Pilatus PC-21

Aircraft Profile

Key Facts

Main Role:
Advanced Trainer
Low-winged tractor turboprop
Current Status:
In Service, In Production

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PC-21 first prototype HB-HZA takes-off at the
Farnborough International Air Show 2002.
(photo, APG)


Pilatus has been a leading player in the development of turboprop trainers since the late 1970s, when the PC-7 first appeared. The PC-7 proved extremely successful, and so in 1984 the PC-9 was unveiled as a ‘big brother’, with much improved performance and more advanced systems and in 1994 a derivative of the PC-9, the PC-7 Mk II was produced. By mid 2001 these three types had achieved over 750 sales worldwide.

In June 1995 a considerably redesigned version of the PC-9 was declared the winner of the JPATS competition to select a standard training aircraft type to be used by both the USAF and US Navy. Approximately 780 aircraft in total will be required under this programme, built under licence as the Beech T-6A Texan II. Much of the development work was performed by Raytheon/Beech and included an innovative engine control system aimed at giving jet-like throttle response and a new cockpit design featuring two 5 x 5 inch LCD displays together with traditional dial instrumentation. In December 1997 the T-6A also managed to displace the incumbent Embraer Tucano as the basic trainer operated by the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) pilot training programme alongside the BAE SYSTEMS Hawk.

With this vast experience behind it, in the late 1990s Pilatus began to look at the requirements for an aircraft to extend is product range. Private discussions with existing and potential customers over the flying characteristics and cockpit systems needed for training future pilots clearly showed a demand for improved aircraft performance, reduced life-cycle costs and much higher integration of the aircraft with the overall pilot training system. This aircraft was designated PC-21, an out-of sequence designation indicating 21st Century Training System.

The PC-21 was subsequently developed in secret, in a similar manner to that of the PC-9 almost 20 years ago. Officially inspired disclosures that the forthcoming aircraft would be a ‘radically new design’ must have led to something of disappointment when the PC-21 first prototype (HB-HZA) was officially rolled out on 1 May 2002. At first sight the aircraft appeared to be nothing more than a black-painted PC-9M. However, a more considered look revealed a five-bladed propeller, unusually short-span wings incorporating a degree of sweepback, and a cockpit which features three large LCDs for each pilot. In fact, much of the PC-21s radically new design is hidden beneath its skin.

The PC-21 is a single-engined, low wing swept monoplane with a stepped tandem cockpit. It is designed for basic, advanced and fighter lead-in training and is stressed to +8/-4 g. The wing is designed for higher speeds than previous Pilatus trainers, being swept to 12.3 degrees, and having a span of only 8.77 m compared to 10.19 m on the PC-9M. Double extending Fowler flaps help maintain the stall speed below 80 kts. The wing is equipped with a combination of ailerons and spoilers to give fighter-like rates of roll.

The Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68B engine is based on that used in the Beech T-6A Texan II and Embraer EMB-314M ALX, but considerably re-engineered to integrate it with the PC-21. A sophisticated electronic Power Management System (PMS) specially developed for Pilatus automatically restricts available engine power to 670 kW for take-off, but ramps-up to deliver full power above 250 kts (460 kph) to give sustained high cruise speeds. The engine drives a new five-bladed graphite propeller from Hartzell.

Associated features include an automatic yaw compensator to adjust for variations in propeller torque, a pressurised cockpit with automated cockpit air conditioning, an anti-g system and an on-board oxygen generation system (OBOGS). The latter system is not normally fitted on such small aircraft and will improve mission availability by eliminating the need to carry heavy oxygen bottles, which require replenishment after almost every mission.

The instrument panels in the fully ‘glass’ cockpit are dominated by three main Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) and two smaller stand-by MFDs for each pilot, which use the latest AMLCD (Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Display) technology, and a Head-Up Display (HUD) in the front cockpit. A HUD repeater can be fitted in the rear cockpit if required by the customer. All displays are fully Night Vision Goggle (NVG) compatible and full Hands On Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) control has been implemented, meaning that the pilot does not have to let go of the controls to select a desired display of function. The Trim gauge is reported to be the only analogue dial in the cockpit. The software driving the displays and controls is very flexible and allows the instructor to tailor the cockpit display formats and control functionality to the training needs of the student. The displays can also mimic those found in jet fighters, allowing the aircraft to be used as a flying simulator. The crew escape system uses the latest Martin Baker Mk 16L zero-zero ejection seat, with command ejection.

The handling characteristics of the PC-21 can be altered to reflect the appropriate stage of training which the student has reached. For basic students, the engine power can be limited, yaw is minimised and roll-rate restricted to give benign handling characteristics. For advanced sorties, full power is applicable and the aileron/spoiler combination produces roll rates comparable with modern fighter aircraft.

Development of the PC-21 began in the late 1990s with careful analysis of the needs of potential customers such as the air forces of Australia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Design studies began in January 1999 and first prototype was rolled out on 30 April 2002. The first flight was achieved on 1 July 2002 and marked the start of a flight test programme aimed at achieving certification by the end of 2004. A second pre-production aircraft (HB-HZB) joined the test programme in 2004. It incorporates a number of small improvements, such as hydraulically powered ailerons, improved power management mapping, and various man-machine interface improvements in the cockpit including better visibility. Full production is scheduled to start in mid-2004, with roll-out of the first customer aircraft in November 2004.

Pilatus estimates the total open market for turboprop aircraft trainers to be some 1000 aircraft over the next 20 years. By producing a versatile, cost-effective and reliable aircraft which can fulfill a wide range of training needs, Pilatus hope to win up to half of the market. Given their track record so far, few can doubt that this will be achieved.

The single-piece canopy opens to starboard. The fin is slightly swept.
(photos, John Hayles)


Requirement Specification: n/a
Manufacturers Designation: PC-21

Development History:
PC-21 Pre-production version – no other variants yet.
Hartzell supply the five-bladed
composite propeller.
    The spinner is noticeably offset to
starboard in the front view.
(photos, John Hayles)


Key Dates:
1997    Concept phase launched.
November 1998    Full go-ahead for PC-21 design definition.
January 1999    Initial development work commenced.
2000    Preliminary design completed.
2000    Overall design frozen.
December 2001    Final assembly (systems integration) of first prototype begun.
30 April 2002    Roll out of first prototype
1 July 2002    Maiden flight of first prototype.
17 July 2002    Prototype flies to RAF Fairford UK after only 10 hours of flight testing.
7 June 2004    Second prototype (P02) joins flight test programme.
mid 2004    Production starts.
December 2004    Certification achieved
November 2004    First production PC-21 rolls out.
HB-HZA on its maiden flight. Landing gear and flaps down.
(photos, Pilatus Aircraft)


Military Operators


Government Agencies


Civilian Operators

Pilatus (2 prototypes for certification)
The silver discs on the rear fuselage appear to hold antennae for the telemetry system. Port side view showing the outlet grille ahead
of the fuselage registration.
(photos, Pilatus Aircraft)


Pilatus PC-21
Crew: Two
Dimensions: Length 36 ft 8.5 in (11.19 m); Height 12 ft 10 in (3.91 m); Wing Span 28 ft 9 in (8.77 m); Wing Area 160.38 sq ft (14.9 sq m)
Engines: One Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68B turboprop rated at 1,600 shp (1,200 kW) (1962 ESHP thermodynamic)
Weights: Basic Empty 4,960 lb (2,250 kg); Maximum Take-off (acrobatic) 6,834 lb (3,100 kg); Maximum Take-off (utility) 9,370 lb (4,250 kg)
Armament: Four underwing hardpoints and one centreline hardpoint for various stores.
Performance: Maximum operating Speed (VMO) 370 kts (685 kph); Maximum operating Mach number 0.72 M; Design dive speed 420 kts/0.8 M; Maximum level speed 340 kts at 10,000 ft (3,048 m); Speed at sea level in cruise power 300 kts; Stall speed less than 80 kts (gear and flaps down); Maximum rate of climb at sea level in excess of 4,000 ft/min (1219 m/min); Service ceiling 38,000 ft (11,580 m); Range with full fuel, on typical training sortie, in excess of 700 nm (805 mls, 1295 km).


Design Centre

Head of Design Team: Not known
Design Office: Pilatus, Stans, Switzerland.


(Pilatus Aircraft, Flugzeugwerke, PO Box 992, CH-6371, Stans, Switzerland)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
PC-21 prototypes 2 Stans 2001-June 2004
PC-21 production ? Stans mid 2004 onwards
Total: 2    

Total Produced: 2 a/c (so far)

Production List

To be added.

Rear cockpit showing the 3 large AMLCD displays. PC-21 over typical Swiss countryside.
(photos, Pilatus Aircraft)

More Information


None yet published.


Air International June 2002
Flight International various issues


Pilatus Aircraft
(Official Pilatus Aircraft website)


Flight Simulator Models:
To be added.

Scale Models:
To be added.

Scale Drawings:
To be added.


To be added.

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