I’m almost certain there’s not a pilot alive who hasn’t at least heard of the Pilatus Porter. It has been around since 1959 and has been slowly and brilliantly evolving ever since then. It has remained pretty much unchanged since then but I bet many people would be surprised at the number of features the current model PC-6 B2-H4 has. Here’s 10 things you probably didn’t know the Porter has.
1) Glass cockpit
It does seem rather odd to have such a high tech setup in what is quintessentially a bush plane but it’s amazing how the Garmin G950 glass cockpit has made flying easier and safer. The Traffic Avoidance System (TAS) and GPS terrain database are fantastic additions to the older setup providing another level of situational awareness to the pilot. I’m not 100% convinced on the Primary Flight Display (PFD – screen on the left in-front of the pilot), as I still prefer the instant familiarity of the traditional “six pack” instrument setup but it’s a small price to pay for the many additional features the whole setup offers.
2) Electric trim system – no manual cranks
Another modern touch is the fully electrically driven trim system for all three primary flight controls. There is no manual hand crank system now. The rudder trim takes a little getting used to as there’s almost no feel or no kick back through the pedals when you’re in balance but you get used to it.
The pitch trim is the most important of the three trims. The hat switch on the control stick controls an electrical motor that moves the entire horizontal stabiliser which is a VERY powerful control surface. So much so that if you get a trim runaway (where a switch gets stuck and the trim motor keeps going until it reaches it’s control limit), you will struggle to maintain control of the aircraft.
In order to save you getting into a situation where the trim is locked against a limit, Pilatus have installed a trim interrupt switch right next to the power levers which when engaged will disable all trim switches. Once engaged you then pull the circuit breaker of the problem trim motor and close the interrupt switch. The elevator trim also has a secondary motor which can be engaged to re-trim the stabiliser should the primary one have failed as it is such an important control surface.
3) Passenger seat storage
In the rear empennage of the Porter is a small hatch that allows access into the tail section of the aircraft. Inside here is a clever storage system for the single passenger seats. This allows us to fly to a destination with the cabin full of cargo then off load it and re-install the seats into the cabin to bring passengers back.
4) Trap doors
Underneath the floor of the main cabin is a pair of trap doors able to hold 150kgs each of load on them for aerial dropping. Sadly my company doesn’t use them for that and instead chooses to install survey equipment into the cabin and use the opening in the floor for LIDAR equipment and cameras. Shame!
5) No flight controls on right side
You know you’re flying a true single pilot aircraft when there are no controls at all on the right side of the cockpit. Some of our Porters do have duel controls (for training purposes) but the control stick is always removable. The last thing you want is a random passenger grabbing your stick mid-flight!
6) Still hand built in Switzerland
In these days of mechanised production, it’s nice to know you’re flying a machine that is truly hand built. And a really nice touch is the plaque inside the tail section with the signatures of the people who built that particular aircraft.
The thing you notice as a pilot is the little differences between each and every Porter. When you’ve been flying one particular aircraft for a while and hop into a different one, it always takes a little while to get fully used to flying it.
7) Beta propeller pitch in flight
The Porter is, I believe, the only aircraft in the world approved to use beta pitch in flight. Beta pitch is a where the propeller is set at 0 degrees and produces no forward or reverse thrust. Normally this is used to slow a turbo-prop aircraft down after landing but with the Porter it can be used for rapid rates of descent. When engaged, the propeller acts like a giant air brake and thus the Porter will pretty much fall out of the sky. Handy if you need to drop into a valley through a small hole in the clouds.
8) Stone guards
Each main wheel is fitted with what most passengers seem to think is a handy step to allow entry into the cockpit. Of course they’re not (they tend to break if a 200lbs Papuan stands on them) and nor are they to stop mud being thrown up (trust me, it still gets sprayed all over the place on a boggy strip). They are in-fact stone guards to help prevent larger stones and rocks being thrown into the flaps, horizontal stabiliser or elevator during landings and take-offs from badly prepared airstrips.
9) Able to carry it’s own weight in load
Not many aircraft are capable of doing this. The average Porter weighs around 1400kgs and is able to carry the same again in load up to it’s maximum take-off weight of 2800kgs. Of course we need to add some fuel in there but the Porter is still capable of carrying nearly a tonne of cargo into pretty much anything you think to call an airstrip.
10) Pop-up landing lights
And finally, the last thing you didn’t know about the Porter is it has pop-up (down really) landing lights. I’m actually not entirely sure why it has them but I’m glad it does as in my opinion anything with pop-up lights is automatically cool.