A Flying Swiss Army Knife: The Many Faces Of The Pilatus PC–6 Porter

It’s a missionary and a mercenary. A soldier and a spy. A record-setter and an also-ran. After 60 years of continuous production, the Pilatus PC–6 Porter, a legendary Swiss turboprop that has played more supporting roles than Kevin Bacon, will cease production in 2019.

PILATUS PC-6 PORTER

  • The Porter is boxy, ungainly, and disproportional when viewed from most angles.
  • But when you see it from the front—the way the air sees it—the airplane is surprisingly symmetrical.
  • The Pratt & Whitney PT6A-27 makes for a long snout, and smooth power.
  • The interior is made for the mission with a gurney and utilitarian seats.
  • The Garmin G950 (just like a G1000 but lacking an integrated autopilot) gives the cockpit a modern feel and outstanding situational awareness.
  • A single throttle quadrant is within easy reach of pilots flying in the left or right seat, and plexiglass doors provide excellent downward visibility.
  • On the ground, the Porter is unapologetically ugly. In the air, I was amazed at the airplane’s precision and grace.

The Porter is going out the way it came in—with little notice or fanfare. Just a vague sense of wonder that such an ungainly aardvark of an airplane ever came to be in the first place. Or that, once it became a reality, it actually performed the various Herculean feats that it did—or lasted as long as it has. The Porter’s most impressive and enduring mark was landing on a glacier in Nepal at an elevation of 18,865 feet and then taking off again—a fixed-wing altitude record set in 1960 that’s still on the books today.

“I find it to be a completely honest airplane that does without complaint just about anything you ask it to do,” said Cedric Gitchenko, a Swiss corporate pilot who flew one of the final Porters from Europe to the United States this year. “It’s not fast, but it’s rugged and reliable. It’s got great flying qualities, tremendous endurance, and I feel totally comfortable flying it across the North Atlantic, over mountains, or landing on glaciers. Its capabilities are quite unique.”

Once in the United States, the Porter—owned by a nonprofit foundation—was fitted with Wipaire amphibious floats. Next, it will go to Brazil, where it will serve as an air ambulance in a remote region of the Amazon. There’s a stretcher in the back, a no-frills rubber floor, and several utilitarian seats for medical staff.

This airplane is meant to help people in need, as are other Porters operated by missionary organizations around the world. They’re also popular among skydivers, extreme skiers, and scenic tour operators—but these airplanes aren’t saints.

Porters also have a long and decidedly mixed military and paramilitary record. In the U.S. Air Force, a license-built version of the Porter known as the AU–23A was fitted with a 20 mm Gatling gun and ironically renamed the Peacemaker. The United States sent 15 Peacemakers to the South Vietnam Air Force in 1971, where they arrived far too late to make any peace. Those that survived the war were sent to Thailand, the last few just as Saigon fell. The U.S. Air Force evaluated the AU–23A for its own use but ultimately rejected it for combat because—surprise!—it was slow, unarmored, and vulnerable to just about anybody with a weapon.

Air America, a CIA contractor, used Porters for many years to shuttle people and supplies to and from remote areas as well as providing airborne communication relays. In the 1990 Hollywood movie Air America, a Porter provides the best moment of that otherwise forgettable film when it upstages actors Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. with an impressive hillside landing.

Read the rest of the article at AOPA.org.

SPEC SHEET

Pilatus PC–6 Porter

Base price: $2.1 million
Price as tested: $2.4 million

Specifications
Powerplant | Pratt & Whitney PT6A-27, 620 shp
Length | 35 ft 9 in
Height | 10 ft 6 in
Wingspan | 52 ft 1 in
Wing area | 324 sq ft
Wing loading | 19 lb/sq ft
Power loading | 9.9 lb/hp
Seats | up to 11
Empty weight | 3,075 lb
Max gross weight | 6,173 lb
Max payload | 2,646 lb
Max landing weight | 5,863 lb
Fuel capacity, std | 170 gal
Fuel capacity, w/opt tanks | 298 gal

Performance
Takeoff distance over 50-ft obstacle |1,444 ft
Rate of climb, sea level | 1,010 fpm
Max level speed, sea level | 125 kt
Max operating altitude | 25,000 ft
Landing distance over 50-ft obstacle |1,033 ft

Limiting and Recommended Airspeed
VLE (max landing gear extended) | 210 KIAS
VNE (never exceed) | 151 KIAS
VS1 (stall, clean) | 58 KIAS
VSO (stall, in landing configuration) | 52 KIAS

Extra
Specifications are for a PC–6 on wheels. Amphibious floats add 898 pounds.

For more information contact Pilatus Business Aircraft Ltd., Broomfield, Colorado; 800-745-2887; pilatus-aircraft.com

All specifications are based on manufacturer’s calculations. All performance figures are based on standard day, standard atmosphere, sea level, gross weight conditions unless otherwise noted.

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