In 1939, Pilatus, a small aircraft maintenance company for the Swiss Air Force was founded in Stans in the canton of Nidwalden. By 1944 it had produced its first aircraft: the Pilatus SB-2 Pelican.
However, it wasn’t until 1959 that Pilatus really took off with the launch of the Pilatus Porter PC-6. The PC-6 was so good at taking off from short rough runways it was sometimes used as a substitute for helicopters. It was a global hit.
Airlines as far away as Mount Cook Airline in distant New Zealand had a fleet of three of them, which it used to fly climbers and tourists on to New Zealand’s glaciers.
Le News spoke to Wayne Jack, a former PC-6 ski plane pilot at Mount Cook Airline. Jack, who now flies large jet aircraft for Emirates, described the PC-6 as the most exciting aircraft he has ever flown.
The photo above shows Jack (far left) on Tasman Glacier in 1993 with a PC-6. Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest, stretches 23.5 km and lies in the shadow of New Zealand’s highest peak Aoraki/Mount Cook (3,724m).
The picture below shows the young pilot digging a PC-6 out of the snow in 1998 after landing in three metres of fresh powder. This happened quite often in deep fresh snow, said Jack. It typically happened while turning the plane downhill after landing.
For an added thrill, many climbers would ask Jack for a steep short landing, a PC-6 speciality. After checking seat belts, he would point the plane at the runway, pull up close to the ground, and bring the aircraft to a halt in less than 50 metres, something impossible in any other plane, according to Jack.
In 2018, Le News toured the Pilatus factory in Stans, and on arriving, met Fritz, an aircraft engineer of 40 years. Fritz immediately recognised the Mount Cook Airline PC-6s in the photos we showed him. He had been to New Zealand in the 1980s to service one of them.
In addition to providing thrills to New Zealand climbers, the PC-6 thrilled movie goers when it was used in daredevil scenes, such as in the James Bond film Goldeneye – see video below.
A full list of films featuring the PC-6 can be seen here.
Another feature of the PC-6 is its large cargo door. The video below shows two wingsuit flyers jumping in through this door while the plane is in a dive.
Sadly, Pilatus stopped making the PC-6 in 2017 to focus on its other aircraft. It now produces the PC-12 and PC-24 for passengers, and the PC-7, PC-9 and PC-21 for training air force pilots around the world.
Switzerland’s federal council, or cabinet, travels in a PC-24, with an estimated price tag of CHF 9 million, according to RTS.
The promotional video below shows the full range of Pilatus aircraft in action, used to deliver essential supplies, by Australia’s flying doctors and to train Switzerland’s air force pilots.
90% of Pilatus aircraft are sold internationally, relying on an intricate set of trade rules requiring certain foreign-made parts be included in the planes. For example, onboard computers supplied by the US firm Honeywell allow Pilatus to export to America.
Touring the Pilatus factory requires patience. It is typically booked out a year in advance. For information on private tours click here.
Full Pilatus history (in English)
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