21 July 2016 © David Eyre
The first Pilatus PC-21 turboprop training aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) made its first flight on 21 July 2016, at the manufacturer’s facility in Stans, Switzerland.
Bearing serial number A54-001 (MSN 234) and Swiss test registration HB-HWA, the aircraft is the first of 49 PC-21s for the RAAF.
As part of the AIR 5428 Pilot Training System project, the PC-21 will replace the RAAF’s current Pilatus PC-9/A and Pacific Aerospace CT-4B aircraft.
42 of the PC-21 aircraft will be used as trainers at RAAF Base East Sale in Victoria and RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia. Three PC-21s are being acquired for the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) based at RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia, and four Forward Air Control variants for 4 Squadron, which currently operates the PC-9/A Forward Air Control variant from RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales. Seven simulators will also be acquired.
In November 2015, the first Australian pilots to undertake conversion training on the Pilatus PC-21 arrived in Switzerland. These pilots will establish the transition team responsible for developing the new training curriculum.
The PC-21 covers a broad training spectrum, from elementary flying training through to bridging the gap between the PC-9/A turboprop trainers and Hawk lead-in fighters.
The PC-21 is capable of sustained low-level speeds in excess of 320 knots and handles similarly to a fighter, with hydraulically-assisted ailerons and roll spoilers, which can roll rates of over 200 degrees per second.
Two aircraft were shortlisted for the AIR 5428 project, the PC-21 and the Hawker Beechcraft T-6C Texan II, itself derived from the PC-9/A. The contract was awarded to the Lockheed Martin “Team 21” consortium in December 2015, in a deal worth A$1.2 billion (US$900 million).
The contract for the RAAF PC-21s was signed in December 2015, with the first aircraft A54-001 due to be handed over to the RAAF at East Sale, Victoria in June 2017, and the first pilots course scheduled to start in early-2019.
The current RAAF PC-9/A fleet has been in service since 1988, and was originally intended to be withdrawn after 20 years, but is due to be extended until 2019. A total of 67 PC-9s were purchased.