By Paul M Southwick, June-July, 2018 – Great firms continually improve their product, investing back in customer satisfaction. It works. Think Microsoft, Apple, or Amazon.
It’s no different in aviation. To be successful in any market niche manufacturers must continually develop their product: airframe; interior; engine performance and efficiency; and increasingly, the avionics and technology. Those that do not, get leapfrogged by start-ups, or those that do.
More than just innovation, manufacturers must find an emotional appeal – connections with those who buy and fly their airplanes well beyond the nuts and bolts. Words like “lifestyle,” “class,” and “luxury” are to the fore.
LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME!
There is a comparatively new player in the light transport or utility market. In 2017 it delivered 31 aircraft worth US$72m, at an average of US$2.3m. Although introduced back in 2005, it has been continually upgraded and is now sitting up to get noticed with the launch of a new version – it’s Quest’s, Kodiak 100 Series II (“Kodiak”).
AOPA PILOT was invited to be the first media in the world to test fly the new model Kodiak, from Hawthorne Airport (KHHR) in California. Our guide was airline transport pilot (ATP) and flight instructor, Mark Brown, the Chief Demonstration Pilot and Marketing Director for Quest. The Quest Aircraft Company is a Japanese-owned aircraft manufacturer, located in Sandpoint, Idaho. Sandpoint, which is situated on Lake Pend Oreille, close to the Canadian border, is known for its ski slopes and terrain parks at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
The Kodiak is an up to 10-seat, high-wing, unpressurized, single-engine aircraft, powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 turboprop engine of 750 hp (559 kW). It has a strong, high fixed tricycle undercarriage; wing braces, short take-off and landing (STOL) capability; and can use paved, unimproved, water, or snow runways. It is equally at home carrying cargo, people (in basic or executive accommodation) or a combination thereof. For the land-based versions, an aerodynamically efficient cargo pod for additional storage is a popular option, and reduces cruise speed by only about two knots.
The AOPA PILOT quest was to find out two things: first, what’s so great about this aircraft that is driving its increased popularity and sales; and secondly, just how suitable Series II might be for Australian conditions, because on the surface it looks perfect.
The editor was also interested to see how the Kodiak compared to other similar test-flown turbo props including the much larger Cessna Grand Caravan and our Kiwi cousins’ agricultural-heritage Pacific Aerospace PAC-750.
HAWTHRONE SET UP AND WALK AROUND
Hawthorne (KHHR) is a busy airport. Operators and their customers have discovered the convenience of its location and excellent services. There is a friendly FBO called Los Angeles Jet Centre and an excellent pilot briefing room, lounge, and restaurant. We observed fleets of aircraft on tour flying in and out for lunch with overseas tourists. There were also many private, charter and regular schedule airlines.
Brown pointed out several important features of the Kodiak, including: the tremendous 19 inch ground clearance of the four bladed propellor, the string, flexible strut; the 29 inch tundra tires; the cuffed wing, the fuel dipstick which is positioned underneath the high wing, and can be used to check fuel levels when they fall below 50 US gallons to an incredibly accurate degree; the quality of the guidance brackets for the flaps which are made from a single piece of machined aluminium; the wide easily opened baggage or passenger door; and the cargo pod option which starts before the firewall, so as to reduce complications in case of a fire. Inside Brown pointed out the new high speed Garmin NXi avionics with full envelope, protection as standard, and an angle of attack (AOA) indicator.
By far the most significant item on the Kodiak is the wing. Brown pointed out that although it looks like a single cuffed wing, an accurate description would be that there are two separate wings – an inboard and an outboard one. It is these wings that gives the Kodiak it’s incredible performance. There are both up and down fences, vortex generators everywhere, LED lights and ice protection on all lifting surfaces.
LET’S GO FLYING
The editor was offered the left front seat and we departed from Hawthorne airport at around 11 o’clock on Sunday morning. It was a good place to be, with the familiar high-speed Garman avionics and high up seating position. As with all turbines the start was quick and easy, and key indicators stayed below the maximums permitted. The system automatically checked everything. It is a dream for general aviation (GA) pilots that one day their (piston) engines will be like this.
The Kodiak was fast in acceleration, easy to control on the runway, and simply flew itself off at 50 kias. We quickly accelerated and climbed out before turning downwind and then progressively climbed up to 9,500 feet as the controlled airspace “fell away.” With our initial route next to the LAX Runway 25L approach it was important to stay South of the 105 freeway to avoid an infringement. For that purpose the Garmin G1000 NXi and author’s AVPlan loaded iPad with US charts were most useful.
We flew over the Chino Hills and then way, way, way out into the desert past 29 Palms (KTNP) and Palm Springs (KPSP) that we would use for circuit (or pattern) practice on the way back. After an hour’s flying at 180 knots plus, we came to an uncharted, gravel, stone and sand “runway” that leads to the remote Roy’s Café, near Amboy CA, on the famous Route 66. The train line also passes here and we saw a long one snaking its way toward the Pacific Ocean. The cafe and strip are said to be a favourite destination of actor Harrison Ford and it has been used in many movies.
We did a circuit overhead to check the runway was clear, conducted a briefing, and landed to the east, towards the cafe, stopping in an incredibly short distance, much to the amazement of several people at the cafe who ran out to take photos and say hi.
A TRUE TEST
This cafe strip surely was a great test of the Kodiak’s abilities and the airplane excelled, not just in the way the large tires, elevated prop and wings handled the short rough strip, but the genuine 180 knot plus speed it got us there.
On the way back to Hawthorne, after climbing out of Roy’s Cafe airfield, Brown demonstrated the low speed characteristics. On take-off we were able to conduct a steep right turn at low speed in complete safety. Then up high we reduced the power, so speed fell off to less than 60 knots until the stall warning horn came on. The Kodiak refused to wing drop or stall but just gently started descending. Even with the horn blaring we could conduct steep turns safely. No other aircraft of this size could do anything like that. It was clear that the Kodiak is an aircraft well at home in the mountains, the bush, and operating off very short strips, perhaps in a restricted “hemmed in” environment. The Kodiak has an in-flight turning circle about half that of a Cessna 172, and on the ground can pivot on one wheel, since the nose gear castors to 55 degrees of centre.
We did a stop and go at the 29 Palms Airport. The author found it easy to approach and time the flare, despite the cabin height AGL, due to the great all-round visibility.
Flying back to Hawthorne we progressively reduced our height so was to stay out of controlled airspace. When we were 14 miles out from Hawthorne, we called the tower who cleared us for a straight in approach for runway 25.
The approach speeds for the Kodiak are very similar to a Cirrus SR22 which is of course much smaller and lighter. The author flew 100 kias downwind (equivalent), 90 on base, and 80 on finals (with 35% flaps available below 108 knots). On short final the speed was well less than 70 knots and we landed in an incredibly short distance with the use of beta.
THE QUESTION EVERYONE ASKS
AOPA Australia asked how the Kodiak compares to its perceived competitor. Like in car review, here’re the – and +’s. Aircraft have similar cruise speeds and can be fitted with cargo pods or floats.
•Carries four less passengers
•Not a major “brand name” (yet)
•Not as big a support network
•New latest technology throughout
•More sophisticated avionics
•Shorter take off distance
•Slower take-off speed and distance
•Slower landing speed and distance
•More docile, safe handling, at or near the stall
•Lower operting costs US$720 v US$842 (www.preijet.com)
•Safety is not an option, that is, what migh tbe an option on competitorts, is standard on the Kodiak.
The Kodiak, although smaller – that will suit some operators and others not, is the modern high quality option with the safety and performance improvements that brings. They main competitors although updated, are proven, but older designs and technology.
The overall impression of the Kodiak is one of quality, performance, safety and technological advancement. Series II is updated and brings the latest of everything to the equation. Further, the aircraft is designed not just to do a job, but to do it well, with total class. The list of improvement available on the Kodiak 100 Series II is long. They may just be that little bit extra that catapults the Kodiak sales, partly at the expense of competitors, but also by way of new markets. The Kodiak is a go anywhere, do anything aircraft, perfect for Australia. At a base price of US$2.15m and US$2.36 as tested (fuly optioned), it is great value for money too.