AVSIM Commercial Aircraft Review

Pilatus PC-12

Product Information

Publisher: Flight 1

Description: Single-engine turboprop

Download Size:
132 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: David Wilson-Okamura AVSIM Senior Staff Reviewer - March 22, 2008

Introduction

In production since 1994, the Pilatus PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop. Available in passenger, cargo, and surveillance configurations, it is designed to minimize workload in the cockpit and can be safely flown with just one pilot. But its real claim to fame, as the “Swiss Army knife of general aviation,” is a combination of long range (2,200 nm) with short field capabilities. It can climb to FL300, cruise at 270 KIAS, and (under the right conditions) land on a runway as short as 1,000 feet. In isolation, none of those numbers are record-setters. A jet, for example, will take you there faster, so long as there’s enough runway at your destination. A bush plane, like the De Havilland Beaver, can land in shorter differences on more surfaces, but it won’t fly as high or as fast.

This is Flight1’s second version of the PC-12. Their first version, for FS2004, was endorsed by Pilatus and distributed to potential buyers of the real airplane. I flew scores of hours in the FS2004 product, and was eager to see how it would perform in FSX. I am pleased to report that the new version is every bit as satisfying and fun to fly as the old one. For someone who wants to step up from one of the default aircraft, this is a good choice: it looks good (inside and out), it’s easy to operate, and you won’t get tired of flying it.

Installation and Documentation

This product was developed in-house by Flight1 and uses the familiar Flight1 wrapper. Installation is straightforward, as is the initial configuration (which you can change later).

The download version, which I am reviewing, comes with three manuals: one for the Garmin 430 GPS, one for the Garmin MX200 multi-function display, and a pilot’s handbook. All three are well illustrated, and the pilot’s handbook includes graphs and charts for performance calculations, as well as the standard checklists.

Missing from the package are a tutorial for the autopilot (which was included in the FS2004 version), kneeboard checklists, and kneeboard reference numbers. The first omission won’t be noticed by anyone who didn’t already own the FS2004 version, but the other two are inexplicable.

Exterior Views

The visual model is all-new for FSX. I didn’t notice any differences in the silhouette, but the reflections are more convincing, and bump-mapping has been used selectively to give surfaces more texture. In spot plane view, I found myself staring at the skin a lot, mesmerized by the illusion of depth.

A downside of the new model is that old repaints don’t work anymore; this includes two of my favorite liveries from the original package, the red and black “Expertise” paint scheme and a midnight blue stars scheme. On the plus side, there are several new liveries to replace the old and, because the visual model is native to FSX, the propeller does not disappear in front of clouds. There is also a paint kit.

Colorful liveries

All of the standard animations are here, and all of them are smooth. With the previous version, you could make the pilots put on their sunglasses by pressing the spoiler key; that animation is gone now, but it was never more than a gimmick anyway and I’d rather see the resources used for more substantial things -- as they are here.

Pylons and red carpet

Bottom line? To my eye, the silhouette of the real PC-12 is not destined to be a classic. It looks alright head-on (and that is how, in Flying magazine, it always seems to be photographed), but in profile there is something off in the proportions. Our concern here, though, is not with the profile itself, but the rendering of that profile in pixels and polygons; that is superb.

Cockpit

There are some new gauges (which I’ll discuss in a minute), but the environment of the virtual cockpit is largely unchanged -- meaning, it is still world-class.

Virtual cockpit

Modeling is smooth and textures are ultra-sharp, even when viewed up close. This is particularly noticeable for text: you can even read the serial number on the cockpit window.

Sharp textures

There’re no dirt or wear marks, but there are signs of life in the cockpit: a chart open on the copilot’s seat, a can of soda in the PIC’s cup holder.

For that lived-in look

The sunshades are fixed in place now, and can no longer be dragged down to reduce glare in the cockpit (as they could be in FS2004). But since glare isn’t much of a problem in the simulator, moving sunshades were more of a novelty than anything else, and their absence in the new version is not really missed.

Passenger cabin
Cargo cabin

Behind the flight deck there is a virtual cabin, the contents of which vary depending on which model of PC-12 you are flying: passenger, cargo, executive transport, or surveillance. Textures in the cabin are not as sharp as in the cockpit, but since the cockpit is where we spend most of our time in the simulator, that is not surprising. Cabin alerts (“No Smoking” and “Fasten Your Seatbelts”) can be turned on and off in the cockpit, but that is the only place you will see them.

The PC-12 is meant to be flyable by one pilot. Seat and gauges are provided for a copilot, but there’s enough automation that one pilot can handle the workload. One thing that helps is gauge design. For example, the artificial horizon gauge also displays rate of turn, radar altitude, decision height, compass heading, heading bug indicator, autopilot status, glideslope, and angle of attack (AOA). This last item will be familiar to jet pilots, but perhaps not to GA pilots.

When you are on final, the AOA computer will calculate your best approach speed, taking into account the weight of your plane and the angle of your flaps. If the speed pointer dips toward “S” you’re going too slow, and if it nods up toward “F” you’re going too fast. For ILS approaches, the same gauge also displays a so-called rising runway that increases in size as you get closer (and also shows whether you are centered for the approach). Is this confusing? It can be, but once you understand what you’re looking at, the presentation of information is very efficient. This is especially useful in the last seconds before touchdown, when you don’t want to divide your attention between different gauges.

New comm radios Centering the speed needle VC pop-ups

There is one feature that the virtual PC-12 has that the real PC-12 does not have: airspeed hold. I tried this, but didn’t end up using it much, because it’s really an autothrottle hold. This is useful in jets, where keeping your speed down at low altitudes can be a challenge.

Airspeed indicator is invisible at night

In the PC-12, it would be useful if you could keep the throttle open and set the airspeed hold for best rate of climb, but that doesn’t work because to lower your airspeed the autothrottle reduces power, and this results in rather anemic climb rates. There is one other problem with the airspeed indicator: whether you enable airspeed hold or not, the airspeed indicator is too dark to read at night, even with cockpit lighting.

Most of the PC-12’s cockpit functionality was already present in the FS2004 version. For FSX, there are improved map and arc views on the horizontal situation indicator, and the comm radios have been upgraded. (The new radios look nicer, but the real benefit is that now you can listen to two radios at the same time; that wasn’t possible in the FS2004 version.) There is also a new transponder, GTX 337, which (in addition to broadcasting a four-digit transponder code) can also display altitude, outside air temperature, density altitude, a count-up timer, and flight time.

GPS upgrades

What most users of the previous version are going to notice, though, is the GPS upgrade. Older PC-12s, on which the FS2004 was based, came equipped with a Bendix/King KLN-90B. This was a bit primitive, even by the standards of a few years ago, and Flight1’s implementation of it did not include a moving map. (A more complete version of the KLN-90B is available from gauge modeler Don Kuhn, who sells his own version of the PC-12 cockpit and also has licensed his GPS gauge for use in Aerosoft’s Twin Otter package.)

Flight1’s new version of the PC-12 does away with the Bendix/King GPS in favor of two Garmin 430 units and a Garmin MX200 multifunction display. All three units have an interface similar to the Garmin 500 GPS that comes standard with Flight Simulator, so if you already know how to use the default GPS you can learn the new ones with almost no effort.

The main difference is that Garmin 430 units also control your nav radios; also, none of the GPS units can use the keyboard. This is annoying, but with a little practice it is possible to do what you want doing the mouse. Again, the implementation is partial; for example, while the real Garmin 430 can calculate the vertical rate of descent that you will need to cross a given waypoint at a given altitude, the simulated one can’t. (It looks like it can, but that’s an illusion.) It also can’t display an estimated time of arrival (ETA) for the active flight plan, or help with fuel planning. The result? While the new version has better GPS hardware than the old one, it’s not quite as functional or easy to use as the new Garmin 1000 that comes with the deluxe version of FSX.

Full 2D cockpit

Flight1’s version of the PC-12 is a joy to fly from the virtual cockpit, especially if you have TrackIR. But there is also a full 2D cockpit, and pop-up versions of the main gauges in the virtual cockpit. You can’t use the keyboard to set the autopilot altitude, which means that you also can’t assign this function to one of your controller buttons. But other than that, workflow in the cockpit is extremely efficient.

Sound

Sounds are unchanged from the original product for FS2004. The mechanical sounds (of gear, flaps, and engine) are all factory fresh; you will notice nuances, but they’re part of a sequence, not the results of age and use. What I think most pilots are going to notice more than the mechanical sounds are the various warning and caution sounds, especially the emergency warnings, which are issued by a recorded voice. What the voice says depends on which language you select in the configuration manager; you can choose from French, German, Spanish, or British-accented English.

Flight Model

I am not a real-life pilot, of PC-12's or anything else, so what I have to say about the flight model will necessarily be impressionistic. First, a one-and-only negative: the engine, when first started, surges to maximum, so that if you are parked with the nose facing a building, you will probably run into it. I am prepared to believe that this was an intentional compromise, so that engine performance in the air would be more realistic. Still, I would welcome a workaround.

The PC-12 is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney PT6; unlike some engines, the PT6 does not exhibit the long lag between throttle inputs and power outputs that we associate with turboprops. This behavior is reflected in the model, and makes the PC-12 easier to manage at low speeds than most other turboprops.

With flaps extended, the nose of the PC-12 tends to pitch down, which (from what I have read) is entirely realistic; it also gives the pilot a good view of the landing field. The real-world PC-12 can’t drop quite as fast a Pilatus Porter or De Havilland Beaver, but it is capable of some very rapid descents, and that behavior is in evidence here. With flaps fully extended, the PC-12 is supposed to hold 63 KIAS without stalling; a low landing speed keeps the landing distance down and, again, the model matches the specification.

Performance

Test System

Core2Duo E6600 @ 2.4 GHz
4 gigabytes RAM
Nvidia 8800 GT (512 Mb)
Samsung 20” widescreen LCD (1680 x 1050)
Windows XP Pro SP2
TrackIR 3 with Vector Expansion
CH pedals, yoke
Saitek X45 throttle
Sidewinder Precision Pro joystick
Buttkicker Gamer

Flying Time:
25 hours

In the three months that this product has been available, I have yet to hear anyone complain about its frame rates. In the configuration manager, it is possible to turn off the copilot gauges in order to improve frame rates., but the difference (in my experience) is not very large. Depending on weather and other variables, you will notice a frame rate hit relative to the defaults. But it’s not a sizable one, and once in the air I rarely noticed it.

Conclusion

The Pilatus PC-12 for FSX sells for $33 (US), with a $10 discount for owners of the FS2004 version. It’s been several months now since I actually flew anything in FS2004, but when I did, this aircraft was one of my favorites.

On VATSIM, I flew it up, down, and across the western coast of North America more times than I can remember. In Papua New Guinea, I used it to explore the whole mountainous island, as well as the surrounding archipelago.

The PC-12 is flexible, fast, forgiving, easy to fly, and looks great in the virtual cockpit. The FSX version is just as good, and in some areas (avionics and exterior views), even better than its successful predecessor. I’m glad to have it back in my hangar.

 

What I Like About The Pilatus PC-12 for FSX

  • Visual model has been completely overhauled for FSX and makes good use of new features.
  • Upgraded avionics
  • Not a frame rate hog
  • Modern aircraft that’s fun to fly, easy to manage

 

What I Don't Like About The Pilatus PC-12 for FSX

  • I would have liked a more functional simulation of the Garmin 430 GPS (e.g., help with fuel planning, VNAV calculations, and ETA).
  • At night, airspeed indicator is too dark to read.

 

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Pilatus PC-12 for FSX

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