The Pilatus PC-9 is a single engine, low-wing, turboprop training aircraft manufactured by Switzerland’s Pilatus Aircraft. MEGAN KENNEDY takes a look at one of the world’s most popular advanced trainers.
Retaining the overall layout of its predecessor, development of the PC?9 began in 1982 to replace the ageing PC?7 fleet, itself part of a line of aircraft originating from the Messerschmitt BF109E, Switzerland’s chief fighter in the early 1940s. It has since become a crucial component of defence pilot training throughout the world, including in the Royal Australian Air Force and is most familiar as of the Air Force’s aerobatic display team, the Roulettes.
Fitted with an 1149 shp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 power plant, the PC?9 has a top speed of 556 km/h and sports improvements over the PC?7 such as a larger cockpit and a ventral air break. The tandem cockpits are staggered in height by 16 cm to provide better rear visibility, with Martin Baker Mk AU11A ejection seats and an integrated survival kit.
The first flight of the PC?9 prototype took place in May 1984. A second prototype, fully outfitted with standard electronic instrumentation and environmental controls, was flown in July and certification followed in September of the same year.
With production commencing in 1985, the first orders for the PC-9 were received from the Royal Saudi Air Force. Orders from the Swiss Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Thai Air Force followed shortly after.
The PC?9 has several incarnations beginning with the PC?9/A. Built under license by Hawker de Havilland in Sydney the PC?9/A was introduced to the Royal Australian Air Force in 1987. Pilot training in the aircraft commenced in 1989. The PC?9/A continues to be a crucial component of Australian Defence Force pilot training, with trainee Australian Defence Force pilots undertaking a mandatory 130 hours training in the PC?9A as part of the Advanced Flying Training Course. The PC-9/A is also used to teach experienced RAAF pilots to become flying instructors who, once qualified, are eligible to fly with the Royal Australian Air Force’s formation aerobatic display team, the Roulettes. Made up of six PC?9/A’s plus a spare, the Roulettes perform about 150 flying displays a year in Australia and countries around the south?east Asian region. The Roulettes aircraft are painted in a distinctively bold red, white and blue scheme, with a large “R” on the tail.
The PC?9B is a ‘target tug’ or target-towing version of the PC?9 exported to Germany from Switzerland by Pilatus for use by the German airforce. In addition to an increased fuel capacity that allows for a flying duration of up to three hours and 20 minutes, the PC?9B is fitted with two Southwest RM-24 winches under the wings that can reel out a target to a maximum length of 3.5 kilometres.
Introduced in 1997, an advanced version of the PC?9, the PC?9M was marketed as the new standard model. The aircraft features a widened dorsal fin to enhance stability, modified wing root fairings, stall strips on the leading edges and a new single Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A?62 turboprop engine. The maximum and cruise speeds of the aircraft are 593 km/h and 552 km/h respectively with a range of 1,593 km and a maximum endurance of about four hours 30 minutes. The aircraft weighs around 1,781 kg with a maximum take-off weight is 2,350 kg.
The Beech Pilatus PC?9 MK II (later renamed the Beechcraft T?6A Texan II) was a development of the PC?9 modified by Beechcraft to compete in the USA Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS), an aircraft procurement program of the United States in the 1990s. Achieving success in the procurement process against seven other contenders, it is now marketed independently by Beechcraft with over 700 to be built for the United States Air Force and Navy, with Pilatus receiving royalties. Fitted with a PT6A?68 series turboprop engine, the T?6A Texan II can reach speeds of up to 587 km/h with an airframe rated for G?limits up to 7.0 g and -3.5 g. To date, the T?6 military trainer has been used to train pilots and navigators in approximately 20 different countries.
The approximate value of a current model PC?9 in the Australian market is $7.93 million, with the T-6A Texan II costing approximately $8.83 million.