Pilatus PC-21

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Pilatus pc-21 hb-hzc lands arp.jpg
The PC-21 demonstrator lands at RIAT 2008, England.
Role Advanced Trainer aircraft
Manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft
Designer Pilatus Aircraft
First flight 1 July 2002
Introduction April 2008
Status Active service
Primary users Swiss Air Force
Republic of Singapore Air Force
United Arab Emirates Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
Produced 2002-present
Number built 131+

The Pilatus PC-21 is a single-turboprop, low wing swept monoplane advanced trainer with a stepped tandem cockpit manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland.


In November 1997, Pilatus flew a modified PC-7 Mk.II in order to test improvements for a prospective next generation turboprop trainer. As a result of these tests, Pilatus elected to fund the development of a new training system in November 1998; development of the new trainer, designated as the PC-21, formally started in January 1999.[1] The PC-21 would be developed and certified as a completely new training system, aimed at meeting future military customers' specifications in terms of capability and life-cycle costs for the next three decades.[2]

A key aim for the PC-21 was to allow jet aircraft pilots to perform the majority of the training using the type, converting only to jet-powered types much later than typical contemporary practice, allowing operators to make substantial savings; in order to achieve this aim, the new trainer was required to have an expanded performance envelope in terms of aerodynamics, cockpit equipment, flexibility, and ease of maintenance.[1][3][4] In May 2002, Pilatus announced that it aimed for the PC-21 to capture 50 per cent of the global trainer aircraft market between 2005 and 2030.[5][6]

From the start of the aircraft's development, Pilatus aimed for the type to have a predictable cost profile over its full life span. To meet this goal, the firm chose to incorporate modern materials, an innovative design concept, and full-scale fatigue analysis.[7] Additionally, accompanying the aircraft itself are integrated training systems to meet the pilot's needs; the full package offered by Pilatus includes synthetic training devices, computer-based training, and classroom instruction.[3] As a result of greater training effectiveness, pilots can graduate with fewer total training hours, reaching the front line faster and at a lower cost.[7] In addition to pilots, various prospective aircrew, such as navigators, weapons officers, and electronic warfare operators, can be trained using the type's embedded simulation/emulation system.[7]

On 30 April 2002, the roll-out of the first PC-21 prototype was performed at Pilatus' factory in Stans, Switzerland; this aircraft conducted its first flight on 1 July of the same year.[8] In May 2003, Pilatus management formally green-lit the program to proceed to full development.[9] On 7 June 2004, a second PC-21 prototype, the construction of which having been delayed to incorporate improvements learnt from assembling the first, made its maiden flight.[8] In December 2004, Switzerland's Federal Office for Civil Aviation granted type certification for the PC-21; civil certification was attained despite it being a military aircraft as this permitted civil maintenance procedures to be used as well as allowing the aircraft to be supplied under private finance arrangements.[7] Individual Swiss military certification for equipment such as ejection seats has been applied as necessary.[10]

On 13 January 2005, the second of the two development aircraft crashed in Buochs, Switzerland while conducting an aerobatic training flight; the accident resulted in the death of the pilot as well as injuring another person on the ground.[11] In response to the incident, all PC-21 prototypes were grounded until 1 February 2005, by which point Swiss authorities had established that that there was no sign of technical malfunction.[12] In August 2006, it was announced that crash investigators had concluded that pilot error had been to blame for the accident in January 2005.[13] In late August 2005, the first pre-series production PC-21 performed its maiden flight.[5]


A PC-21 on static display, 2009

The Pilatus PC-21 is an advanced single-engine trainer aircraft; it is often referred to be Pilatus as being the "Twenty-first Century Trainer".[2][3] The type can be applied for various training capacities, including basic flying training, advanced flight training, full mission management training, and embedded simulation/emulation. In order to perform these functions, the aircraft possesses a powerful, flexible, and cost-effective integrated training system; providing sufficient ease of use for inexperienced pilots while posing greater challenge to advanced pilots.[7] According to Pilatus, upon product launch, the PC-21 possessed "superior aerodynamic performance when compared with any other turboprop trainer on the market".[2]

The aircraft features a tandem-seating arrangement (student in-front/instructor behind) in a bird strike-resistant glass canopy with all-round vision. The cabin, which is pressurized, is equipped with an On-Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), air conditioning, and Martin-Baker CH16C Zero-Zero ejector seats.[2][7] The flight controls, which are fully balanced and harmonized, are optimized for easy of operation and overall effectiveness.[7] An anti-g system is also present in order to minimize the effects of high g-forces experienced during tactical training and aerobatic maneuvers. Pilots are able to spend a greater amount of time concentrating on the aircraft's external situation and upon mission data inputs due to an ergonomic design approach, ease-of-use controls, and clear visual/system data displays.[7] In addition, a full autopilot and civil flight management system are also present.[10]

The PC-21 is powered by a single 1,600 shaft horse power Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68B turboprop engine, which drives a five-bladed graphite Hartzell scimitar propeller on the aircraft's nose;[2][7] it has been claimed by Pilatus that the PC-21 possesses speed and climb rates previously normally only performed by jet-powered aircraft.[14] It is also fitted with a high-speed profile wing, rated for maneuvers up to 8 g, complete with hyraulically-assisted ailerons and spoilers which enable the execution of fighter-like rates of roll and other maneuvers.[2][14] In order to make the aircraft easy to fly at low speeds, crucial to the advanced trainer role, the PC-21 is furnished with a digital power management system and the horizontal stabilizer is equipped with an automatic yaw compensator/suppression system to compensate for engine power and speed changes.[2][7][14]

Underside of a PC-21 in-flight

A key feature of the PC-21 is the embedded simulation and training suite, which provides cross-platform cockpit emulation, weapons simulation, stores management system, simulated radar and electronic warfare, a tactical situation display, and data link functionality.[7][9] Key to this is the Mission Support System (MSS), which comprises the Mission Planning System (MPS) and Mission Debriefing System (MBS); data can be loaded and unloaded from these, which is compatible with ground-based stations for pre-flight configuration or post-mission analysis.[7] The integrated mission computer is of an open architecture, allowing for third-party modifications and upgrades to take place; software can also be customized to conform to customer preferences.[7][15] Critical and non-critical software are also deliberately separated.[2]

The cockpit of the PC-21 features a high level of systems integration and conforms to modern avionics standards. The systems of the forward and rear cockpits can be 'de-coupled' between the student and instructor; the instructor may exercise real-time manipulation of the student's displays, sensor performance, and system modes such as to create synthetic air-to-air radar targets, artificial non-safety critical system failures, and controlled data degradation.[7][16] The aircraft's fully digital glass cockpit features three large colour liquid crystal displays (LCD), one performing as the primary flight display (PFD) and two multi-function displays (MFDs) for system/mission management, in addition to CMC Electronics-provided head-up displays (HUD) for both the pilot and instructor.[7][17] The trim gauge is the only analogue dial in the cockpit.[6] For control simplicity, a Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) control philosophy has been followed. Both the display and control systems present also resemble their counterparts used upon modern front-line combat aircraft for greater realism during training; and can be further customized in order to be more representative of specific combat aircraft.[10][16] The multi-sensor navigation system is capable of operating under a military tactical mode as well as a civil navigation mode.[7]

Operational history[edit]

A PC-21 landing at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, 2010

In the Armament Program 2006, the Swiss Parliament approved an initial purchase of the PC-21 for the Swiss Air Force. By April 2008, four PC-21 have been taken over by the Swiss Air Force following the passing of acceptance trials, and flight operations were set to start in July that year.[18] In December 2010, the Swiss Air Force placed an order for another two aircraft.[19][20]

In November 2006, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) awarded a service contract to Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training and Support (LMSTS) to deliver 19 PC-21 aircraft, to support the RSAF's Basic Wings training course in Pearce, Australia under a public–private partnership (PPP) arrangement, replacing the SIAI-Marchetti S.211.[21][22] Singapore was the first export customer for the PC-21.[23] On 21 January 2008, the first RSAF PC-21 completed its flight test prior to being accepted into service.[24][25] On 13 July 2008, the type began to provide the RSAF with basic flying training, by which point a further six aircraft had been delivered.[26]

During the 2009 Dubai Airshow, the United Arab Emirates announced an order of 25 PC-21 trainers for the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) to replace their aging fleet of Pilatus PC-7s.[27] On 22 November 2010, the UAEAF's first PC-21 performed its maiden flight.[28][29] In July 2012, it was announced that the Qatar Air Force had placed an order for a complete pilot training system from Pilatus centering upon the PC-21. The package included ground-based training devices, logistical support and maintenance in addition to 24 PC-21 aircraft.[30][31] On 1 October 2014, the Qatar Air Force formally received its first batch of PC-21 trainers.[32][33]

On 23 May 2012, Saudi Arabia signed a £1.6 billion ($2.5 billion) for a comprehensive next-generation military pilot training system, comprising 22 BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainers in addition to 55 PC-21 trainers.[34][35] In early June 2014, Pilatus commenced delivery of the first six PC-21s to Saudi Arabia;[36] by the end of 2015, this had risen to 46 PC-21s delivered.[37]

The PC-21 was one of the submissions for the Royal Australian Air Force's project AIR 5428, which sought a replacement of its Pilatus PC-9s;[38][39] in September 2015, it was announced that the consortium comprising Lockheed Martin, Pilatus and Hawker Pacific ("Team 21"), had won the bid to provide 49 PC-21s to the Australian Defence Force.[40][41] Moreover, the PC-21 has been evaluated by the Spanish Air Force, along the T-6 Texan II and the PZL-130 Orlik III, as a possible substitute for its ENAER T-35 Pillan and CASA C-101 Aviojet trainer aircraft.[42]

In August 2015, Pilatus received a contract to deliver nine PC-9Ms to the Royal Jordanian Air Force, but in April 2016 changed the order to eight PC-21s. Deliveries were due to start in January 2017 under the original deal.[43]


Pair of PC-21s, 2004
 Saudi Arabia
  • Republic of Singapore Air Force: launch customer; operates 19 PC-21 on Basic Wings Course (BWC) as part of a contact for availability, together with Lockheed Martin and Hawker Pacific.
  • Swiss Air Force operates 8 PC-21s for advanced training, replacing the BAe Hawk which had been retired since 2003.
 United Arab Emirates

Specifications (PC-21)[edit]

The Pilatus PC-21; note the stepped tandem cockpit
External video
Swiss Air Force PC-12 flight demonstration at the Breitling Sion Airshow 2011
In-cockpit video of PC-12 takeoff
PC-21s at Koor Airport, Qatar

Data from Pilatus Aircraft[2][7]

General characteristics


  • Maximum speed: 685 km/h (370 knots, 428 mph)
  • Stall speed: 170 km/h (92 knots, 106.25 mph) gear and flaps up (20 km/h less with flaps and gear down)
  • Range: 1,333 km (720 nm, 828 miles)
  • Service ceiling: 11,580 m (38,000 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 1,219 m/min (4,000 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 208 kg/m² (42.7 lb/ft²)
  • Power/mass: 0.39 kW/kg (0.23 hp/lb)
  • g limits: + 8.0 g to - 4.0 (aerobatic) / + 5.0 g to - 2.5 g (utility)


  • Hardpoints: Provisions provided for 4× under-wing and 1× centerline external store stations, capable of mounting up to 1,150 kg (2,540 lb) of payload of air-to-ground weapons to operate in the Counter-insurgency role.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Pilatus: PC-21 fact sheet" (PDF). Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "The NextGen Trainer." Pilatus Aircraft, Retrieved: 22 March 2016.
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  5. ^ a b "Swiss air force poised to acquire six PC-21s." Flight International, 13 September 2005.
  6. ^ a b Wastnage, Justin. "Pilatus aims for half of trainer sales with PC-21." Flight International, 7 May 2002.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "PC-21: 21st Century Training for 21st Century Air Forces." Pilatus Aircraft, Retrieved: 23 March 2016.
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  19. ^ Stans (17 December 2010). "Pilatus Wins PC-21 Follow-up Order From the Swiss Air Force". Pilatus Aircraft. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2013. 
  20. ^ Trimble, Stephen. "Pilatus receives follow-on PC-21 trainer order from Swiss air force." Flight International, 17 December 2010.
  21. ^ "PC-21s to Replace S211s for RSAF's Basic Wings Training." defense-aerospace, 3 November 2006.
  22. ^ Wastnage, Justin. "Lockheed Martin Pilatus team win Singapore trainer deal, launch of PC-21 production now possible." Flight International, 3 November 2006.
  23. ^ David, Donald. "Australia Joins Singapore in the PC-21 Club." AIN Online, 14 February 2016.
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  32. ^ "Emiri Air Force receives first batch of PC-21 aircraft." Gulf Times, 1 October 2014.
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  34. ^ a b Hoyle, Craig. "Saudi Arabia signs 102-aircraft military training deal." Flight International, 23 May 2012.
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  37. ^ Hoyle, Craig. "Follow-on purchase to boost Saudi Hawk renewal." Flight International, 19 February 2016.
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  45. ^ Craig, Hoyle (23 July 2012). "Qatar signs deal for 24 Pilatus PC-21s". Flight Global. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  • Pittaway, Nigel (March 2010). "ADF pilot training under contract". Defence Today (Amberley: Strike Publications) 8 (2): 20–21. ISSN 1447-0446. 

External links[edit]