Pilatus PC-12NG take off
Pilatus PC-12NG take off

Pilatus PC-12NG


The versatility of the Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop harkens back to the earliest days of aviation.

Then, there were precious few runways. The “airport” was anywhere you landed, be it a dusty road, a frozen lake, or a farm field. Airplanes generally were not purpose-built; the same ones that bombed Germans in WWI were later used to deliver the mail. 

Over time, aircraft became more specialized, designed for specific missions, and the construction of airports proliferated. Today, there are more than 5,000 public and 14,000 private-use airports in the U.S. But there remains a vibrant niche for go-almost-anywhere, do-almost-anything aircraft—ones that are unfettered by an absence of pavement and able to swallow passengers and cargo with equal aplomb. Since 1994, the Pilatus PC-12 has dominated that niche, combining go-anywhere utility with creature comforts that include a pressurized cabin, near 300-knot speed, and more than five hours of endurance.

Pilatus PC-12NG cabin
Pilatus PC-12NG cabin

At $5.4 million (typically equipped), the latest iteration of the PC-12 isn’t the least expensive single-engine turboprop, but it is arguably the most versatile. The nearly 17-foot-long, six- to nine-passenger flat-floor cabin is virtually the same size as that in the $6.3 million Beechcraft King Air 250 twin-engine turboprop. The PC-12 tackles rough runways with ease and features a beefy aft cargo door that is large enough to accommodate all-terrain vehicles, jet skis, and some household appliances. 

Plus, it provides pressurized comfort at altitudes to 30,000 feet and speeds up to 285 knots, with stylish executive cabins fashioned by BMW. And it can take all manner of abuse: PC-12s have operated more than 1,000 hours per year in Australia’s outback and in the Arctic Circle, flying just about any mission you can throw at them—including cargo, air ambulance, surveillance, and executive transport.

Adaptability and good operating economics make the PC-12 the mainstay of U.S. fractional-ownership firm PlaneSense, according to CEO George Antoniadis. The company, which operates the world’s largest civil fleet of the model, routinely uses runways under 3,000 feet long. And you can land and takeoff on strips that are more than a third shorter than that. Stall speed at maximum takeoff weight is a ridiculously slow 67 knots, remarkable for a 10,000-pound airplane. The trailing-link landing gear smooths out the sloppiest of landings and facilitates touchdown on paved or unpaved surfaces.

Pilatus PC-12NG cargo storage
Pilatus PC-12NG cargo storage

Pilatus has refreshed the PC-12 several times since its first production models rolled off the assembly line. Updates have included improved avionics, better handling, sharper interiors, more engine power, and a new propeller. Moreover, many aftermarket improvements are available from third-party providers for legacy models. These include anti-skid brakes, cabin Wi-Fi, additional cabin soundproofing, and auto-throttle—features that substantially decrease pilot workload. As most PC-12s are flown single-pilot, this is a welcome development. 

Pilatus delivered the first PC-12NG (new generation) in 2008 and continued production of the upgraded model through early this year before replacing it with the PC-12NGX. (The NGX features restyled cabin seats, updated avionics, and a tweaked engine that boosts maximum cruising speed to 290 knots.) 

Pilatus Unveils PC-12 NGX

Related Article

Pilatus Unveils PC-12 NGX

The third iteration of its venerable PC-12 single-engine turboprop.

The NG offers a host of improvements, including the jet-class Honeywell Apex glass panel avionics system and a retuned Pratt & Whitney PT-6A-67P engine that delivers better high-altitude performance, bumping the maximum cruising speed up to 280 knots. The NG also features new winglets; reworked aileron surfaces that make it more responsive in the roll axis; an automatic, digital cabin-pressurization system; and an increased maximum takeoff weight of 10,450 pounds. 

Pilatus PC-12NG cockpit
Pilatus PC-12NG cockpit

Later models of the NG, beginning in 2016, added a five-bladed Hartzell composite propeller with swept blades and a minor aerodynamic cleanup that yields an increased maximum cruise speed of 285 knots (at 20,000 feet). In 2018 Pilatus also upgraded the control software for the PC-12NG and developed a service plan for all PC-12 models that cuts maintenance costs by 20 to 40 percent. On average, a PC-12 costs one-third less per hour to operate than a twin-engine, 200-series King Air. 

Last year, the company delivered 83 PC-12s. Prices for used PC-12NGs range from $3.1 million for a 2008 model to $4.8 million for last year’s model, according to the aircraft valuation service Vref. Few airplanes hold their value better and no other currently produced model matches what a PC-12 can do.



About Pilatus

Stans, Switzerland–based Pilatus is known for its turboprops and to date has sold more than 1,700 PC-12s and hundreds of other types of turboprop military trainers and utility aircraft. Flying since 1959, its PC-6 “Porter” utility hauler gained fame for being able to take off and land in places where airplanes seemingly should not go.

Thanks to the strength of its turboprop sales, privately held Pilatus has been solidly profitable over the years with its durable if somewhat staid product offerings. Plodding along with a line of versatile aircraft for niche buyers willing to pay a premium for Swiss quality, the company has eschewed trendiness at every turn since its founding in 1939, taking its time to evaluate new markets and develop products. 

And, while some airframers are slaves to price points, Pilatus seems impervious to such pressure, confident that customers understand their aircraft’s unique value proposition. A few years ago, a senior company executive told me the company had no intention of ever competing on price. “We’re not a low-cost provider,” he said. —M.H.

Pilatus PC-12NG
Pilatus PC-12NG


2008 Pilatus PC-12NG at a Glance

Average price: $3.1 million 

Crew: 1–2 

Passengers (executive): 6–9 

Top cruising speed: 280 kt 

Range (4 passengers): 1,635 nm

Cabin:

            Height: 4 ft 10 in

            Width: 5 ft

            Length: 16 ft, 11 in

Sources: Vref (price), Pilatus

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