The relationship between the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Pilatus has just been elevated to another level following the Flying Doctors’ decision to order three brand new PC-24 twinjets for its operation in Western Australia. Derek Royal takes a closer look at the latest offering from Switzerland and the benefits it will bring to such a critical organisation.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service Western Operations (RFDS) provides an aeromedical transport service covering most of Western Australia. The operation undertakes primary evacuations from isolated settings such as mine sites, road houses, stations and small communities with no health or medical services available. It also undertakes a significant number of secondary transfers from district and regional hospitals.
Secondary medical transport is normally undertaken on a referral basis, with treating doctors usually referring patients to the RFDS if they require transport in excess of 100-200 kilometres (depending on region) and who require stretcher transport and medical care during flight.
Most RFDS transport services are provided in rural and remote Western Australia although some is distinctly metropolitan (for example, Rottnest Island). Most transfers are by air using fixed wing aircraft due to the distances involved but some may be by road or helicopter (for example, the RAC helicopter based in Perth), while jet aircraft are utilised for very long distance flights.
The Flying Doctors boast the biggest fleet of Pilatus PC-12s in the world so it’s no surprise that the organisation will in 2017 become a launch customer of the PC-24, a stunning twinjet that combines the versatility of a turboprop with the cabin size of a medium-light jet, and the performance of a light jet. It’s a plane that simply doesn’t fit into any of the existing business jet categories. That’s why Pilatus had to create a new class: the Super Versatile Jet (SVJ) category.
“The PC-24 has been engineered to be off-road-compatible from the beginning,” a Pilatus spokesperson explains. “Its outstanding short-field performance – even on unpaved runways – opens up an incredible level of mobility. With the PC-24, you will have access to almost 100 per cent more airports around the world.”
Western Australia is the nation’s largest state with a total land area of 2,529,875 square kilometres (976,790 square miles), and the second-largest country subdivision in the world – however, a significant part of it is sparsely populated, which makes the PC-24 an obvious fit for the Flying Doctors’ western operation. Boasting a maximum speed of 425 knots and a range of 3,610 km (1,949 nautical miles) at a ceiling of 45,000 feet, the PC-24 not only has the capability to criss-cross Australia’s largest state, but if required, it could easily fly from Perth to Melbourne and parts of Asia, without the need to refuel.
Apart from operating on unprepared airstrips in outback WA, the RFDS WA operation conducts road landings at a number of specially prepared sites along the state’s major highways. This operation is very challenging as the road is less than 10 metres wide. However, the length of the prepared road is 1,200 metres, so, given the PC-24’s dimensions and STOL capabilities (take-off distance of 820 metres and a landing distance of 770 metres), getting in and out of such challenging locations will be a formality.
WA Operations’ chief pilot Michael Bleus is a big fan of the workhorse PC-12 and he praises the machine’s suitability as an aeromedical machine. But there’s no doubt the new twinjet will be better, albeit with a few extra bells and whistles and capabilities beyond those of its single-engine sibling.
“Pilatus has continually improved its product and the latest variant of the PC-12, the NG, has an all glass cockpit with a FMS, which has certainly made life for the pilot easier with flight planning, diversions and with synthetic vision installed a safer aircraft in either a normal operation or emergency situation,” Bleus explains. “It has a shaker/pusher system to give you stall protection when carrying out short field operations. Overall it is an easy aircraft to fly and you get a lot of satisfaction flying the aircraft accurately.”
That may be so, but the PC-24 offers even more.
All Pilatus aircraft are certified for single-pilot operation, and the PC-24 is no exception to this rule. “The cockpit layout is efficient and intuitive. From the comfort of his seat, the pilot finds an environment that has been designed specifically to reduce workload and improve safety while providing full situational awareness under all circumstances,” explains a Pilatus spokesperson. “Simply put, the PC-24 is the perfect combination of single-pilot operational know-how, and state-of-the-art avionics technology.”
According to Pilatus, the PC-24’s Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE™) sets the standard for high-tech simplicity. “Pilatus ACE™ is so capable and offers such a wealth of functionality that in its most basic configuration it boasts the most intuitive and user-friendly cockpit concepts ever seen in business aviation. Four 12-inch screens ensure that all relevant information is displayed in the right place and with no delay. The Inertial Reference System (IRS) guarantees excellent reliability and accuracy of altitude and navigation data. As standard equipment, the Pilatus ACE™ also includes a Synthetic Vision System, Auto-throttle, Graphical Flight Planning, Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS II), and Localizer Performance with Vertical (LPV) guidance capability. We developed Pilatus ACE™ in partnership with Honeywell, whose products have a proven track record in much larger aircraft.”
The PC-24’s interior is something else. Only the finest-quality materials have been used to create an interior that fits in perfectly with the latest standards of comfort and functionality. Every component is chosen to enhance the passenger experience: soft leathers and rare hardwood cabinetry full of exquisite details create a bespoke interior that reflects the meticulous purpose of the aircraft.
Thirteen extra large cabin windows flood the interior of the PC-24 with bright, natural light. The generously sized cabin, with its continuous flat floor, allows for an exceptional amount of headroom for both passengers and crew.
The interior of the PC-24 has been designed from the outset for quick and easy reconfiguration. Each passenger seat features quick-change capability enabling its addition or removal in just a few minutes. The aft partition is movable so you can easily enlarge the passenger cabin or increase the baggage compartment volume for each and every flight.
Being an SVJ, the PC-24 isn’t just a fine aeromedical machine, it will also find popularity in a number of roles such as airfreight, commuter, or governmental special-mission applications, just to name a few. The PC-24 is also the first business jet with a standard pallet-sized cargo door. Perfect for carrying spare parts or baggage for passengers, the cargo door simplifies loading and unloading even the bulkiest of items. With such easy access and egress, transporting sick passengers is made simple for organisations such as the RFDS.
Yes, the PC-24 is indeed a remarkable machine and through the acquisition of this sophisticated Super Versatile Jet, it comes as no surprise that the relationship between Pilatus and the Flying Doctors has just been elevated to another level.
PERFORMANCE AND SPECS
To power the PC-24, Pilatus chose the Williams International FJ44-4A, a world-renowned power unit. It delivers ample power to support the PC-24’s excellent field performance and enables a direct climb to the PC-24’s operational ceiling. But Pilatus has gone even further, by introducing the PC-24’s unique Quiet Power Mode™ which provides quiet, economical energy to power electrical systems – including heating and air-conditioning – independent of any source of ground power. These innovations offer more operational flexibility and higher fuel efficiency. Or to put it simply: maximum versatility.
Max cruise speed (FL300) 425 k TAS (489 mph); 787 km/h TAS
Range 4 Pax 1 1,950 nm / 2,244 sm; 3,610 km
Range 6 Pax 2 1,800 nm / 2,071 sm; 3,330 km
Max certified altitude 45,000 ft / 13,716 m
Cabin altitude at 45,000 ft 8,000 ft / 2,438 m
Takeoff balanced field length 3 2,690 ft / 820 m
Takeoff balanced field length (hot & high) 4 4,430 ft / 1,350 m
Rate of climb (MTOW, Sea Level) 4,075 ft / min / 1,242 m / min
Time to climb sea level to FL450 (direct climb) 30 min
Landing distance over 50 ft obstacle 5 2,525 ft / 770 m
Stall speed (MLW, ISA, Sea Level) 81 k IAS (93 mph) / 150 km/h IAS
1 (800lb payload, NBAA IFR reserve, LRC, Single Pilot OPS)
2 (1200lb payload, NBAA IFR reserve, LRC, Single Pilot OPS)
3 (MTOW, ISA, sea level, dry paved runway)
4 (MTOW, ISA +20°C, 5000ft, dry paved runway)
5 (MLW, ISA, sea level, dry paved runway)
Max ramp weight 17,750 lbs / 8,050 kg
Max takeoff weight 17,650 lbs / 8,005 kg
Max landing weight 16,250 lbs / 7,370 kg
Max zero fuel weight 13,450 lbs / 6,100 kg
Usable fuel (888.5 U.S. gal) 5,965 lbs / 2,705 kg
Max payload 2,500 lbs / 1,135 kg
Max payload with full fuel 915 lbs / 415 kg