above most of the clouds not thunderstorms? Finally, have u seen the canula from Rocket Engineering that does not sit in your nose? I have one & it works great. Look fwd to your comments.

  6. Artur Cruz

    December 27, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

    6

    Hi!!!

    About taking a leak in flight, there is an option that they call relief tube if a i remember…
    Comparing the TBM with PC12 it is just like comparing a ferrari with a SUV, despite they have simillar engines and config they are 2 completely diferente aircrafts. I fly a 45 i would love to try the 47 and the new one must be a dream…. Extra power and new avionics but not big speed increase.
    For me anything better than a PC12 it is only a Piaggio P180 2.

    PS: just for info, despite the interiors are from Colorado and final assembly in Stans, 99% of the structure is manufactured in Portugal so there goes the swiss craftmanship

  7. richard

    May 18, 2007 @ 1:11 am

    7

    Interesting.

    I looked at the pc-12, caravan, and citation jets. The pc-12 I concluded was a great plane, but just too expensive, as I probably would rather have a CJ2 (yes less load and size, but can get above weather and of course faster).
    The Caravan was a great vfr platform, but I have a slow Beaver that is somewhat similar.
    Once in a jet though, that means pro pilot to me.

    A friend just got a fractional in an Avanti, so I checked them out more carefully, though I havent seen them in person. They have some noise abatement issues, but quiet inside. Looks pretty interesting – assuming the parent company supports them well. Big cabin. Reasonably fast. Effiicient. Same price as a CJ2 Plus.

    Wonder which I would rather have?

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