Joe Casey – July 26, 2018 – Throughout my career in aviation, I’ve been fortunate to pilot a great spectrum of aircraft, both civilian and military. But if I had a “home,” in this industry, it would be in the single-engine turbine market. I’m most notably an instructor in the PA46 community, but I have flown several other single-engine turbines as well. Most recently, I had the privilege of being one of the first to fly the latest and greatest from Quest Aircraft Company: the Kodiak 100 Series II. When I was approached about a possible test flight, I jumped at the opportunity.
My interest in the Kodiak stems from a longtime appreciation of missionary aviation and the pilots who commit their careers to a worthy cause. Humanitarian efforts are exactly what the Kodiak was originally designed for in the early 2000’s. But, as I learned during my time with the airplane, the “decade of improvements” Quest has since made to the Kodiak renders the Kodiak Series II a totally different animal than the original. Though it is just as rugged and backwoods-savvy as its predecessor, the Series II has a laundry list of digital/technical improvements making this airplane not only safer, but just as capable of transporting people and their cargo around the concrete jungle as it is in the real jungle.
I met with Quest Chief Demonstration Pilot and Marketing Director Mark Brown when he flew N247QK into my home airport (KJSO). It was a hot afternoon, with the temperature rising over 93 degrees F. Typically, when the sun is high on a summer day in Texas, you will not find anyone standing
around on an asphalt ramp. Yet when the Kodiak Series II arrived at KJSO that afternoon, people came out of the woodwork to take a look. We probably appeared similar to a herd of cows hovering under a lone oak in a sunny field – the Kodiak wing acting as our tree, providing abundant shade. It’s impressive just how many people can stand completely upright under the tall wing.
One of those standing under the wing was Jimmy Stewart. No, not the actor, but an A&P mechanic and commercial pilot/instructor based at my home airport (KJSO). Jimmy aspires to one day fly missionary work and there is a high probability the Kodiak will be his future steed in a faraway country. So, he eagerly joined me to try out the Kodiak Series II.
As we all stood underneath the Kodiak, I quickly realized that it was not only one wing, but two above us. Not a cuff or a leading edge device, but quite literally two wings mated together mid-span that simply share a spar and nothing else. This unique design offers particular flight characteristics I would later experience (and appreciate) during the flight.
Our plan was to fly to the Flying M Ranch in Reklaw, Texas. The Flying M is home to one of the best and largest fly-ins in the state, and we were honored that owners Dave and Marcia Mason allowed us special access. Lined with beautiful tall pine trees, the 3,500-foot grass strip at the Flying M Ranch provided a perfect backdrop for pictures, and also allowed us to explore the Kodiak in its element: an unimproved airstrip in the backcountry.
Mark offered me the left seat (for which I felt quite honored) and I climbed aboard. My next observation cannot be overstated: I am 6 feet 4 inches tall and I was comfortable. There seems to be an unwritten rule that every cockpit must be designed for pilots 5 feet 7 inches or shorter – bad news for us tall guys. But for the first time in my 30-plus year career, I actually had to move the seat forward. And I didn’t have to contort my body in some odd manner upon entering the aircraft either. The pilot door swings super wide allowing for easy access as you pull yourself in using one of the many handholds. It’s a bit like stepping up into a four-wheel drive truck in that you use the step, but it’s easy and natural.
You will probably notice several truck metaphors throughout this review, and that’s not on accident. Texans love trucks, and I could not help but note the similarities to my own truck. But this is no bare-bones, basic “ranch truck.” No, the Kodiak Series II is akin to the top-of-the-line, decked out, leather, incredibly comfortable, ready-for-anything truck that the ranch owner himself would drive. Maybe the Ford King Ranch, Chevy Silverado High Country or the Dodge Laramie Longhorn of the aviation world. Quest wanted to make a statement with the Series II, and they made it loud and clear: this is one well-refined, super-safe “flying truck.”
Once settled in the left seat, I noticed the ground clearance in the Kodiak is excellent. The pilot sits “tall,” meaning that the perspective is that you are quite high off the ground. I instantly liked the feel of the airplane.
Starting the engine was intuitive as I minded the normal hot start cautions I am used to with any PT6. Soon we had the G1000 NXi up and running, and I felt right at home. When you think of a Kodiak, set aside any notions you may have that this airplane is rustic or bare in amenities. It has all the bells and whistles found in the nicest of other single-engine turbines. The all-glass G1000 NXi panel is intuitive for anyone even remotely familiar with Garmin products. Blue button? Yes. Envelope protection? Got it. Under-speed protection? Yes, sir. Basically, the Kodiak has every safety-related feature offered by Garmin. As Brown puts it, “At Quest, safety is always standard.” The company takes pride in the Kodiak being the safest airplane in its class, so all safety related equipment comes in the base model (including Synthetic Vision).
I found taxiing of the airplane to be “Cessna 172-easy” with no unusual quirks. The turning radius was so tight I could literally rotate on one main wheel. Even on the ground at idle, the dual-zone air conditioning did a remarkable job cooling the cabin despite the Texas heat.
I personally think the -34 engine (found also on many JetPROP conversions with which I am familiar) is one of the best versions of the PT6. Quest chose this version for its ability to generate power down low (the compressor is tuned for low-altitude operation) and power for its weight (it’s one of the biggest of the “small-block” PT6’s). When I advanced the power lever, the acceleration was brisk. We rolled a seemingly short distance before reaching rotation speed (about 60 mph) and were soon climbing at 1,300 fpm at 110 KIAS.
At that rate of climb, we had enough altitude within minutes to do some maneuvering. I first reduced the power and established slow flight just above the stall, and found the flight characteristics “gentlemanly.” In other words, honest and predictable. I then attempted a stall with no flaps deployed: this is where the flight got interesting. I recovered from the first stall attempt in a normal fashion with the elevator forward at the stall first sign of a stall, which was a non-event. On the second attempt, Mark recommended that I just hold the yoke all the way aft and fly it around. While I was a bit perplexed at this request (and watched for the wing dip that would signal an imminent spin), I found that the airplane was completely flyable in a full stall. With the stall horn sounding loudly, the ailerons remained completely effective as the airplane descended around 1,000 fpm.
It was unlike anything I have come across before. I think Quest is really onto something with this wing design, as the stall/spin accident scenario is unquestionably the deadliest killer in general aviation and this design represents a solution. As an instructor in the single-engine turbine community, I’m on the forefront of the battle to train and educate against the perils of the stall/spin, loss of control accident scenario. So, it is refreshing to see Quest on the leading edge (pun intended) of this battle through aerodynamic design. In other single-engine turbines, if not properly recovered, the stall/spin is often deadly as the descent rates are not survivable at ground impact. The 1,000 fpm descent rate in the Kodiak is more likely survivable, being even less than the descent rate of a Cirrus SR22 with a deployed parachute. While I’d not recommend anyone conduct this manner of flight technique, it is encouraging to see that the Quest Kodiak has such capacity.
Another cool feature is the automatic trimming of the pitch trim when flaps are deployed. In airplanes with super-effective flaps, a large amount of pitch trim is required when the flaps are extended or retracted, and the Kodiak automatically inputs the trim. Simplicity in design equates to additional safety.
Once we wrapped up our maneuvers, we leveled off at cruise speed and pointed the nose toward Flying M Ranch. At 5,500 MSL, we were burning 330 pph and cruising at 180 KTAS. While that might not be impressive as compared to other turbine aircraft at flight levels, 180 KTAS still covers the ground quickly, and the fuel burn is commensurate with the altitude at which the Kodiak is intended to operate. This airplane is not meant to compete with singles like the Meridian or TBM for cross-country performance, but is still a very capable cross-country airplane.
While the G1000 NXi is fully IFR capable and has the ability to navigate all of the various instrument approach types, it also has “visual approaches” available in the database for many of the other public paved runways in the United States. This is especially handy when the desired airport offers no instrument approach, or if a second runway is deemed better for use, possibly better aligned with a strong wind.
In this case, the Flying M is a private turf airport and no instrument approach or visual approach is available in the G1000 NXi for its runways. However, the Kodiak still offered several tools to assist with the approach and landing. I used OBS Mode coupled with Synthetic Vision to create a nice approach course to the turf runway, along with a Flight Path Marker to create a steady approach angle to the runway. The AOA (angle of attack indicator) showed just where to pitch the nose for best performance. Although I was approaching a grass strip without an instrument approach, I still had a plethora of digital data to guide me to a safe approach and landing. And I must have shown a decent level of aptitude on this first approach for Mark let me fly the entire approach to the ground.
Touchdown and landing was cake-walk-easy with the big tires, great visibility and reverse thrust of the PT6. I’m not sure how short exactly my landing roll ended up being, but to give an idea, I stopped mid-field on my first landing after having crossed 100-foot pine trees at the end of the runway. And that was without my really trying to “land short.” Said simply, the STOL characteristics of the Kodiak are impressive.
Having too much fun, I performed approach after approach at the grass strip. I tried them all: short-field technique, with flaps, without flaps, both reverse and no reverse, etc. In every regime of flight, I found the Kodiak behaved predictably. After a while, we shut down at the Flying M to take pictures and talk with owner Dave Mason. Then it was Jimmy’s turn at the helm. I somewhat begrudgingly gave up the front left seat and took a seat in the back.
Loading into the Kodiak as a back-seat passenger is a non-event. There is huge door on the left side of the fuselage, making it easy to load just about anything. For the missionary/humanitarian mission, I could see pallets, medical supplies and logistical items easily being loaded. For the outdoorsman, I could envision fitting all the necessary equipment needed for a backwoods trip. If you like to “get away,” I can think of no better vehicle to get you, and just about anything you’d ever want to take, there.
Although I was only looking at the back of Jimmy’s head from my backseat perch, I could see him smiling widely as he took over the flight duties. I’ve flown with Jimmy often at JSO, and I know he’s an excellent pilot. But, he’s still a 500-hour aviator, and I wondered how he would handle the step up into the turbine world. Well, I soon observed Jimmy had no trouble with the transition into the Kodiak. He masterfully flew us back to JSO, handling the airplane like an experienced veteran. My point is that the Kodiak is powerful and capable, but most of all, predictable. While anyone new to the airplane is going to assuredly go through training to learn the intricacies of the machine, it is without quirks. It’s an honest machine, doing exactly what you tell it to do. In all, I found it refreshingly simple.
Once Jimmy landed back at JSO, we were met by a second crowd of onlookers. We then said our goodbyes to Mark and gathered to watch the Kodiak takeoff from Runway 32. As I watched the Kodiak fade off into the distance, I sensed that this airplane is poised to be a strong contender in the market as more pilots become aware of it and its offerings. While Quest is assuredly not trying to be the next behemoth in aviation, they are absolutely carving out a solid niche in the single-engine turbine market.
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