Farewell, Porter: Pilatus PC-6 production ends after 63 years

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One of the longest-lived aircraft bids farewell. Pilatus Aircraft finally produced the last PC-6 “Turbo Porter” after announcing the end of the model’s production in 2017, thus closing a 63-year chapter started in 1959.

The PC-6 is a light aircraft recognized for its short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. It was equipped with piston and turboprop engines and was also produced in the United States and China under license.

Brief history of the PC-6

The first model of the PC-6, equipped with 254 kW piston engines, made its maiden flight on May 4, 1959. Two years later, the first Turbo Porter, powered by a Turbomeca Astazou II turboprop engine, flew for the first time.

Complaints about the reliability and high fuel consumption of the Astazou II soon followed, leading to the addition of the Garret Air Research TPE 331 engine in 1967, then the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A in 1996, rated at 507 kW (680 shp).

The first PC-6s were Lycoming piston engines. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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With a range of 925 kilometers and a cruising speed of 213 km/h, its ability to take off at less than 640 feet (195 m) and land at 427 feet (130 m), carrying a payload of 1,200 kg, made it popular for operating in remote and unique areas where previously only helicopters could access. In fact, Pilatus offered rotary wing companies the PC-6 as an option for their fleets.

It can also work on uneven and unprepared tracks, in cold and hot climates and at high altitudes (which is why it is widely used in the Himalayas). The landing gear used provides large clearances between the wings and the propellers, making the PC-6 less susceptible to damage than conventional nose wheel type landing gear.

For added versatility, several types of landing gear can be installed as an option to allow it to operate in various terrain conditions, such as floats for water and skis for snow.

It has large sliding doors to facilitate the loading of 1,200 kg or the transport of ten passengers.

The aircraft broke the high altitude landing and takeoff record when it operated over 5,750 meters above sea level on the Dhaulagiri Glacier in Nepal.

The PC-6 on the Dhaulagiri glacier, Nepal, at more than 5700 msnm. Photo: Pilate.

The airframe is of robust construction and requires little maintenance, with significant levels of accessibility, interchangeability and favorable staffing levels. The wings, fuselage and empennage are manufactured using conventional semi-monocoque construction techniques, with the main structure comprised of aluminum, maintaining critical strength to withstand landings on poor runways.

It also adds features such as low pressure tires, dual caliper disc brakes, and high energy absorbing landing gear that allow the aircraft to be capable of operating in rough or difficult terrain .

The Pilatus PC-6 has become a very flexible aircraft for a variety of missions, such as transport, parachuting, aerial photography, surveillance, air medical services and search and rescue tasks.

United States

The Porter was also manufactured under license by Fairchild Hiller in the United States. About 100 of these aircraft would be completed, purchased mainly by civilian operators in the United States.

Several PC-6s built by Fairchild Hiller were also acquired for military operations during the Vietnam War, with the designation AU-23A Peacemaker for service with the United States Air Force.

A Royal Thai Air Force PC-6. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Alec Wilson

The Peacemaker was equipped with a side-firing 20mm XM-197 Gatling cannon, four wing pylons, could carry a variety of ammunition including forward-firing gun pods, 500 and 250 pounds (230 and 110 kg), napalm units, cluster bomb units, flares, rockets, smoke grenades, and airborne propaganda leaflet dispensers.

Fifteen Peacemakers were produced for the US Air Force, which were sold to the Royal Thai Air Force, which also incorporated 19 other aircraft.

The end after 63 years

After the construction of 603 Pilatus PC-6, including those manufactured by Fairchild Hiller, Pilatus Aircraft closed the production line of this glorious model which contributed to strengthening the position of the Swiss manufacturer. The last plane was supposed to be delivered in 2020, but the pandemic delayed plans.

The last copy, serial number 1019, will be received by an Indonesian company: Indonesian Smart Aviation which will bear the registration PK-SNK. In 2020, Pilatus Aircraft received the last agreement with this company for five PC-6 aircraft.

Pilatus PC - 6 - Indonesia
Photo: Smart Aviation

There are currently 295 “Turbo Porters” in operation around the world, some of which have been in service for over 40 years, demonstrating the robustness of the model.

In Latin America, they are found active in Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru.

Pilatus Aircraft will focus on its PC-7, PC-12, PC-21 turboprops and its PC-24 business jet, all of which have inherited many features from the PC-6 to operate in complex terrain.

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