The Next Big Thing – The New Pilatus PC-12 NGX
Pilatus has a new one – the PC-12 NGX. The third generation of the world's best single-engine turboprop was unveiled in October and deliveries will start in the second quarter of 2020. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
The aircraft is hidden by a cover. “Well, you all know what’s under there of course – it’s not exactly difficult to make out an aircraft with a propeller! So, yes, it’s a PC-12!” That was how Markus Bucher, CEO of Pilatus, kicked off the presentation event for the new Pilatus aircraft on 21 October 2019.
Improved, smart, re-designed
Over 200 guests were invited to the unveiling of the new Pilatus aircraft on the eve before the doors opened at the NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas. On show was the first production aircraft – already approved with EASA and FAA certification. “Nor do our customers have to wait for years, the PC-12 NGX is available now”, announced Markus Bucher with pride. The world’s most versatile single-engine turboprop comes with many new features – an improved engine, smarter avionics and a completely re-designed cabin.
In recent months, the PC-12 NGX had already accumulated no fewer than 600 hours of test flights. Not exactly in secret, but not readily identifiable “from outside” thanks to the careful efforts of the project team. The help of the plane spotter community had been enlisted to ensure that photographs of the new aircraft were not made public. “It wasn’t always easy being in charge of a project which no one was supposed to know about”, explains project leader Corné Smith.
Another Pilatus milestone
The figures speak for themselves: over 1,700 PC-12s already sold and more than seven million hours in the air! Plus the best customer service in this sector: the PC-12 is a model of success. And here now is the third generation of the world’s best-selling turboprop! Thomas Bosshard, CEO of subsidiary Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd, pointed out how customer needs drove the development of this new version: “This comprehensive update is the result of a thorough analysis of the requirements expressed by our customers, and was additionally shaped by the good relations we cultivate with our most important partners.”
Initial feedback gathered at a confidential sales briefing event for the worldwide Authorised Pilatus Centres held approximately a month before the official presentation was incredibly positive. At that time, however, one could only guess at the feedback likely to follow when the new aircraft was unveiled to the general public for the first time.
Plans to ensure that information about the new aircraft was not leaked to the public were forged well in advance. “In the end, we couldn’t prevent information about the certification from being published. But it happened relatively late in the day, which gave rise to a few rumours just before the unveiling. That all ramped up the sense of anticipation, and made the presentation all the more exciting”, recalls Corné Smith. Slots to view the PC-12 NGX at the NBAA-BACE were all booked out quickly and social media feedback was staggering.
Tangible innovation on the inside
Talking about the innovative spirit which led to the PC-12 NGX, Markus Bucher commented as follows: “Seeking to further reinforce our position as the market leader in our segment, we are always looking for innovative solutions of benefit to the safety, comfort and productivity of our customers. The PC-12 NGX is another showcase project which attests to the state-of-the-art technology delivered by Pilatus, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Honeywell. Together, we took the best and made it even better.”
This innovation means the PC-12 NGX boasts new capabilities which no one else in this market segment has yet developed or had certified. The autothrottle for automatic thrust adjustment is a good example. Improvements have also been made to the engine, which now features an electronic propeller and engine control system. The new propeller low speed mode delivers a significant reduction in cabin background noise. Prist®-free fuel operation is new, too.
In another first for the turboprop segment, Pilatus presents the PC-24 inspired Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE™). State-of-the-art technology sees the cockpit environment focus on ultimate control and enhanced situational awareness at all times. Intelligent touchscreen control is just one of many features. The cockpit is also equipped with an autopilot capable of handling all flight attitudes in safety.
New design features on the outside
The PC-12 NGX sports a distinctive new look with a number of design features inspired by the PC-24. The cabin windows have been enlarged by ten percent in what is perhaps the most noticeable change. The rectangular shape plus dark windscreen cladding combine to create a modern version of the classic original. Passenger comfort is unsurpassed inside the completely redesigned cabin interior. New, extremely light passenger seats, a reworked cabin headliner and a modern interior finished with the finest leather and superb woodwork show the PC-12 NGX in its best light.
The first customers
“Our global sales team knew about the PC-12 NGX a month in advance, so there was time to acquire a number of potential customers”, explained Markus Bucher at the presentation in Las Vegas. Australian Dion Weisler, formerly CEO of HP, is one of the first customers for the new PC-12 NGX. “As a proud and active existing owner and pilot of a PC-12 NG dating from 2017, I’m amazed at the substantial improvements which have been made to an aircraft which, in my view, could not be improved on. I’m delighted to be amongst the first customers for the new PC-12 NGX. Pilatus has done it again – revolutionising civil aviation by taking an aircraft which was already perfect and redefining that concept of perfection.”
Assisted by its worldwide network of Authorised Pilatus Centres, Pilatus had already gathered some 30 sales prospects within the first few days. “The positive feedback outstripped all our expectations. I’m delighted to be here to celebrate the start of the next chapter in this best-selling single-engine turboprop with you all”, said Markus Bucher in conclusion at the presentation event. Curtains up for the new PC-12 NGX!
Interview with Corné Smith, Project Leader PC-12 NGX
Corné, what was the highlight for you?
The highlight for me was participating in the sales briefing in September 2019, where the new PC-12 NGX was presented to the worldwide sales team. The reactions of the sales teams confirmed that we had achieved and indeed exceeded the goals we had set for ourselves. To my mind, the PC-12 NGX is an aircraft which will make a significant impact on the world market.
What were the biggest hurdles?
The biggest challenge was the timetable associated with getting in the air for the first time.The team worked relentlessly with Pratt & Whitney Canada from the first engine run on 28 September 2017 through to the first flight on 21 December 2017, a day before the Christmas break. The maiden flight marked the start of the flight test campaign. From that moment on, we were no longer working on a “paper plane”, but had a tangible flying aircraft.
How do you feel about working on such a unique product?
It has been an absolute honour and privilege to work on bringing the third-generation PC-12 to life.Together, the Pilatus team has secured the PC-12’s title and future as the world’s best single-engine turboprop.
How many people worked with you on the project?
The project was a tremendous team effort harnessing all the experience gained from the PC-24. By a rough calculation, over 100 people were involved in the day- to-day activities. I believe the key success factors were the cooperation and communication between the main functions – engineering, procurement, production, fabrication, marketing and accounting. At the end of the day, teamwork was the winner.
Interview with Anthony Vallon, Project Test Pilot
Anthony, what exactly was your role in the PC-12 NGX project?
I flew the flights to collect the data required for development and certification and generated fact-based feedback from the test flights. I also contributed the operational perspective, i.e. the pilot’s view, to the project team.
What was the highlight for you?
There were several highlights. But the best thing about the project is the overall result: the PC-12 NGX. This project proves yet again that we at Pilatus are capable of building the best aircraft for the needs of our customers, in line with our corporate vision.
What were the biggest hurdles?
During the test flights focusing on the engine and the fuel system we had to stay in the vicinity of the airfield so as to be able to make a safe landing in case of an emergency. Depending on the weather conditions in the Alps and available airspace, that posed some major hurdles.