Tom Horne

Apex, in flight

May 19, 2010 by Thomas A. Horne, Editor At Large

Well, my time at SimCom’s Orlando facility is over, and my 11 hours of simulator time flying the PC-12 NG’s Apex avionics has opened my eyes. After a halting start, the procedures became more intuitive–in spite of all those different data entry methods I mentioned in my earlier “Controls for Control Freaks” blog. Do I know the Apex inside-out? No sir, there’s way too much functionality in the Apex to conquer it in a mere week. With 25 hours flying beside an Apex whiz? That’s the way to Apex independence. 

One of those whizzes would be Peter Duncan, Pilatus’ chief pilot. Duncan can make the Apex sing, as I observed first-hand in a PC-12 NG trip from AOPA’s home field at Frederick, Maryland to the airport at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Of course, the airplane behaves much better than the simulator, which was a relief. Another relief came in the form of yet another method of data entry–Pilatus’ new cursor control device (CCD). The CCD lives at the base of the center pedestal, where it “falls easily to hand,” as the hackneyed phrase goes.

Within the CCD is a trackball, a scroll wheel, and “enter” keys. Instead of using the old joystick method of navigating the Apex’s display screens–and watching the cursor careen all over the place–the CCD lets you move the cursor more smoothly and precisely. I’m told the CCD is a $35,000 option, but I’m betting that most customers will spring for it. And relegate the joystick to backup data-entry status.

During our hour-long flight, Duncan worked the Apex like a maestro–trackballing, scrolling and clicking at lightning speed. Soon, we were at Lancaster, on the RNAV GPS approach to runway 26. Weather was something like 3,000 overcast and 6+, but we did a missed approach to show off just one of Apex’s very cool features: the autopilot flying the entire missed approach procedure. At the MAP, just click off the autopilot, hit the go-around button to get the flight director command bars, apply takeoff power, then hit the “Nav” button on the glareshield-mounted flight control panel. The airplane then flies the entire missed approach procedure, complete with holding pattern. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Apex automatically tacks the missed approach procedure onto the end of every flight plan?

There’s much more to say about the Apex, but it can’t be adequately addressed in a blog. Watch AOPA Pilot for an upcoming article on the Apex, and for a short video clip or two of the Apex in action.

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