The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (RFDS Central Operations) took delivery of its first PC-24 in early May 2019. Chief pilot Damien Heath gives us his thoughts on the expanded fleet and talks to us about his experience as a PC-24 pilot. Pilatus Australia Pty Ltd
Damien, have you always wanted to be a pilot?
Ever since I was seven and went for a ride in a helicopter. I learnt to fly at age 14 in a Cessna 152.
How did you find your way to the RFDS?
I’ve always wanted to work for the RFDS ever since seeing the “Flying Doctors” on TV! It’s a very rewarding, meaningful career.
What does the arrival of the PC-24 mean for RFDS Central Operations and what are the benefits for the organisation?
The PC-24 is a real game changer for us! The PC-12 provides the ideal combination of range, speed and easy loading of patients through the large cargo door. These factors all combine to reduce total mission time and provide the best outcome for our patients. The PC-24 takes this unique combination to the next level. We can now load three stretchered patients instead of two – all in an intensive care unit life-support environment. Flight times are also reduced, which is a key factor in the evacuation of critical patients. Many people in the outback, living far from the nearest hospital, will benefit by this innovation – thanks to the financial support we receive through donations and sponsorship.
What was the biggest challenge when transitioning from the PC-12 to the PC-24?
The performance – particularly after take-off – is impressive, and was the most talked about aspect of our pilots’ first flights in the aircraft. They were extremely enthusiastic about it! The biggest organisational challenge has been updating all procedures and manuals for operating aircraft greater than 12,600 pounds (5,700 kilograms).
What similarities have you noticed between the PC-24 and PC-12 from a flying perspective?
You can tell immediately that both aircraft come from the same stable, the avionics package has certainly helped with the transition for our pilots who are all very experienced on the PC-12.
You did your PC-24 training at FlightSafety International. How does training on the PC-24 differ from the training you did on the PC-12?
Prior to the PC-24, all my training was done in the actual aircraft itself. For the PC-24, most of the training is done in a simulator. The simulator was an entirely new, amazing and enjoyable (if somewhat stressful) experience for me. The training provided by FlightSafety International is superb.
Knowing what you know now, would you change how you approached the training course? Would you do anything differently in preparation and during the course?
I like to study the flight manuals before any course, that’s very important. FlightSafety International provided us with all the PC-24 manuals, online tools and aids required. They run a great programme, I wouldn’t change anything at all.
As the chief pilot for RFDS Central Operations what are your biggest challenges with introducing the first jet into the organisation?
One of the initial challenges lay in defining the pilot experience requirements needed to successfully transition to the PC-24. Traditional thinking had us looking at employing very experienced jet pilots, but the more we found out about the similarities with the PC-12 as the PC-24 progressed through the certification process, the more comfortable we became with the idea of training our experienced RFDS PC-12 pilots on the PC-24. Whilst there are challenges associated with moving from a multi pilot jet into a single pilot jet such as the PC-24, all our current PC-24 pilots have transitioned from the PC-12 fleet and they have settled into the jet nicely.
How many pilots will RFDS Central Operations train on the PC-24?
We currently have five pilots on the PC-24 as we approach a 24/7 operational platform. All are experienced on the PC-12, and will operate both aircraft types.
What advice would you give for organisations that are considering adding a PC-24 to their fleet particularly if they already operate PC-12s?
Go for it! The transition is easier than expected. Pilatus really did get the mix just right, and if you can fly a PC-12 confidently then the PC-24 is a realistic and achievable transition, even though it is a jet.
How will the introduction of the PC-24 complement the PC-12 operations?
The PC-12 will remain the backbone of our operations. The performance and flexibility of the PC-12 is second to none for our core work, but as the appetite for longer distances and reduced total mission time continues to grow throughout our region, the PC-24 will fill that niche perfectly.
Why do you feel RFDS Central Operations chose the PC-24 over other jets in the marketplace?
The PC-24 was an easy choice for us. We have had a wonderful relationship with Pilatus since being the launch customer for the PC-12 25 years ago. The similarity of the avionics with the PC-12, and for medevac operations you just cannot do without a factory-fitted cargo door and the aerolite medical interior.
How was the first PC-24 landing on a rough field strip?
Fantastic, the aircraft performed as advertised and at a personal level it was truly a career highlight. Pilatus can be very proud of this aircraft.
How does the PC-24 behave on the strip?
In simple terms, as advertised! The PC-24 handles the unpaved runway with ease. Before the first landing we looked at all aspects of the landing and subsequent manoeuvring on the strip, our biggest concern was the tight turns required at the runway ends but these concerns proved unfounded. Even on the softer edges of the strip we hardly left a mark in the dirt.
What’s the difference between the PC-24 and PC-12 in regards to rough field operations?
We operate the PC-12 from unpaved runways on a daily basis, and in practical terms there really is no difference with the PC-24. The approach and landing speeds are only marginally greater than the PC-12 and the low pressure tyres and trailing link undercarriage make for a very comfortable arrival.
Damien, thank you for your insights and many more happy landings in both – the PC-24 and the PC-12!