Message 11.05.2015

Past Maiden Flight Episodes

The last maiden flight at Pilatus, that of the PC-21, dates back 13 years. A look at our company history reveals that every maiden flight marked another major step forward in our development. From aircraft to aircraft, each flight was a very different affair.

Whenever a new Pilatus aircraft took off for the very first time, it usually signalled another step towards a successful future – well, almost always! The SB-2 Pelican, which completed its maiden flight on 30 May 1944, was one of the exceptions that confirmed that general rule – it never went into series production. Designed for low-speed flights, the SB-2 never caught on. A private firm in Bern bought the only aircraft ever made, planning to use it for commercial work. But the nose wheel collapsed during a landing on a grass strip in June 1948: the SB-2 was never repaired and was subsequently withdrawn from operation. 

The P-4, too, was shelved after its maiden flight in March 1948. Approval was not sought for the prototype and series production was never considered: there were other projects on the boil! 

Other Pilatus aircraft, e.g. the P-1, P-5 or PC-10, of which only drawings remain, may well have taken off, but only as paper planes! But every type or design provided the basis for another model – some more successful than others, of course.

A maiden flight, but not quite

The PC-8, which was a twin-engined aircraft, took off for the first time in November 1967. On the “official day”, Hans Galli, our test pilot at that time, told press representatives that “when testing prototypes, test flights are always made before the ‘maiden flight’ itself. The official maiden flight only goes ahead at an advanced stage of flight testing.” The hopes invested in the PC-8 Twin Porter never materialised. Due to technical (or rather, aerody namic) difficulties encountered during the test programme, the project was abandoned in December 1968 and the PC-8 was never developed to production maturity. It simply wasn’t flyable! We look back at that era now and reflect that the times when one just jumped in, went flying and hoped for the best are well and truly behind us! 

Certified after five months

But the P-2 and P-3, and the PC-6 in particular, were big success stories from the start: there was just one PC-6 prototype, and its ‘career’ was short-lived, but remarkable. The first Pilatus Porter went on show at the international Paris Air Show, a month after the maiden flight. It was officially approved by the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation just five months after that first flight. On 12 March 1960, the aircraft took off to join the Dhaulaghiri expedition in Nepal, a trip of almost 10 000 km. Even in those early days, our PC-6 earned itself a first world record for several landings at altitudes of over 5000 m above sea-level! 

Next up was the maiden flight of the PC-7, or, more accurately, a modified P-3, on 7 April 1966. Our test pilot, Rolf Böhm, was full of praise. The final version of the PC-7 did not fly for the first time until nine years later, on 7 May 1975. The PC-7 MkII, which is in fact a completely redesigned construction which has nothing to do with the original PC-7, first flew in 1992. 

Maiden flight 30 days after rollout

The maiden flight of the PC-12 took place on 31 May 1991 under the expectant gaze of hundreds of enthusiastic onlookers – just 30 days after the rollout! The workload was enormous. But the maiden flight was a total success: when asked why it had gone on for 42 minutes, instead of the planned 36, our test pilot, Galli, grinned and replied: “Well, it was such beautiful weather and the PC-12 was such a pleasure to fly, I simply made the turns last a bit longer. What a fantastic feeling! The PC-12 flies like an airliner.” And that’s exactly how it still flies today, of course!

The most recent Pilatus maiden flight, that of the PC-21, took place on Monday, 1 July 2002. Seeing Bill Tyndall climb aboard, the entire workforce hurried over to the airfield to watch our black bird take off at precisely 11 minutes past 10. Shortly after takeoff, the test pilot came on the radio to confirm all was going well. It was a moment that inspired confidence – just like the PC-21 itself.