By Bill Beseler
When someone uses the term Swiss Army knife it is a given that the object that they are speaking of is one of the most versatile products they’ve ever used. Certainly in that regard the Swiss built Pilatus PC-12 lives up to that moniker with every ounce of its existence and then some. It certainly deserves this and other accolades while it offers single pilot IFR operations, comfortable cabin, and impressive payload capability with good cruise while not sacrificing its phenomenal short field capabilities.
The Pilatus PC-12 took off on its maiden flight on May 31st, 1991 and received its Swiss certification in March of 1994 and the US certification in July later that year. Powered by a Pratt and Whitney PT6A-67B boasting 1,200 SHP, it is easy to see why the short field performance exceeds expectations while still offering respectable cruise speeds at altitude. The most notable feature is the spacious cabin. I know from experience how great the big cabin and cargo door can be. Living in Wisconsin and working line service I would help service the State of Wisconsin Pilatus PC-12’s as they took disabled children to their treatments and schools in other parts of Wisconsin. More than once the big cargo door came in handy with moving passengers comfortably. All of these great qualities have made owners and operators fall in love with their PC-12’s which in turn has forged a reputation that tells of its incredible performance, reliability and ease of operation.
Carenado released their version of the Pilatus PC-12 earlier this week. I’m not gonna lie but we’ve been flying it since it came out, not just for the review but merely for the fun of it because it’s an absolute sweetheart to fly. So let’s take N9875 for a flight and see what the Carenado Pilatus PC-12 has to offer!
Carenado gives us plenty of documentation for this release. Included with the download you receive guides for the GNS530, Multifunction Display (MFD), copyrights, FSX recommended settings, Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS), emergency procedures, normal procedures, and performance tables and also a page of references. The documents are very well put together and easy to read. There is also a Reality XP readme for those that have Reality XP gauges.
I suggest reading the user guides in particular for the GNS530, EFIS and MFD. You will also want to look at the procedures and tables so you can operate the Pilatus within its designed parameters. All in all it won’t take you long to get through the documentation and be in the cockpit.
The first thought that came to mind was how much bigger the Pilatus is than the TBM-850 that Carenado had previously released. The size difference made me think of the Pilatus as an SUV of the sky whereas the TBM-850 is more of a sports car. All of the eye candy is there with opening cargo door and cabin door and with the parking brake set you can see the cones, covers and motorized tow bar attached to the aircraft.
Entering the cockpit the first thing that struck me was the great view out of the sides. Unlike the twin engine aircraft that are around the view out the sides are obviously unobstructed and you really get a great view on cross country flights. The cockpit is typical of what you would find in an early Pilatus but you are also going to get an Avidyne MFD that displays traffic, weather and also topography. The Garmin GNS530 is easy to operate with making flight plans and is pretty standard. All of the switches that you would normally find are actually push buttons which is a change from what I’m used to. The nice thing about this is that when the button is pushed in it will light it up and thus I don’t have to zoom in to see if the switch is on or off.
The textures are typical Carenado. The best way to describe the textures is Plush, smooth and accurate. This gives you the sense that you really did bite the bullet and shell out 4 million dollars (US) for this bird. With just the textures alone you have a feeling that you purchased a product from a very established player in the flight sim marketplace.
Starting the Pilatus is pretty much by the book minus that you do not have to worry about hurting the engine. Once the Pratt and Whitney is started, getting the systems up and running is a piece of cake if you are experienced in operating aircraft like this. I set the flight plan in the GNS530 to take us from KVOK (Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wisconsin) to KRFD (Rockford, Illinois). Not too long of a flight but just long enough to get the Pilatus up to altitude and for her to stretch her legs a bit before having to come back down.
Setting up altitude hold and pressurization to 15,000 feet we are off to taxi. When you begin your taxi you are going to want the fuel control to be in ground idle as opposed to flight idle. If you do have it in flight idle when you release the parking brake it will want to roll on its own even with the power all the way back.
Taxiing is pretty standard and easy; keeping a good safe speed on the taxiways takes a little finesse as FSX does not give turboprop aircraft any favors. Once you find the sweet spot in the power setting to taxi, the Carenado Pilatus tracks straight and true on the ground and making turns is easy enough.
Running through the switches one more time we are set to go for our flight. Strobes, taxi and landing lights come on and we taxi onto the active which today is going to be runway 9 with a little right crosswind. Flaps set to 15 degrees and we are set to go! The power comes up smoothly and we are quickly accelerating to 50 knots and once I reached 80 knots she wanted to fly off almost on her own. With positive rate indicated we bring the gear up and once at 1,000 AGL I brought the flaps up. One thing I noticed is that once you start accelerating after takeoff it does take quite a bit of nose down trim to keep the nose from giving you a climb in excess of 2,500 fpm. You can climb out at that rate of ascent but I found on a previous flight it’s not going to be able to keep that up once you get to higher altitudes. Keeping the climb out at 2,000 fpm it really does not take too long to get to our assigned altitude of 15,000. The indicated airspeed on climb out with a 2,000 fpm climb was at 149 knots, not too shabby but also to be expected with the light load I was carrying.
Contacting Chicago center on 133.3 on the climb out, I handed it over to George (autopilot) so I could get some exterior screenshots. George found the route and tracked the flight plan and before long we were up at altitude. Once in the cruise I double checked the pressurization to make sure that it was functioning correctly which it was, so far so good.
Once up at 15,000 I took note of our cruise conditions. With a tailwind of 19 knots I was showing a groundspeed of 260 knots which is pretty good considering a P-51 will cruise at the same altitude at about 10-15 knots faster. Weather was all below us with medium clouds and our frame rate stayed at in between 25-30 FPS. All too quickly it was time to descend for our approach into Rockford.
Just to see how quickly it would descend I kept the altitude at 15,000 and brought the power almost all the way back and let the nose down to a descent of around 4,000 fpm. The airspeed actually started bleeding off in this steep of a descent. This would come in handy in the real world if you had a rapid decompression up at altitude. The other nice feature about having a turboprop as opposed to a piston engine aircraft is that you do not have to worry about shock cooling the engine. Shock cooling occurs when you descend to fast with the power back which causes rapid cooling of the warm cylinders. Because of this the metal cannot take the rapid cooling which causes the metal to contract and you severely damage the cylinders to the point of replacing the cylinders that are affected.
Entering the pattern altitude the Pilatus is very easy to manage airspeed and descent. I honestly believe that if you can fly easily fly a Cessna 172, than you should be able to step into a Pilatus PC-12 with the proper training; it is that honest of an airplane.
Lowering our flaps at 170 knots and the gear at 150, we are entering a left downwind for runway 1. The turn from base to final holds no surprises and here is where the big windows in the cockpit come into play. Visibility in the pattern is fantastic and because of this keeping tabs on traffic in a congested airspace becomes a lot easier.
Entering our final approach our airspeed drops below the white arc on the ASI (Airspeed Indicator) and we can go to full flaps. Keeping our descent at 500 fpm with 100 knots indicated is a piece of cake. Even with a slight wind at 10 o’clock on the nose, directional stability is easy and the Pilatus flies the approach as steady as a rock. As we continue the approach we’ll be over the fence at 75-80 knots and touching down at around 70. I did notice quite a bit of a bounce due to more than likely the trailing link gear. I will have to work on my landings with this as I am not sure if it is the flight model or my technique. Throwing in reverse and light use of the brakes, we would have been able to easily come to a complete stop within 3500 hundred feet of runway if not less.
Coming off the runway we retract the flaps and shut the landing lights off and taxi into our parking spot. Shutting avionics down and generators we bring the fuel control all the way back and the trustworthy PT6 spools down and we have arrived.
The Carenado Pilatus PC-12 flies as good as it looks. Some in various forums have been scratching their heads as to why the NG model wasn’t done. I believe it falls back to what is more commonly flying right now in the real world. I personally love the avionics that they have set up in this model and is almost symbolic of how easy the airplane is to fly.
The textures are very good which has become a tradition with Carenado. Systems could be a little bit more modeled but it seems that Carenado has a level of system modeling that they are comfortable with. This isn’t in any way a knock at Carenado but rather I believe a good way to market to even the casual simmer that doesn’t have the time to go over manual over manual for an aircraft. I feel that their models are perfect for the demographic of flight simmer that is in the middle between easy to operate and complex.
Frame rates were constant with 25-30 fps on the ground and in the sky with my textures set at 4096 and almost everything maxed out. Again, with an NG model of PC-12 might have taken an incredible toll on system performance since glass panels can tax fairly decent systems.
I was very pleased with this offering from Carenado and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a versatile aircraft with good cruise, great payload and exceptional short field capabilities. It will be interesting to see what Carenado releases next but it is my opinion that this is a great precursor to whatever is next on the horizon for them. I’m off now to fly to Chicago Midway with it until tomorrow evening after my Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears. If you are looking to purchase this incredible release by Carenado please click on the link and it will take you directly to their website!
Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit
Microsoft Flight Simulator X SP2 with Direct X Preview enabled
Rex 4 Texture Direct
Ultimate Terrain X USA
Ground Enviroment X
Active Sky Evolution
Intel Core i7-2600k 3.40GHz / Turbo Boost up to 3.80GHz
8GB DDR3 1333MHz Dual Channel Memory
AMD Radeon HD 6850 1GB
1TB Hard Drive