Early in October, Biggin Hill, UK-based Pilatus distributor Oriens Aviation staged a spectacular demonstration of the PC-12NG’s capabilities. The object was to move seven people, including pilot and Oriens CEO Edwin Brenninkmeyer, and their overnight luggage, from Biggin Hill to the small Swiss airport named for Gstaad, the primary town it serves, but located at Saanen. Depending on type, Gstaad Airport’s short runway and unusual approach poses a challenge even to some smaller business jets and especially in difficult weather, but easily falls within the PC-12NG’s capability.
Thanks to its impressive cruising speed, the turboprop PC-12NG also makes good time over what at first appears a fairly lengthy sector, and although the outward journey included a stunning sightseeing detour through the mountains, the homeward leg was little more than two hours and therefore easily comparable to a jet.
Flying in Oriens’ PC-12NG G-DYLN (known affectionately as ‘Dylan’), your correspondent and fellow travellers were treated to a demonstration that surprised and delighted. First among the surprises is the PC-12NG’s cabin. Adults won’t be able to stand upright, but neither is an uncomfortable stoop required – at least for me. The seats are remarkably comfortable, the cabin beautifully finished and my iPhone connected to the onboard Wi-Fi effortlessly.
There’s ample space for bags in the rear luggage compartment, but the aircraft offers operators the flexibility of very quickly removing seats from the aft cabin to extend cargo space forwards. Multiple golf bags, camera and filming equipment, even motorcycles are not uncommon items to find in the back of a PC-12NG, easily loaded via a large, upward-hinged cargo door set into the port rear fuselage.
There’s a Propeller?
Pilots will appreciate the aircraft’s extensive avionics suite but from the back, the PC-12NG impressed with its sprightly take-off from a grey Biggin Hill and subsequent, surprisingly swift climb to cruising altitude. The cruise isn’t quite up there with the jets, but the aircraft flies smoothly and once it’s out of the climb phase, the PT6 turboprop’s note and propeller noise fades to generate no higher sound level in the cabin than one might expect in the majority of light jets. In fact, the propeller is invisible once it’s turning at flight speeds and noticing the aircraft even has one once you’re back on the ground is another of the surprises the PC-12NG has in store for the uninitiated.
When Edwin suggested we go sightseeing on the way, I wasn’t alone in expecting a stop somewhere scenic, but he actually had some exhilarating alpine flying in mind. Its large cabin windows make the PC-12NG an excellent viewing platform and how often does one have the opportunity to fly through the mountains, rather than over them? A quick turn around the Matterhorn demonstrated yet another PC-12NG surprise – it’s really quite an agile machine.
But the mountains’ naturally turbulent air affects even the smoothest-flying of aeroplanes and with one or two passengers feeling the effects of just a little too much mountain flying, Edwin turned for Gstaad Airport, employing a surprisingly steep approach to get us onto the airfield’s short runway as soon as possible.
Gstaad’s Le Grand Bellevue hotel, our destination for the night, sent a stunning Bentley, previously owned by 007 himself, movie star Sir Roger Moore, to collect us. Hopefully its driver was impressed by our approach and landing – since the airfield’s only other occupants appeared to be storybook cows, it was difficult to judge their enthusiasm.
In fact, the quiet airport runs with equally quiet efficiency and after relaxed customs formalities, the Bentley gently wafted us to Le Grand Bellevue. Grand it certainly was and set in beautiful surroundings too, Gstaad in early October finding itself between a summer season that includes beach volleyball and a winter of skiing.
Next morning’s departure was equally impressive, Edwin managing to skirt much of the cloud over Switzerland, across France and over the Channel, only for squally showers to greet us on the run-in to Biggin. Again though, the PC‑12NG handled itself with aplomb. Nothing about the approach to land suggested we were flying anything less than a light jet and, indeed, around the airfield there’s little difference in performance between the PC-12NG and a pure turbine-engined aircraft.
Biggin was grey when we left and slightly greyer on our return, but the PC-12NG remained a shining star throughout. It truly exemplified the unique opportunity presented by a small private aeroplane, with the capability to move a group of adults across the continent and land them into a small airfield, quickly, discretely and in comfort.