Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. has finally unveiled the PC-24, a clean-sheet light-twin turbofan aircraft that will enter an already crowded market segment when it enters service in 2017. By then, there may be well over 7,500 light jets in service, including plenty of new models from Cessna, Embraer and Bombardier Learjet.

But, Pilatus believes the PC-24 will carve out a new niche it calls the “Versatile Jet segment,” since the all-new model will offer the short, soft-field versatility of the PC-12, a 51-in. by 49-in. rear cabin door, the cabin volume of a midsize aircraft and the cruise speed of a light jet. It will be priced at $8.9 million (2017 US dollars).

Pilatus believes the aircraft will find a home with cargo, medevac, commuter and even government special missions operators, along with its PC-12's historical customer base of high-net-worth individual owner-operators, air charter operators and small companies, among others.

Initial design studies began four to five years ago, says company chairman Oscar Schwenk told a crowd gathered for the mockup's unveiling at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in May, but “we've kept it very confidential.” Only a few days before the gathering in Geneva, were most sales distributors briefed on product details.

“We learned almost as much about the aircraft as the public at EBACE. I feel better about it now than before the unveiling,” says Pat Epps, head of Atlanta-based Epps Aviation, owner of Pilatus Center South. “It's six years behind the competition, but I think it will create a new niche with its 400+ kt. cruise speed and low maintenance burden. It's big. It will compete well.”

Epps says that while most PC-12 turboprops were sold to U.S. owner/operators, the PC-24 will likely do better outside the U.S., especially for service in Canada's Northwest Territories, China, Asia and Latin America.

Pilatus indeed did extensive market research before launching the new model, seeking inputs from large PC-12 fleet operators, among others.

“They sought advice from us,” says Peter Docking, aviation manager of Adelaide's Royal Flying Doctor Service, an organization that operates more than 30 PC-12s in Australia. “It's making a new niche, a little bit the same as the PC-12. The idea of a light jet with a cargo door is incredibly attractive to us. It's tough to get stretcher patients into and out of a passenger door of most light jets.”

Docking says he's also worked in the mining industry, a market segment that historically has operated STOL turboprops from “rudimentary dirt strips” during the early phases of new mine development. The PC-24 is designed to perform the same mission as smaller turboprops, carrying as many as ten passengers in a high-density seating configuration. “These aircraft fly in and fly out with shift changes. I think Pilatus is really onto something good. PC-24 is a vast improvement over a King Air or a PC-12.”

Conservative, Evolutionary Design

The newest Pilatus is the firm's first production twin, and a twin turbofan at that. High-strength aluminum alloys will be used for the primary airframe. Similar to the company's PC-21 advanced military trainer, it will have a low-drag airfoil that was developed in-house. The PC-24 will be capable of both high-altitude, high-speed cruise and operating out of short fields. Notably, the aircraft will be fitted with dual-wheel main gear with low-pressure tires and anti-skid brakes.

To achieve the balance of high- and low-speed performance, the wing will have modest sweep, inboard and outboard fowler flaps and large ground spoilers. Estimated stall speed at maximum landing weight is 81 kt. and projected landing distance is 2,525 ft. Standard takeoff field length is 2,690 ft. and 4,430 ft. when departing BCA's 5,000- ft. elevation, ISA+20C airport. That kind of short runway performance will enable it to use 1,300 more airports around the world than the Phenom 300.

“It's not easy to fly to 450 and have the spoilers and flaps needed for short field operations,” says Schwenk.

Extensive wind tunnel tests were conducted in Prague, at the National Aerospace Laboratory of the Netherlands and at RUAG's facility in Switzerland. The final wind tunnel results weren't compiled until early May 2013.

Being able to operate out of short, unpaved landing fields will give the PC-24 access to 21,000 more runways around the world than aircraft limited to using paved runways. A gravel kit will be fitted to the nosewheel to deflect debris away from the engine inlets and the wing flaps will be armored for protection from debris thrown back by the main landing gear.

The 501-cu.-ft. cabin is 5.1 ft. high, 5.6 ft. wide and 23 ft. long from the cockpit to cabin partition to the aft pressure bulkhead. The cabin windows will be the largest in the midsize jet class. Maximum cabin altitude is 8,000 ft. at the aircraft's 45,000- ft. maximum cruising altitude. There is a fully enclosed, forward cabin, externally serviced lavatory and 51.0-90.0 cu. ft. of internal luggage capacity, depending placement of the aft cabin partition.

Interior volume will be bigger than Citation XLS+, but smaller than that of the Hawker 900XP. Unlike most midsize aircraft, though, it will have a flat floor plus both a forward passenger and rear cargo door. Fitting the aircraft with a dropped aisle would have offered more center aisle headroom, but it would have hindered cargo handling.

Six cabin layouts will be offered, accommodating six to eight passengers in executive configuration, ten passengers in commuter seating, pure cargo configuration and half passenger/half cargo combi.

Preliminary Performance Projections

The PC-24 is designed to climb directly to FL450 in 30 min., Schwenk asserts, and it will have a maximum cruise speed of 425 kt. true at FL300. Maximum payload is 2,500 lb. and the aircraft will have a tanks-full payload of 915 lb., enabling it to fly four passengers 1,950 nm at long-range cruise. Schwenk declined to provide estimated cruise performance at FL 450, but it's likely that it will be close to 400-410 kt. true while having fuel flows slightly greater than Citation CJ4 based upon the two aircraft having virtually the same engines, along with similar maximum range. The PC-24 is to have 125-lb. greater fuel capacity than the CJ4.

Williams International will supply the propulsion system, including the two FJ44-4A turbofans, rated at 3,400 lb. thrust for takeoff. APR will boost thrust to 3,600 lb. with a flat rating of ISA+11C. Williams also is engineering a new noise attenuating inlet for the nacelle along with a passive thrust vectoring system that will use Coanda effect to deflect thrust 2-3 deg. upward at takeoff for better aircraft pitch control response. And it is developing a proprietary low idle speed mode that will enable the right engine to serve as a low noise APU.

Pilatus's ACE flight deck, short for Advanced Cockpit Environment, will feature Honeywell's second-generation APEX avionics suite, including four 12-in., landscape configuration displays in a T configuration, a Laseref IRS, an AHRS, EGPWS and TCAS II, plus autothrottles, LPV approach and graphical flight planning. RNP 0.3 navigation, and Honeywell's SmartView synthetic vision will be optional.

Parts for the aircraft are now being fabricated in Stans. Roll-out is slated for mid-2014 and first flight should occur in late 2014. Three aircraft will be used in a 2,500-hr. development program, which is intended to result in FAA and EASA certification in early 2017, followed thereafter by entry into service.

Schwenk says that several potential customers wanted to put down deposits on the aircraft, but he's holding off until roll-out of the first prototype in mid-2014. He says he's leery of over promising and under delivering on performance. By the time roll-out occurs, he'll have hard numbers from his engineers. Then, he'll start making guarantees and taking non-refundable deposits.

“Pilatus always has been a trend setter,” says Schwenk, promising his company's newest aircraft will “be in a class of its own.”

Pilatus launched the versatile PC-12 into what then seemed a dubious market, but has now delivered in excess of 1,100 of the single-engine turboprop model. Now the PC-24 potentially could become one of the most innovative light jets yet to enter its similarly ill-defined market segment. Watch for updates in upcoming issues of BCA.

Pilatus PC-24 Preliminary SpecificationsEquipped Price
Equipped Price $8,900,000
  (2017 U.S. dollars)
Characteristics
Wing Loading 53.1
Power Loading 2.6
Noise (EPNdB) NA/NA/NA
Seating 1+7/11
 
Dimensions (ft./m) External
Length 55.2/16.8
Height 17.3/5.3
Span 55.8/17.0
Internal
Length 23.0/7.0
Height 5.1/1.6
Width (Maximum) 5.6/1.7
Width (Floor) 3.9/1.2
Weights (lb./kg)
Max Ramp 17,750/8,051
Max Takeoff 17,650/8,006
Max Landing 16,250/7,371
Zero Fuel 13,450/6,101c
BOW 10,950/4,967
Max Payload 2,500/1,134
Useful Load 6,800/3,084
Executive Payload 1,200/544
Max Fuel 5,953/2,700
Payload With Max Fuel 847/384
Fuel With Max Payload 4,300/1,950
Fuel With Executive Payload 5,600/2,540
Thrust
Engines 2 Williams Intl. FJ44-4A
Normal Takeoff Thrust (lb.) 3,400*
TBO (hr.) 5,000
 
Limits
Mmo NA
FL/Vmo NA
PSI 8.8
 
Climb
Time to FL 370 NA
FAR Part 25 OEI rate (fpm) NA/NA
FAR Part 25 OEI gradient (ft./nm) NA/NA
 
Ceilings (ft./m)
Certificated 45,000/13,716
All-Engine Service 45,000/13,716
Engine-Out Service 26,000/7,925
*3,600-lb. thrust APR rating