The PC-7 is based on the earlier piston-powered Pilatus P-3. The first prototype, modified from the prototype P-3 by replacing its Lycoming O-435 engine with a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-20 turboprop, flew on 12 April 1966, but after a crash the PC-7 programme was shelved.
In 1973, the programme was restarted and another P-3 was obtained from the Swiss Air Force. After modification, this aircraft flew on 12 May 1975. Further extensive modifications followed later in the programme, including a new one-piece wing with integral fuel tanks, an altered tailfin and a bubble canopy.
The first production aircraft flew on 12 August 1978. Swiss civil certification followed on 5 December of the same year, with deliveries, to Burma and Bolivia starting immediately thereafter.
The aircraft is also used by private customers and is both FAA and FOCA civil certified to comply to the general aviation regulations in Europe and the USA.
The PC-7 Mk II is a development of the PC-9's airframe and avionics, fitted with the PC-7's smaller turbine to lower operating and maintenance costs. It is used by the South African Air Force, with sixty examples having been manufactured. The aircraft were assembled in South Africa from kits supplied by Pilatus. The value of the contract was estimated to be 175 million USD in 1993. Due to political considerations, the aircraft were not fitted with the armament hardpoints. Four PC-7 Mk II aircraft are used by the air force of Brunei.
- PC-7 : two-seat basic trainer aircraft, powered by PT6A-25A engine rated at 410 kW (550 shp).
- PC-7 Mk II is a development of the PC-9's airframe and avionics, retaining the PC-7's wing to mount external stores. Powered by PT6A-25C of 522 kW (700 shp) rather than more powerful PT6A-62 of PC-9. Developed for the SAAF, and known as the "Astra"; the aircraft is a hybrid PC-7 and PC-9, either a PC-7 "Heavy" or a PC-9 "Lite" depending on point of configuration.
- NCPC-7 : upgraded version of the standard PC-7 with fully IFR glass cockpit avionics, developed for the Swiss Air Force.