Trip Report: Quest Kodiak Series II

 - June 19, 2018, 7:05 AM
Quest Kodiak (Photo: Matt Thurber)

Driving on an early May morning to Sandpoint, Idaho, to see the Quest Aircraft factory and then fly a new Kodiak 100 Series II to California, it was clear that icing conditions were not only forecast but likely in the wet gray clouds that shrouded the local mountains. For the flight-into-known-icing-certified Kodiak, however, icing is not a problem, and in the 11 years since it entered service, the capable utility single-engine turboprop has proven its mettle in challenging flying all over the world.

Today’s flight, while relatively routine for the Kodiak, would be just a taste of what the airplane can do, but it showed me that the Kodiak is tremendously flexible. It fits in to the comfortable-transportation category with handsome, comfortable interior furnishings but quickly transforms into the utility role where landing on a dirt strip in the middle of nowhere is just a normal operation. Of course, the Kodiak can land almost anywhere, with optional straight or amphibious Aerocet or Wipline floats available, and it can carry more cargo with installation of the optional belly-mounted cargo pod.

man in cockpit
The avionics suite of the Quest Kodiak Series II is the Garmin G1000 NXi. (Photo: Matt Thurber)

Quest marketing director and chief demo pilot Mark Brown met me at Sandpoint and arranged for a factory tour before our departure. For a small aircraft manufacturer, Quest is highly vertically integrated, making almost every part at Sandpoint, including crafting 40 percent of machined parts in-house. Aluminum parts are alodined in tanks at Sandpoint, and before assembly parts are epoxy primed to prevent corrosion. About the only parts that Quest doesn’t make are composite components, for example, the cowling, fairings, and other small parts.

All work in the factory is tracked on an electronic work instruction system developed by Quest. This system keeps track of time spent on each task, hosts videos showing how to do tasks, logs quality control sign-offs, and contains other assembly information.

Sandpoint to SMO

Our journey would take us over some of the highest terrain in the Continental U.S. and end in Southern California where Quest dealer Clay Lacy Aviation awaited delivery of its newest Kodiak and provided the airplane for this evaluation.

Coincidentally, parked on the ramp where Kodiak N247KQ awaited was the second production Pilatus PC-24 utility jet, another airplane designed to operate from non-paved airports. The Kodiak was the first Series II—still designated model 100—off the assembly line, and after our trip, Brown would fly it on a demo tour then return it to Clay Lacy in Van Nuys, California.

man in cockpit
Quest chief demo pilot Mark Brown showed off the capabilities of the utility turboprop. (Photo: Matt Thurber)

Brown had already planned our first leg to Truckee Airport near Lake Tahoe on his iPad, using Garmin Pilot; a two-year subscription is now included with new Kodiaks. He loaded my bag into the rear luggage area through the large rear door then stowed the tail stand, which is recommended to keep the tail from tilting back and hitting the ground while loading cargo. After Brown briefed me on the seat adjustments, I climbed into the left seat through the pilot’s door. The Kodiak sits high off the ground—propeller clearance is 19 inches—and I felt like I was sitting in an SUV, with great visibility ahead and to the sides. The front doors close with a simple pull then a push of the latch to secure the door.

The simplicity of getting the Kodiak ready to fly is one of its best attributes. There is little to do beyond making sure both fuel selectors are on, turning on the aux fuel pump, then holding down the spring-loaded starter motor switch until the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 reaches 14 percent, moving the fuel condition lever to low idle, then at 52 percent Ng, letting the switch go.

Once the Garmin G1000 NXi avionics were ready, Brown loaded the flight plan from his iPad via Garmin’s Connext system using the Flight Stream 510 wireless gateway. Our plan was to fly from Sandpoint and stop for fuel in Truckee, California, a high-altitude airport nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. With a full load of fuel (315 gallons usable; or 2,143 pounds), two pilots, and some cargo, the Kodiak was about 1,000 pounds lighter than the 7,255-pound maximum takeoff weight.

Into the Ice

The gray skies dripped light rain as we taxied out, and at 2,131 feet msl, the 12 deg C OAT would soon put us in perfect icing conditions. Taxiing with the PT6 in low idle moves the Kodiak along briskly, so an occasional dip of the prop into beta helps manage taxi speed. The Kodiak is, despite its size, fairly compact and easy to maneuver on the ground using differential braking for sharper turns. Minimum turning radius is just 12.6 feet.

Brown briefed me that the Kodiak gets light at about 55 knots and to maintain back pressure on the yoke and let it lift off the runway. With flaps set to 20 degrees and after lining up on Runway 20, I pushed the power lever forward approximately to the top of the green arc on the torque gauge then made a finer adjustment into the yellow band toward the red maximum torque value, which is allowable for up to five minutes.

aircraft parked in desert
The Black Rock desert provided an opportunity for a look at the Kodiak Series II’s off-airport capabilities. As expected, the airplane landed smoothly in the desert.

Liftoff came quickly, and the Kodiak levitated off the runway almost before I was ready. Best rate of climb speed is just 99 kias at sea level, slightly lower at Sandpoint’s altitude of 2,000 feet agl, and delivers a climb rate of about 1,200 fpm at mtow. With air-conditioning on, which we didn’t need that day, climb rate drops by about 100 fpm.

After liftoff, I set the climb attitude to 10 degrees and once reaching 85 kias, raised the flaps to 10 degrees, then at 95 kias, flaps zero. I climbed at 104 initially then sped up to 115 kias because we were expecting icing. At our light weight, the Kodiak zoomed up at 1,650 fpm.

Leveling off at 12,000 feet with the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot switched on, true airspeed settled at 173 knots while the engine was burning 336 pph.

TKS Comes Through

The best place to look for indications of ice accumulation is the tires, according to Brown; the white ice contrasts sharply with the black rubber. We activated the TKS ice-protection surface/prop switch, which forces glycol-based liquid through tiny holes drilled in cuffs attached to the leading edge of the wings and empennage and through outlet pipes next to each propeller blade. The liquid not only prevents icing but also acts as a deicer. The spray from the propeller generally keeps the windshields clean, Brown said, so it isn’t always necessary to switch on the windshield TKS.

As we cruised along at 12,000 feet—the most efficient altitude for the Kodiak, according to Brown—we punched in and out of wet clouds at -10 deg C and picked up what looked to be moderate mixed icing, but the TKS easily kept up with it. We were using the TKS’s high setting, and the 16 gallons of fluid onboard would last 80 minutes at that rate (12 gph). At the lowest (normal) setting (6 gph), the tank would provide 160 minutes. In extreme conditions, the max flow goes through the fluid in 40 minutes. While the TKS fluid does make a bit of a mess on the airplane, it is quite effective at removing and preventing ice accumulation, with the added advantage that the fluid flowing back along the flying surfaces protects more than just the leading edges. The checklist also calls for switching the engine inertial separator inlet to bypass during icing encounters.

aerial view of mountains
The Kodiak is at home in mountains and in known icing conditions, and the TKS system helps prevent ice accumulation, but can also serve to remove existing ice.

At the height of the icing conditions, the speed dropped to 160 ktas but then picked back up to 170 ktas when the ice cleared off the wings.

Eventually the clouds dissipated and we were in the clear for the rest of the flight. Speed crept up to 180 ktas and fuel flow 333 pph, with ISA +5 deg C at 12,000 feet. We turned off the TKS and returned the engine bypass to the normal position.

Deserted Strip

The air was smooth as we crossed from eastern Oregon into northern Nevada, and it wasn’t long before we spotted some unusual circular markings on the flat desert floor below us, sort of like the Nazca lines in Peru that used to fascinate me as a kid. A quick look at the map confirmed that we were flying over the Black Rock desert, location of the annual Burning Man festival, which hosts a pop-up airport on the table-like desert floor. The prospect of an off-airport landing on the site of the Burning Man proto-city proved irresistible, and we canceled our IFR flight plan, chopped the power, and descended.

Before setting up for the landing, which Brown would do because it was off-airport, I slowed the Kodiak to get a feel for low-speed handling and did some stalls. The Kodiak is no light airplane, but while the controls are a bit heavy in pitch, it handles much like a big piston single, for example, a Cessna 206, with a heavy engine up front. Pulling the power back, I slowed the Kodiak and dropped the flaps (10 degrees below 138 kias, 20 degrees below 120 kias, 35 degrees below 108 kias) and held the nose up to bleed off airspeed.

The Series II Kodiak now includes a Safe Flight angle-of-attack system, with the indicator mounted in the line of sight on the glareshield, just to the left of the center post. While I like having AOA, I also like an airplane that lets you feel the flow of air over the wings, and the Kodiak does let you know when that flow is weakening. The Kodiak stalls gently, which is expected with its cuffed outboard wing design, and this helps maintain flow as long as possible over the ailerons. I added power and turned while pulling the yoke back to try to induce a reaction, and the Kodiak just held altitude and even climbed a bit while I kept the yoke as far back as I could in more than a 30-degree bank. There was no wing drop at all during the stall. The Kodiak’s maneuverability, especially at slow speeds, is a huge safety benefit and gives pilots fat margins for flying in tough terrain.

Landing on Black Rock

For a landing on an unfamiliar off-airport location—it’s not a specific airstrip because the desert is flat for miles—Brown likes to touch down on the main wheels with full flaps and nose high and feel the quality of the ground before fully committing to the landing. He brought the Kodiak smoothly down to the surface and rolled the big tires along the desert floor, then allowed the full weight to settle on the wheels and brought the nose down. Surprisingly little dust blew up as we coasted to a halt.

The temperature was comfortably cool when we climbed out after shutting down the engine, and an enormous silence made it feel like we were the only humans left on earth. After a few minutes for me to shoot Kodiak-in-the-desert beauty photos, Brown climbed back in and fired it up for a quick trip around the pattern and a low pass followed by another landing for me to videotape.

I took off from the Black Rock desert and we climbed to 11,500 feet and headed to Truckee. Winds were a little gusty there, and I came in high, but the Kodiak slows down and descends quickly when needed. On short final, I had to add a bit of power to counter a downdraft and the PT6 responded promptly.

aircraft cabin
Among the improvements that accompany the Series II design are small touches, such as branding and ownership enhancements, to improve the cabin experience.

For short-field landings, Vref is a low 74 kias, but for normal operations, 80 to 85 kias is the target. From the cockpit, the nose seems to sit a little low, so touching down on the main gear requires a decent amount of pull to get a proper flare. I would need more practice at this, and my first landing was almost a three-pointer, with the nose touching right after the main wheels. The gusty winds didn’t bother the Kodiak at all, and it was easy to plow through the bumps and put it right on the centerline.

After refueling—this Kodiak doesn’t have the single-point refueling option, but it is available as a post-delivery STC—we took off for Santa Monica, again climbing VFR to 11,500 feet. Our route took us over Yosemite National Park, and the clear weather gave us perfect views of Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall.

Descending in the busy airspace over Simi Valley and Van Nuys, I brought the Kodiak down to 2,000 feet over the beach near Pacific Palisades and called Santa Monica tower, which cleared us to land on the now-shortened Runway 21.

spec box

In a day’s flying, we put the new Kodiak through its paces, from well-paved runways to a makeshift desert runway; and from IFR in moderate icing to VFR sightseeing through mountainous terrain. The trip reinforced the flexibility of the Kodiak and the pleasure of flying such a versatile airplane. 

Kodiak Series II Features

  • 18 new paint schemes
  • New cargo door step mechanism that also lowers cabin noise
  • Improved wing root sealing cuts noise and eliminates fumes in the cabin
  • Improved Rosen pilot sunvisors
  • Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 engine adds an accessory gearbox chip detector
  • New pilot door stays, one for partial opening and one to hold the door fully open
  • L3 ESI-500 four-in-one electronic standby instrument
  • Two new glove boxes, one iPad-sized on right side, a smaller one on the left
  • Garmin G1000 NXi integrated avionics suite
  • Standard Garmin Flight Stream 510 wireless gateway
  • Complimentary two-year subscription to Garmin Pilot
  • Garmin’s GTX 345R ADS-B Out/In transponder
  • Safe Flight Arinc 429 angle-of-attack system
  • Two Bose A20 ANR headsets with Lemo plugs
  • Optional single-point refueling port and control panel (post-delivery STC)
  • Optional Garmin Surface Watch terminal safety system
  • Animated Nexrad on the G1000 NXi with optional GDL 69 datalink/SiriusXM receiver
  • Optional Garmin GWX-70 weather radar
  • Optional L3 LDR1000 cockpit voice and data recorders available in single or dual installations