PI­LA­TUS PC-24

We travel to Switzer­land to fly the man­u­fac­turer’s first-ever busi­ness jet.

Flying - - CONTENTS - By Pia Bergqvist

The sound of bells em­a­nat­ing from the cows and goats that graze in the lower parts of the pic­turesque val­ley be­low Mount Pi­la­tus can’t be heard at its peak, which sits at 7,000 feet. But as I take in the view of the bright-green fields and the snow­capped Alps and breathe in the crisp high Alpine air, my mind keeps play­ing the sound­track from the movie

The Sound of Mu­sic. It’s al­most too good to be true.

It takes about five hours for an aver­age hiker to climb from the val­ley floor south­west of Lucerne, Switzer­land, to Pi­la­tus’ peak. My time in Switzer­land was lim­ited, so I jumped on the train in Alp­nach­stad, the steep­est cog­wheel train in the world, which takes tourists on a re­lax­ing 30-minute climb. The scenic peak can also be reached through a com­bi­na­tion gon­dola-cable-car trip from Kriens, on the op­po­site side of the moun­tain, also a 30-minute ride. If you’d rather ex­plore the moun­tain from above, the climb from Buochs Air­port by Pi­la­tus PC-24 is about one minute.

The moun­tain­ous beauty that sur­rounds the area where the PC-24 was birthed must have helped in­spire the engi­neers to cre­ate this stun­ning en­gi­neer­ing mar­vel. Named the Su­per Ver­sa­tile Jet, the PC-24 can do more than biz­jet de­sign­ers have ever dared to dream. Whether you want to dress it up for VIP trans­port, haul cargo, move med­i­cal pas­sen­gers or head to the back­coun­try, this air­plane will do it all. A back­coun­try biz­jet? Why not?

Con­structed chiefly from alu­minum, the PC-24 is pow­ered by two Wil­liams FJ44-4A tur­bo­fan en­gines, each pro­duc­ing 3,420 pounds of thrust. The flight deck of the PC-24 flows around four 12-inch

dis­plays from the Honey­well Primus Epic 2.0 fam­ily. With soft­ware de­signed by Pi­la­tus, the com­pany re­named it the Honey­well ACE, for Ad­vanced Cock­pit En­vi­ron­ment.

The PC-24 achieved

FAA and EASA cer­ti­fi­ca­tion about a year ago, meet­ing the sched­ule that was set when the com­pany first an­nounced the air­plane in 2013 — a feat not many air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ers can brag about. So far, the twin­jet has been cer­ti­fied for sin­gle-pi­lot op­er­a­tions, flight into known ic­ing and RVSM. When I was in Stans in early Oc­to­ber, Pi­la­tus had de­liv­ered 10 PC-24s and ex­pected to hand over an­other 13 by the end of this year, an im­pres­sive num­ber in the air­plane’s first year on the mar­ket.

I asked Pi­la­tus vice pres­i­dent of re­search and de­vel­op­ment and deputy CEO Bruno Cervia how on earth the com­pany made that hap­pen for its very first busi­ness jet.

“Ninety per­cent of the suc­cess is prepa­ra­tion,” he said.

The de­vel­op­ment of the PC-24 started with a re­quest from cus­tomers. They wanted a PC-12, Pi­la­tus’ highly suc­cess­ful sin­gleengine tur­bo­prop, with an added 100 knots of speed. “It was not 10 or 20 knots, it was 100 knots,” Cervia said.

Sev­eral con­fig­u­ra­tions were con­sid­ered, Cervia said, in­clud­ing an­other tur­bo­prop and a sin­gle-en­gine jet. How­ever, the con­sen­sus was that a tra­di­tional twin­jet would be the best way to go to meet cus­tomer ex­pec­ta­tions.

The leap from a sin­gle-en­gine tur­bo­prop with a mas­sive cargo door that can land at rel­a­tively short, un­paved run­ways to a busi­ness jet with the same ca­pa­bil­ity was Bea­monesque. The cargo door proved to be one of the big­gest chal­lenges, Cervia said, be­cause the en­gines had to be mounted far aft of the wing, which in turn made cen­ter of grav­ity a source of chal­lenge. Some de­sign­ers might have given up, but Cervia said his team saw the bright side of the ad­ver­sity. “Any chal­lenge in the pre­lim­i­nary de­sign phase is fan­tas­tic be­cause it means it will be very dif­fi­cult for any com­peti­tor to catch up,” he said.

While the idea of the PC-24 was rev­o­lu­tion­ary, the tech­nolo­gies that went into the de­sign were not. Cervia said the way to get a cut­ting-edge air­plane to mar­ket on time is to in­cor­po­rate sev­eral new, but proven, tech­nolo­gies. “You have to look for the best in­gre­di­ents. It’s like cook­ing. There is no dif­fer­ence. Fresh in­gre­di­ents. That’s what you need,” he said.

Pi­la­tus didn’t make a stew or chili with­out a recipe by throw­ing to­gether a proof of con­cept and hop­ing for the best. A lot of re­search and think­ing went into the ini­tial de­sign phase to hit the sweet spot in the mar­ket and min­i­mize any mod­i­fi­ca­tions that would oth­er­wise have to be made in the de­vel­op­ment phase or later. From day one, the FAA’s and EASA’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties, Pi­la­tus’ sup­pli­ers, and cus­tomers such as Royal Fly­ing Doc­tor Ser­vice of Aus­tralia and frac­tional-own­er­ship firm PlaneSense, both of which have op­er­ated PC-12s for decades, were in­volved in the process.

“Our in­no­va­tion process is ba­si­cally holis­tic,” Cervia said. That means tak­ing ev­ery as­pect of the air­craft into con­sid­er­a­tion from the be­gin­ning. Pieces of the puzzle such as the Crys­talCare pro­gram, the com­pre­hen­sive PC-24 sup­port pro­gram that takes any guess­ing game out of main­te­nance, were con­sid­ered long be­fore the first test ar­ti­cle started tak­ing shape. Even the flight test cards were op­ti­mized in the ini­tial de­sign phase. And plans for the fa­tigue test pro­gram were planned so by the time the first cus­tomer re­ceived a PC-24,

THE PC-24’S LOGO IS A CRYS­TAL, AND EACH AIR­PLANE HOUSES A UNIQUE STONE HAR­VESTED FROM THE SWISS ALPS.

the test­ing for three times the 30,000hour time limit was com­plete.

“The time you spend be­fore you pump up the re­sources is low cost and high value,” Cervia said.

Her­itage of the PC-24

My trip to Switzer­land started with a quick visit to Flug­platz Re­ichen­bach, an air­port nes­tled into the scenic Kan­der­tal Val­ley, where Reno air racer Peter Balmer hosts sky­divers and tourists from all over the world through his com­pa­nies Sky­dive Switzer­land and Scenic Air. One of Pi­la­tus’ most suc­cess­ful mod­els — the PC-6 — landed and dropped off a load of smil­ing tourists while I was there. For nearly 60 years since its de­vel­op­ment, the PC-6 has been hailed as one of the best STOL per­form­ers ever built. It was taken out of pro­duc­tion this year.

Also parked out­side one of two hangars in Re­ichen­bach was a 1950 Pi­la­tus P-2, the com­pany’s first suc­cess­ful air­plane model. Pi­la­tus started as a main­te­nance fa­cil­ity for the Swiss air force in 1939, and af­ter a cou­ple of de­sign at­tempts, it in­tro­duced the P-2 in 1945. The Swiss air force quickly adopted it as a trainer, and while it wasn’t pro­duced in big num­bers, it proved it­self as a suc­cess­ful prod­uct. The air force kept it em­ployed un­til 1981. Swiss air force pi­lots still train in Pi­la­tus air­planes: the PC-6, PC-7, PC-9 and PC-21.

As a pri­vate com­pany, Pi­la­tus is self­funded and has used the suc­cess of one model to pay for the de­vel­op­ment of the next — a busi­ness model still used to this day. The com­pany has also diver­si­fied by pro­duc­ing both mil­i­tary and civil­ian air­planes. Civil­ian air­craft mod­els are gen­er­ally iden­ti­fied with even model num­bers, the mil­i­tary ones odd.

Whether mil­i­tary or civil­ian, the air­craft mod­els are mixed in­side two 87,200-square-foot hangars (one com­pleted in 2012, the other in 2017) in Stans. Small trains bring parts and tools to each pro­duc­tion sta­tion. The “train sta­tions” have names, and I’m sure the trains are as punc­tual as those of the Swiss pub­lic trans­port sys­tem.

With the ramp-up of PC-24 pro­duc­tion, a 118,000-square-foot han­gar is un­der con­struc­tion on the other side of the run­way. North Amer­i­can cus­tomers get their air­planes from the U.S. base in Broom­field, Colorado, where paint and in­te­rior work is done on both the PC-12 and PC-24 in a 118,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity, which opened this fall.

A new ap­proach was used for the de­sign and con­struc­tion of the PC-24. Cervia said bi­o­log­i­cal science was used as part of the aero­dy­namic de­sign. “It’s Dar­winian evo­lu­tion ap­plied to aero­dy­nam­ics,” he said. “We wanted an air­plane de­signed by na­ture. It comes from the evo­lu­tion of mil­lions of years and many months in the com­puter.”

The wing is void of any stall strips or vor­tex gen­er­a­tors that engi­neers some­times have to add to mod­ify the air­flow over the lift­ing sur­faces, a tes­ta­ment to metic­u­lous com­puter anal­y­sis and wind-tun­nel test­ing. There aren’t even riv­ets on the wings. But how is that pos­si­ble if the PC-24 is mostly made of alu­minum? Each PC-24 wing skin, in­clud­ing the nec­es­sary ribs and spars, is milled from a 3,970-pound piece of alu­minum. When the milling ma­chine is done, a 185-pound piece of art emerges.

Some cre­ative ways were found to help give the PC-24 top per­for­mance. While barely no­tice­able, the aft por­tion of each en­gine cowl is an­gled down. “I wanted to have thrust

PI­LA­TUS IS SELF-FUNDED AND HAS USED THE SUC­CESS OF ONE MODEL TO PAY FOR THE DE­VEL­OP­MENT OF THE NEXT.

vec­tor­ing,” Cervia said. I must have gig­gled a bit be­cause Cervia con­tin­ued, “It’s not a joke.” When full power is ap­plied, the thrust gets de­flected by the Coanda ef­fect, help­ing the PC-24 get off the ground quicker. “It’s the first busi­ness jet with vec­tor­ing thrust, and it doesn’t cost you much, it’s just the shape,” Cervia said. The en­gines are mounted through py­lons onto a fuse­lage shape that helps re­duce drag.

While some man­u­fac­tur­ers limit anti-ice use above cer­tain al­ti­tudes, when the en­gines pro­duce in­suf­fi­cient power to pro­vide bleed air to heat the lead­ing edges, Pi­la­tus se­lected pneu­matic boots to pro­vide ice pro­tec­tion for the hor­i­zon­tal tail sur­faces, al­low­ing the wing anti-ice to be used all the way up to FL 450.

One cus­tomer re­quest that Pi­la­tus wasn’t able to ful­fill was the avail­abil­ity of an aux­il­iary power unit. An APU would add too much weight, Cervia said. But, as a com­pro­mise, Pi­la­tus worked with Wil­liams to de­velop what has been called Quiet Power Mode, which es­sen­tially turns the right en­gine into an APU of sorts. In QPM, the en­gine runs in sub-idle, which low­ers the noise and fuel burn and doesn’t add to the hourly tally for the en­gine. One lim­i­ta­tion that makes it a bit less use­ful is that the sub-idle mode doesn’t charge the bat­tery. When I tested it, I had to first run the en­gine at idle to bring the bat­tery power up.

Sit­ting Pretty

The flat floor in the PC-24 didn’t al­low my 5-foot-7-inch frame to stand up straight, but once I was seated the cabin pro­vided a very com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment. The seats can swivel in mul­ti­ple di­rec­tions, and arm­rests fold down on both sides of the ex­ec­u­tive seats.

Cabin pas­sen­gers can en­ter­tain them­selves through a smart de­vice, such as a phone or tablet, that con­nects to the air­plane’s server through a browser rather than an app. Pas­sen­gers can fol­low along on the

“YOU HAVE TO LOOK FOR THE BEST IN­GRE­DI­ENTS. IT’S LIKE COOK­ING.” —BRUNO CERVIA, PI­LA­TUS

flight in Air­show, ad­just cabin lights and tem­per­a­tures, ac­cess me­dia on the server and more. In the most com­mon cabin con­fig­u­ra­tion, there are mul­ti­ple in­ter­na­tional 115-volt power ports, side pock­ets with USB ports, cup hold­ers, stor­age com­part­ments and a small closet by the en­trance.

The cock­pit can be closed off from the main cabin for pri­vacy, and there is an ex­ter­nally ser­vice­able lava­tory at the main en­trance that can be com­pletely en­closed.

The name of the game in­side the cabin is, as the PC-24’s moniker im­plies, ver­sa­til­ity. It can be con­fig­ured for cargo, med­i­cal evac­u­a­tions or as many as 10 seats for com­muter ser­vices. How­ever, the most com­mon con­fig­u­ra­tions are ei­ther six or eight seats in a club con­fig­u­ra­tion. A six-plus-two ar­range­ment in­cludes two seats that can quickly be re­moved if more lug­gage space is needed. How­ever, at 90 cu­bic feet, the bag­gage com­part­ment is nearly as large as some New York City apart­ments, and the equally mas­sive cargo door is big enough to load a stan­dard pal­let.

Load­ing is made easy since the en­gine cowl and the trail­ing edge of the wing, which is straight and at a 90-de­gree an­gle to the fuse­lage, are well out of the way.

Let’s Go Fly­ing!

Pi­lots’ seats in mid­size and larger busi­ness jets are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to get into due to the large cen­ter con­sole. The seats in the PC-24 are no ex­cep­tion, though they are com­fort­able and fully ad­justable. Pi­la­tus test

pi­lot Matthew Hart­cop and I pret­zeled our­selves into the right and left seats while a pho­tog­ra­pher com­fort­ably slid into one of the ex­ec­u­tive seats in the back. With 5,201 pounds of fuel, we were at a to­tal weight of 17,771 pounds. Con­sid­er­ing the avail­able space, use­ful load is one of the PC-24’s only short­com­ings, but we could have brought more than 500 ad­di­tional pounds of peo­ple or gear in this air­plane, the first pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the PC-24, and we were well within the wide CG en­ve­lope, though slightly above the max land­ing weight had we been in­clined to land right away.

Hart­cop had en­tered the flight plan into Honey­well’s Flight Bag Pro app, and up­loaded it into the ACE panel in sec­onds. Like most ad­vanced glass­panel flight decks, the Honey­well sys­tem makes it easy for the pi­lot to de­ter­mine whether the sys­tems are ready to fly with green, yel­low or red indi­ca­tions along with CAS mes­sages.

ACE also al­lows for mul­ti­ple ways to en­ter data, whether through a key­board, but­tons along the screens or a cen­ter-mounted mouse­like cur­sor con­trol de­vice. There are no touch­screen fea­tures. In­tu­itive menus are set up for flight plan­ning, de­par­ture, cruise and ap­proach. The only tricky part in the be­gin­ning is mak­ing sure the screen you’re at­tempt­ing to ma­nip­u­late is ac­tive. The frame of the ac­tive screen is high­lighted, but it takes a bit to get used to. Flip­ping from screen to screen can be done in mul­ti­ple ways too, whether by ar­row but­tons or a but­ton on the side of the cur­sor con­trol de­vice, which I be­came friendly with quickly. While it’s a highly ca­pa­ble

sys­tem with all the func­tion­al­ity you could dream of, the pro­cess­ing speed could use some im­prove­ment.

With a few quick clicks and switches on the over­head panel, the en­gines were spooled up and we were ready to go. The taxi­way that leads from the fac­tory to Run­way 6-24 at Buochs Air­field (LSZC) crosses a road. With a dis­creet fre­quency and three clicks on the pushto-talk but­ton, I ac­ti­vated a traf­fic light to stop the road traf­fic and al­low us to cross.

I couldn’t help but give the wait­ing cars a quick wave as we tax­ied by.

We back-tax­ied to take off from Run­way 24. Turn­ing around on the 130-foot-wide run­way was no prob­lem us­ing dif­fer­en­tial brak­ing and power. My back was pushed into the seat as the Wil­liams en­gines launched the stun­ning jet for­ward. We had not com­pleted the climb check­list be­fore we were above the peak of Mount Pi­la­tus. The im­pos­ing Alps, cov­ered by the first fresh coat of snow of the sea­son, soon shrank be­low us.

The plan was to climb all the way to FL 450 to see how long it would take with a fairly heavy load from the 1,475-foot el­e­va­tion at LSZC. But with com­plex re­stricted airspace sur­round­ing the area, in­di­cated by a mess of lines on the MFD that triv­i­al­ized the airspace around the Los An­ge­les area, where I nor­mally fly, the con­troller made us stay be­low FL 200.

Hand-fly­ing the PC-24 is lovely at lower speeds, though I would have pre­ferred to see a side­stick. Cervia said a side­stick would re­quire fly-by­wire con­trols, and the busi­ness case was not there. The side­stick fly-by­wire-con­trolled Em­braer Legacy 450 is about 20 per­cent big­ger and not a whole lot faster than the PC-24, but it costs more than 50 per­cent more. With direct links from the yoke to the con­trols, the amount of mus­cle re­quired to ma­neu­ver the PC-24 in­creases with speed.

Of course, at higher speeds, most pi­lots will use the au­to­ma­tion. The au­topi­lot will fly cou­pled ap­proaches and missed ap­proaches, and au­tothrot­tles can take over power man­age­ment. An emer­gency de­scent mode, which we tested from FL 450, ac­ti­vates if the cabin alti­tude goes above 10,000 feet. A stall shaker, fol­lowed by a pusher, will help pre­vent stalls. Air­brakes au­to­mat­i­cally de­ploy if the speed reaches be­yond Vmo or Mmo or upon land­ing; there is, how­ever, no re­verse thrust.

We played around with steep turns, slow flight and stalls. The shaker warned me a few knots be­fore the

THE PC-24 PROTESTED WITH A SLIGHT VI­BRA­TION IN THE WING, BUT IT HUNG ON TO THE THIN AIR.

red­line on the speed tape, and the stick pusher ac­ti­vated once in­side the red. The air­plane felt more sta­ble and con­trol­lable at slower speeds than I would have imag­ined for a large, fast jet. Af­ter some ma­neu­ver­ing and an ILS into nearby Em­men Air­port (LSME), we took off again to­ward famed ski re­sort St. Moritz.

Af­ter one of the most beau­ti­ful ap­proaches I have ever had a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence, fly­ing into St. Moritz’s Samedan Air­port (LSZS), lo­cated at 5,600 feet, Hart­cop demon­strated a short-field land­ing on Run­way 3. We ex­ited on a taxi­way about half­way down the 5,900-foot run­way. We could have eas­ily pulled off closer to the de­par­ture end if there had been an­other taxi­way there.

Flyg­pre­standa’s app, Guru2, which pro­vides quick per­for­mance data for air­ports around the world, told us the take­off dis­tance to clear a 50-foot ob­sta­cle would be a mere 2,450 feet and our land­ing back at Buochs would be about the same. I turned my eyes sky­ward to­ward the tow­er­ing snow­capped peaks. Hart­cop said the plan was to take off from Run­way 3, go straight down the val­ley for a short stretch and then es­sen­tially turn cross­wind to­ward the moun­tains. Were we go­ing to fly a biz­jet through a nar­row moun­tain canyon?

I had con­fi­dence in Hart­cop and fig­ured, at worst, we could al­ways con­tinue down the val­ley, so I pushed the throt­tles for­ward, ro­tated at 90 knots and pitched up to put the dough­nut on the PFD around the flight-path tar­get ball. De­spite the higher alti­tude, we shot up like a rocket and were nearly at the top of the peaks be­fore we even turned cross­wind.

The Swiss con­trollers were more gen­er­ous this time, and gave us a direct climb to FL 450. Af­ter fly­ing for nearly two hours in the morn­ing, our load was lighter and the climb per­for­mance was truly im­pres­sive. Four­teen min­utes in, we were al­ready at FL 400, and the PC-24 was still av­er­ag­ing about 1,000 fpm at 44,000 feet — about the same as my Mooney will do at sea level on a good day. We climbed the 39,400 feet from LSZS to FL 450 in a mere 18 min­utes.

Lev­eled off at FL 450, we were burn­ing less than 1,000 pph in fuel and saw Mach 0.73, which trans­lated to a true air­speed of 413 knots. Then the real kicker came. Hart­cop, who is no stranger to the edge of the en­ve­lope af­ter 11 years as a Pi­la­tus test pi­lot, told me to put the air­plane in a 60-de­gree bank with enough pull to main­tain alti­tude — about 2 Gs’ worth. The PC-24 protested with a slight vi­bra­tion in the wing, but it hung on to the thin air.

Af­ter a thrilling emer­gency de­scent at 10,000 fpm, it was time to head back to Buochs. The in­stru­ment ap­proach into LSZC is an in­ter­est­ing one be­cause it ter­mi­nates in the mid­dle of Lake Lucerne. Rea­son­able ceil­ings are re­quired for a safe ap­proach. While not CAVU, we were for­tu­nately graced with great weather con­di­tions. We did sev­eral land­ings, which re­quired a pat­tern that went around an en­tire moun­tain where we played with ap­proaches with and with­out au­tothrot­tles. With 33 de­grees of flaps, the nose-down at­ti­tude dur­ing the ap­proach is quite dra­matic and al­lows for good vis­i­bil­ity of the run­way en­vi­ron­ment. I also had a chance to try a sim­u­lated sin­gle-en­gine climb, which pro­duced about 2,000 fpm. Yup, there is plenty of power.

Get­ting Down and Dirty

Some PC-24 naysay­ers might be reel­ing in the fact that the cert for the part that truly sets the air­plane apart

— un­paved air­fields — has not yet been signed off. How­ever, Cervia said test­ing is com­plete and the pa­per­work is in progress. The test­ing was done on a va­ri­ety of sur­faces, such as grass, com­pact dirt, sand, stones and par­tially veg­e­tated ground at air­ports in Canada, Eng­land, Italy and Switzer­land. Cervia showed me an im­age of an air­port in Italy where some off-pave­ment land­ings were done with an eval­u­a­tor from EASA. The ground was a messy mix of dirt and veg­e­ta­tion. “EASA’s com­ment: ground han­dling and air­craft be­hav­ior — as paved,” Cervia said. “I am ex­pect­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by the end of the year.”

The un­paved-run­way cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, along with steep-ap­proach cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, also in progress, will give the PC-24 the abil­ity to fly into 20,000 run­ways around the world, about twice that of its com­peti­tors, Pi­la­tus claims.

Along with the beauty and pre­ci­sion that the Swiss are known for around the world, Pi­la­tus de­liv­ered on the prom­ise to its cus­tomers. The PC-24 pro­vides the flex­i­bil­ity of a PC-12 NG, but the cruise speed is not 100 knots faster, as the cus­tomers re­quested. My per­sonal com­par­i­son be­tween the two air­planes (see PC-12 NG ar­ti­cle from the Au­gust 2017 is­sue of Fly­ing) pro­duced a 150 ktas delta. It’s al­most too good to be true.

The moun­tains around Samedan Air­port (LSZS), near St. Moritz, pro­vided a stun­ning back­drop for the PC-24.

While the con­fig­u­ra­tion of the cabin is lim­ited only by the cus­tomer’s imag­i­na­tion, the most com­mon cabin con­fig­u­ra­tion fea­tures six or eight ex­ec­u­tive seats.

The steep­est cog­wheel train in the world runs from Alp­nach­stad to the peak of Mount Pi­la­tus, from which the Swiss air­plane man­u­fac­turer got its name.

The 485 hp in­verted V-12 Argus en­gine pro­vided ter­rific per­for­mance for Swiss air force pi­lots fly­ing the P-2.

Pi­la­tus started its suc­cess­ful line of air­plane mod­els with the stun­ning P-2.

Sixty de­grees of bank at FL 450 is not some­thing you see ev­ery day in a biz­jet.

The wing skins are milled from one alu­minum piece, mak­ing the sur­face com­pletely clean.

Low-pressure tires al­low the PC-24 to land on un­paved run­way sur­faces.

Dou­ble-slot­ted flaps and high-mounted en­gines pre­vent FOD con­tam­i­na­tion.

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