I’m sitting on a remote dry lake bed in Utah, having a fabulous catered lunch consisting of a variety of scrumptious fresh berries, sandwiches and cookies. It’s as far from the hustle and bustle as you can get.
The faintest wind gust is audible, and each step I take on the fine-grained sediment creates a crunching sound. As I look up from the spread on the large picnic table, a wall of tan desert dust approaches. I cover my food and duck down under the table to shield myself from the sudden onslaught. Thirty seconds later the gust has subsided, the crystal-clear blue skies above reappear and the calm and quiet resumes. Only in the desert can you get a surprise like that, I think.
How did I get here? And where did all the fresh food come from? I arrived in one of the most versatile aircraft in the world — the Pilatus PC-12 NG — a large single-engine turboprop. Whether the plan is to travel quickly from point A to B, fly in executive comfort, carry massive amounts of cargo or land on a short dirt strip to get away from the masses, the PC-12 will do it all and do it well.
Nestled in the Swiss Alps, Pilatus has its headquarters at the Buochs Airport in Stans, where it opened its doors in 1939. The name of the company comes from Mount Pilatus, a mountain with several peaks as high as almost 7,000 feet, towering over the quaint town. The mountain’s name originates from Pontius Pilate, whose body, legend claims, was disposed of in a lake on the mountain. Legend also has it that the intense storms that occasionally rise from the mountain stem from Pilate’s restless ghost rising from the lake to wash the blood of Christ from his hands.
Pilatus’ airplanes emulate the strength, power and beauty of the Alps. The company started out building the SB-2 Pelican, designed specifically for mountain flying, with terrific short field and climb performance capabilities. An immensely successful mountain-flying and STOL performer came along in 1959 when Pilatus introduced the PC-6 Porter. The company has also seen much success with military training platforms.
Pilatus is privately owned, and the leadership has made smart development decisions in its nearly 80-year history. As a result, the company has no debt and has never had to lay off any employees, says Thomas Bosshard, president and CEO of Pilatus Business Aircraft — a U.S. subsidiary based in Broomfield, Colorado. The most successful airplane the company has produced to date is the PC-12, but the recently introduced PC-24 twinjet may give it a run for its money.
The PC-12 was first introduced in 1994, when it received certification from both the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation and the FAA. PC-12s are born in Stans, where the airframes are assembled and painted white, and avionics are installed along with basic insulation and the flat floor that contributes to the PC-12’s versatility.
The naked airplanes then get a tour of Iceland, Greenland and Canada before landing in Broomfield to be outfitted per the customers’ specifications. With the success of the PC-12 in the United States and the upcoming certification of the PC-24 “super versatile jet,” which is expected to enter the market at the end of this year, the Broomfield facility is being expanded. A modern 118,000-square-foot completion center is being built on the west side of the runway, opposite the current headquarters, which are spread over 14 hangars and multiple offices in the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport terminal.
Pilatus Business Aircraft’s chief pilot Jed Johnson, vice president of marketing Tom Aniello and photographer Mitch Bowers picked me up at Camarillo Airport in Southern California to allow me to experience firsthand what the sleek yet sizable turboprop is all about. An older PC-12 happened to be parked next to us, making it easy to see the improvements made with the latest version, the PC-12 NG.
Read the rest of the article at FlyingMag.com.