Since founded in December of 1939, Pilatus has made a name for itself as a preeminent designer, developer and builder of high-performance basic / advanced turbo-prop-powered flight trainer aircraft. This now includes the PC-7, PC-9 and PC-12 series among others, many used in civilian and military flying circles and some even outfitted for the light-strike role. When the company flew a revised/modified version of its PC-7 in late 1997, the initiative laid the groundwork for what became an all-new development of a modern training platform - the "PC-21".
With the success of the modified PC-7 in 1997, Pilatus undertook further development on the design as a private venture. Work began in 1998 and continued into the early part of the following decade. The result was a first-flight on July 1st, 2002. After certification the series was introduced as its own product line in April of 2008. Since then, the aircraft has been taken on by various operators around the globe - namely the Swiss Air Force, the Republic of Singapore Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force. As of this writing (2017), over 200 units have been committed to by various customers and over 130 examples built with production ongoing since 2002.
The PC-21 fills the gap between basic and advanced flight training, a bridge of sorts for pilots emerging from the classroom and having graduated from basic flight training and now requiring higher-performance and capabilities more on par with jet-powered platforms.
The aircraft is a trainer of all-modern design complete with all-glass cockpits, use of composites in its construction and highly streamlined aerodynamics. The high-performance aspects of the aircraft require it to have a fully-pressurized cockpit and applicable oxygen supplies for both crew and both are seated in tandem under a long-running, largely unobstructed canopy, while being given "Zero-Zero" ejection seats. To better mimic the flying conditions of jet-powered combat aircraft, the PC-21 is equipped with a Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) flight control arrangement and Head-up Displays (HUDs).
The fuselage is designed with a slim appearance and is well-contoured for the speeds at play. The wing mainplanes are situated at midships with the tail unit relying on a single vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage, wholly retractable and wheeled at all three members, is of a tricycle arrangement. Dimensions include a length of 36.10 feet, a wingspan of 29.10 feet and a height of 12.3 feet. Empty weight is 5,000lb against an MTOW of 9,370lb. Power to the aircraft comes from a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68B turboprop engine developing 1,600 horsepower and driving a five-bladed (Hartzell) propeller unit at the nose. Maximum speed is 428 miles per hour with a range of 828 miles and a service ceiling reaching 38,000 feet. Rate-of-climb is 4,000 feet-per-minute.
The PC-21 can be outfitted with basic stores across four underwing (two per wing) hardpoints and a fuselage centerline location. Collectively these points are rated for up to 2,540lb of conventional drop ordnance, machine gun pods, rocket pods and fuel tanks.
The PC-21's launch customer became the Republic of Singapore Air Force which covered an order for nineteen aircraft. The Swiss Air Force committed to the PC-21 in 2006 and deliveries began in 2008. Since then, the Swiss Air Force has built up a fleet of eight such aircraft. In May and July of 2012, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, respectively, ordered the PC-21. In 2015, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) committed to forty-nine of the type and deliveries began in August of 2017. Other operators include Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
December 2016 - A deal between the French Air Force and Pilatus has been announced covering between twenty and twenty-five total PC-21 aircraft. The fleet will be used as intermediate trainers to the more advanced Alpha Jet advanced jet trainer fleet. Alpha Jet trainers are used by the French Air Force to cover the nuances of high-speed, jet-powered flight before transitioning to the much more-advanced Dassault Rafael multirole fighter platform.
January 2018 - British PC-21s intended for its Empire Test Pilots' School were identified conducting ground testing.
August 2018 - The French Air Force has accepted a pair of PC-21 aircraft on August 30th.
September 2018 - The French Air Force is set to introduce the PC-21 into service on October 2nd, 2018. Seventeen aircraft are part of the deal in which final deliveries will be had by February 2019.