Training fighter pilots, unsurprisingly, can be a pretty expensive business because recruits need to swap between two to three aircraft. The Pilatus PC-21 changes all that by becoming arguably the first trainer that schools can use to skill up Topguns from start to – almost – finish. It’s a giant leap ahead of its processors: the PC-9/A, introduced in 1988, and the CT-4B Airtrainer, which can trace its lineage back to 1975.
The turboprop PC-21 is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68B engine and has a stepped tandem cockpit seating the student in front and the instructor behind. Yet its design is squarely focused on preparing recruits for fifth-generation fighters such as the F-35. The PC-21 has a pressurised cockpit, air conditioning, anti-G system, on-board oxygen generator and can fly at low-level speeds over 320 knots.
RAAF welcomed its first six – of a planned 49 – into RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria, in 2017, but now bases them out of RAAF Base Pearce, WA, too. Its delivery was the centrepiece of the Force’s new AIR 5428 Pilot Training System project, designed to last for the next 30 years.