Pilot’s Interview – Pilot for PC-24 and Catalina
PC-24 test pilot Paul Mulcahy has been with Pilatus since 2014, meanwhile he is working as a freelance pilot and instructor. During his career, he has had experience with countless aircraft, which could hardly be more different in kind. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
Paul, how did you become a PC-24 test pilot at Pilatus?
A colleague of mine in the UK was in contact with Pilatus and informed me that they were looking for an experienced Test Pilot with relevant experience on twin-jet business aircraft. Since I was previously employed by the UK CAA (English version of the FOCA in Switzerland), I had had regular exposure to many of the world’s twin-jet aircraft. I therefore had relevant experience and was invited for an interview in late 2013. I began work for Pilatus in spring 2014, and have enjoyed every day since then!
What are some lessons learned from the PC-12 or PC-24?
Most Test Pilots are involved with the development of existing designs. Only a very few Test Pilots get the opportunity to see a new design from “drawing board” to “first flight” and so the lessons learned have been many and varied. It would take a magazine article to describe them all! Suffice to say, the entire Pilatus team has learned a great deal and is in a great place to embrace these new-found experiences as we contemplate exciting new designs to ensure that Pilatus has a great place in the future of aviation.
How did you first come into contact with the Catalina?
It was late spring, 2004, I was in my office close to London Gatwick when my boss appeared and said with a smile, “you’re the department seaplane pilot, right?” I looked up, nodded, and agreed with some trepidation, especially considering the rather large file he was holding which was clearly coming my way. “And you like old girls, right?” Now I was really worried! “Well, try this old girl”, he said, “she’s 61, an old bold seaplane and is going to be an interesting challenge”. And, with that, he wandered off as I opened the file to find the old bold girl was indeed a seaplane, a PBY5A Catalina built in 1943 to be precise.
How do the Catalina flight characteristics compare to the PC-24?
There is barely a comparison! Except that they are both SUVs, and both go “off road”, the Cat goes on the water and the PC-24 goes on the dirt! In that way they are similar, but in “handling”, very different. The Cat is an old girl and, in common with most “older” aircraft is a “handful” with barely adequate stability and control, and very poor directional stability. But that is commonplace among the much older aircraft types. In comparison, the PC-24 is a “pussycat”, superbly designed with delightful (Crystal Class!) handling characteristics, a real thoroughbred. Most modern aircraft exhibit good, well harmonised handling, but the PC-24 stands out in a class of its own.
Do you see similarities between some aircraft that you flew in the past, apart Cat, and the Pilatus planes?
There are many similarities. For the PC-24, because I have had (the privilege) to have flown so many of the bus-jets on offer around the world, including the PC-24 competitors, those experiences were very useful to enhance the safety of the approach we took on the first flight of the PC-24. For the PC-12, I had flown similar single-engine turboprops but none as capable as the PC-12 and I quickly realized the full potential of this highly versatile turboprop when compared with the competition.
If you could add a few useful features to our aircraft without looking at the cost or weight. What would you add?
A PC-24 on (retractable) floats would be an ideal dream! However, weight is always a concern and I have thought for some time that we might be able to save significant weight in the “tail” area by removing expensive, heavy mechanical parts and replacing them with a “Command-by-Wire” electronic servo-actuator driven system. This would provide a “first-step” toward fly-by-wire without going to a full control circuit re-design. The weight saving could be significant the Rudder Travel Limiter for example could be reduced to “software”. There are many other improvements that I could mention, but, in general, our Pilatus products are excellent, however minor improvements will always be possible and should always be taken into consideration.
What is your experience with the Catalina?
In early 2005, she was still dressed in the colours of her former role as a Canadian waterbomber, however, all that changed in late spring 2005 when she emerged in pristine white, both a tribute to her former wartime role, and as a practical colour scheme for her new role. I watched her progress with interest from my desk at the UK CAA and was delighted to be in vited to join the group later that year. I accepted with pleasure, was converted in 2005 and have now accumulated some 224 flight hours, flying most years. The first two years of her operation were confined to “hard surfaces”, including grass runways. In May 2006, we attended the bi-annual seaplane event at Biscarrosse in France – a 3-day seaplane bonanza! Under sunny skies, delighted crowds enjoyed the mix of seaplanes and the late afternoon air show. We were the stars of the show, but concentrated on crew training for the most part during the day, entertaining the crowds with our antics on the water. As time passed, my fascination with water events became a real passion and when I went on to become an instructor and examiner, my services were concentrated upon the water events, crew training and examining. In 2014, I was delighted to join the PC-24 team at Pilatus, and almost flew the Cat to Buochs in the summer of that year. Each year I make a pilgrimage back to Duxford to regain currency and join the training team for the annual return to service, and am now looking forward to the 2021 season, having missed the 2020 season for the same reason as everyone else, due to COVID restrictions.
What do you like best about the PC-24?
Almost everything! Perhaps the outstanding aspect of the aircraft though is its ability to make good use of almost any runway surface (apart from water!!). With a very outstanding design and attention to detail the PC-24 can cope with (almost) any surface and we have tested her to the limits on dirt, gravel, frozen (ice-packed gravel), grass and packed sand. And she can cope with those surfaces even under “wet” conditions, her limit was found when we attempted a contaminated surface with a significant water depth. But that was not really considered an issue, with a price tag in the millions why would anyone abuse her on thick wet mud? Everything else was just fine.
Paul, thank you so much for your insights. We hope you experience many more exciting flights.