AIN Special Reports

Pilot Report: Daher Kodiak 900

 - December 1, 2022, 8:20 AM

For many years the Kodiak 100 has carved out a niche in the single-engine turboprop utility market, starting as an airplane dedicated to missionary flying, hauling skydivers, float flying, and moving people and stuff in and out of rough airstrips. With the acquisition of former Kodiak manufacturer Quest Aircraft by Daher in 2019, the Kodiak line has grown, resulting in the unveiling of the longer, more powerful, and faster Kodiak 900 on July 25.

The new version doesn’t replace the original Kodiak 100—now in Series III configuration—but offers buyers a new option in the utility turboprop lineup. Those who want to be able to mount large wheels and tires for the roughest airstrips or floats will want to stick with the 100 model, while buyers who want to go faster and carry more while retaining the ability to land on fairly rough strips might find the model 900 most attractive. The 900 is priced at  $3.487 million, and soon after the order book opened at the unveiling, Daher sold out production of the 900 through the end of next year. Although the 900’s certification was in hand in July, the first customer delivery won’t happen until January 2023.

Quest Aircraft engineers had been working on the model 900 since 2016 and after the Daher acquisition, joined with its engineers to finalize the design and performance specifications.

While the Kodiak 100 was designed for off-airport and short-field performance, it gives up some speed to achieve that mission. “We’d been thinking, how can we make the Kodiak 100 quicker without losing all the other things that make it so great,” said Mark Brown, Daher chief demo pilot and marketing director. “What we ultimately decided was we felt like there was room in the market for two Kodiaks.” The 100 would remain the “real hard-core bush plane,” capable of handling rough strips and being equipped with floats, and the 900, which “can land off-airport but go faster and has a little more length. It’s suited for fleet operators that want to fill the seats and have room in the back for luggage but needed the lower operating costs. That’s how the Kodiak 900 came to fruition.”

After adding the Kodiak 100 to its lineup in 2019, Daher and Kodiak engineers refined the design of the 900. “Daher made the call that we needed to go back to the drawing board and make sure that it was up to the level that they were known for with the TBM,” Brown said. “What was going to be a good product, Daher said, ‘let’s make it a great product,’ and that’s exactly what they did.”

Getting the 900 to market did end up taking longer than anticipated, he admitted, “but the product that we got was substantially better with the Daher help. And those guys know speed.”  One example was the 900’s wheel fairings. “When we first put them on we were quite disappointed because it didn’t get us near the speed that we thought it would,” he recalled. “Some of the Daher engineers took a look at the data and said, ‘You just need to tweak it a few degrees this way or that way,’ and we went out and flew, and magically we got five knots or something, it was quite substantial.”

Brown praised the collaboration between the two engineering teams. “We had some brilliant engineers on our side, they have some brilliant engineers in France. It was kind of one of those ‘one plus one equals three [situations]’ where [we] got together pretty quickly after the acquisition, and this airplane exponentially got better through that process.”

Perhaps aided by the Kodiak plant’s isolation in Sandpoint, Idaho, the 900 project was a well-kept secret until it was unveiled at the EAA AirVenture show last July. “We didn’t market this airplane before it was certified,” Brown said. “This was kind of a “skunk works” project. We didn’t want to taint the market with something that gets everyone’s hopes up and then not to be able to come to fruition or it takes a lot longer. By not having a date that we had announced, we were able to tweak it and make it what it needs to be. Nobody knew about it except us internally, and it allowed us to make it the product that we’re proud to present.”

Differences and Similarities

It’s easy to see the extra 3.9-foot-long fuselage when comparing the two Kodiak models, but the wheel pants on the 900 are a clear differentiator. Looking more closely, an observer might notice that the cargo belly pod, an option on the 100 series, is integrated into the 900’s fuselage, providing a smooth aerodynamic flow from the aft end of the front cowling back to the rear fuselage.

The 900’s cargo pod doesn’t have more room compared to the 100’s, but it does have upgrades that make it more useful. These include a drop-down fourth door in the rear bottom to make loading long items like skis easier. To accommodate these items, engineers opened a passthrough between bays 2 and 3, which is next to the new fourth door and eliminates the need to try to turn corners with long items going through the pod’s side doors. 

Single-point refueling Kodiak 900
Single-point refueling is much easier given the Kodiak 900's taller stance compared to the Kodiak 100. (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

Tucked into the left wing root is the single-point refueling port, which was introduced in the 100 Series II so not new for Kodiaks but still a welcome feature.

The extra fuselage length expands cabin volume to 309 cu ft (up from the 100’s 248 cu ft), allowing eight seats to be arranged in double-club, front club/aft commuter, or all forward-facing. All passenger seats feature amenity panels with USB-A and -C ports, Lemo airplane-powered headset jacks, and cup- and phone holders. Seats are easily removable by pilots via quick releases, and access to the rear is through a large cargo door. Luckily Kodiak pilots don’t have to crawl past the seats to get up front; both front/pilot seats are accessible through their own doors.

The more powerful engine, integrated belly pod, wheel fairings, and improved airflow through the engine account for most of the 900’s speed increase, which is 210 ktas at 12,000 feet (without the radar pod), compared to 174 ktas in the 100. The new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-140A delivers 900 shp continuously while the 100’s PT6A-34 provides 750 shp for takeoff and 700 shp continuous. The five-blade composite Hartzell propeller on the 900 is quieter, but also because it runs at 1,900 rpm while the 100’s prop rpm is 2,200. Prop clearance on the 900 is reduced, however, to 15.4 inches versus 19 on the 100. Everything in front of the firewall is new and that includes a 300-amp starter-generator and a larger standby alternator.

Other than the longer fuselage, structurally the two models are similar, sharing the same wing, tailcone, and empennage. Fuel capacity is nearly the same, at 322 gallons in the 900 and 320 in the 100.

Compared to the Kodiak 100, the 900 clearly sits differently, and this is due to a redesign of the main landing gear. While the 100 sits in a slightly tail-down attitude and requires a tail stand in some loading situations, the 900 sits flatter and has no tail stand. Kodiak engineers moved the landing gear carrythroughs from the bottom floor frame down four inches to below the floor frame and five inches aft.

“It’s a balance,” said Brown. “The further back you put the gear, the more force you need for takeoff, the less STOL performance you have, so landing gear placement is a bit of an art. We put it to where we compromised in not needing a tail stand but still having pretty good takeoff performance and not a lot of control force needed for rotation.” 

Wheel fairing Kodiak 900 airplane
The Kodiak 900's wheel fairings add speed but are also certified as secondary structure and can be used to step on. (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

The new wheel fairings are a significant contributor to the faster speed, and they are certified as secondary structure and can support someone standing on them. Although the 900 can fly with or without the wheel pants, test pilots took off and landed on unimproved grass, dirt, and gravel strips. “The only thing that the 900 can’t do that the 100 can is land on really muddy and soft strips,” Brown said. This is because the 900 doesn’t offer the option of switching to the larger 29-inch bush tires that can be fitted to the 100. "If you have that mission, the Kodiak 100 is the airplane for you,” he said. 

Air-conditioning is standard on the 900. The environmental system was redesigned to create a two-zone heating-cooling system that uses engine bleed air available from the more powerful engine to ensure plenty of hot air is delivered through floor-level manifolds all the way to the rear baggage shelf. “We did a ton of testing,” Brown said, “being based in Idaho where it gets cold in the winter, and this airplane keeps it at 70 degrees to 25,000 feet in the winter.” 

Environmental controls Kodiak 900 airplane
The Kodiak 900's environmental control system allows running air-conditioning in one zone and heat in another and provides a lot more heat for passengers from engine bleed air. (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

Pilots can run the air-conditioning to stay cool while passengers, shaded by the high wing, can keep the heat going at the same time.

The Kodiak 100’s two main batteries mounted in front of the firewall have been replaced in the 900 with a single battery installed between the two crew seats. The battery has a quick disconnect for easy removal in cold conditions.

The TKS ice-protection system remains an option on the 900 and its tank and filling process are redesigned. Now the tank contains all the pumps in a modular unit that can easily be removed for maintenance, without removing the cargo pod. The tank is mounted inside the pod in the forward compartment.

The messy process of topping up the TKS tank is now much simpler, with a remote filler attached to the left side of the firewall. To fill the tank, the pilot simply plugs one end of a special hose into the filler unit and the other into the TKS supply bucket or drum, then flips a switch, and the tank fills automatically and shuts off when full. “Just hook it up and turn it on,” Brown said.

A 10-place oxygen system is standard.

With improvements in technology since the Kodiak 100 was designed, the electrical system for the 900 was updated to include automatic load-shedding. “It knows what’s least important for you as a pilot to get on the ground safely,” he said.

The Kodiak Garmin G1000 NXi avionics didn’t change in the 900, but the autopilot control panel was moved to just below the glare shield allowing engineers to open up some panel space to leave room for special missions radios. Daher did opt to add Garmin’s 3D audio to the audio panel and WireAware power line avoidance technology on moving maps.

Performance Changes

With a mtow of 8,000 pounds, the Kodiak 900’s base useful load is 3,630 pounds, up 745 and 100 pounds respectively from the Kodiak 100. The 900 does need more runway, with a takeoff ground roll of 1,015 feet (versus 934 feet in the 100) and a landing ground roll of 1,460 feet (versus 765 feet). “It’s a heavier airplane and needs a little bit longer to stop,” Brown said. “But you’re still taking off and landing in less than 1,500 feet with an 8,000-pound airplane that’s got a 3,000-plus-pound useful load."

Flaps down stall speed of the 900 is 5 knots higher at 65 knots.

Without the cargo pod, the Kodiak 100 can fly 1,132 nm at maximum-range cruise speed of 135 ktas at 12,000 feet, for 8.4 hours and burning 271 gallons with a 45-minute reserve. At maximum cruise speed of 174 ktas, range drops to 1,005 nm, consuming the same amount of fuel, and the flight takes 5.8 hours.

The Kodiak 900, at 12,000 feet and carrying the same amount of fuel, can fly a max-range flight at 156 ktas, covering 1,129 nm in 6.8 hours. Bumping up to a maximum cruise speed of 210 ktas, the 900 can go 969 nm in 4.3 hours.

“Where this airplane really shines,” Brown said, “is up in the oxygenated altitudes. At 15,000 to 17,000 feet, the range really extends because your fuel burn goes down but your true airspeed stays high. We could get almost 1,300 nautical miles up [there].” That said, Daher doesn’t tout these numbers in marketing materials, he explained, because pilots don’t typically fly at those higher altitudes. “We feel like it’s a bit of false advertising if we’re not giving honest numbers,” he said.

Flying Characteristics

Brown flew the Kodiak 900, the second one built, to Oregon’s Hillsboro Airport for my demo flight. The early morning fog had cleared, so we were able to depart VFR into sunny skies.

I had flown the Kodiak 100 four years ago with Brown on a trip from the Sandpoint factory to Santa Monica, California, and appreciated its straightforward handling and simple systems. Anyone familiar with Garmin’s G1000 avionics and the PT6 engine will be instantly comfortable in the Kodiak, and the 900 is no exception.

Even with the higher weight and longer length, Brown explained, the 900 handles just like the 100, and I found this to be true.

With 1,200 pounds of fuel in the wings, about half tanks, the 900 with just the two of us onboard was fairly light at close to 5,000 pounds takeoff weight. I taxied to Runway 31R, popping the power lever occasionally into beta range to manage the taxi speed, which tends to be faster because the wheels are smaller than the Kodiak 100’s, and to avoid having to constantly ride the brakes. I didn’t use this feature, but the nosewheel steering is normal until the wheel turns 17 degrees, after which it becomes full-castering for easy maneuvering in tight spaces. 

Garmin G1000 avionics engine page Kodiak 900 airplane
The engine page in the Kodiak 900's G1000 avionics includes a new horsepower indicator (bottom left) as well as an in-trim range (bottom center). (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

The engine indicating system page on the multifunction display is new and consolidates a lot of information. New for this page is a horsepower readout, and the TKS section doesn’t just show quantity but also ice-protection time remaining in norm or high mode, which is much more useful to pilots. Also new is the elevator trim indicator, which turns blue when it is within the proper range, depicted on the multifunction display’s engine page. Because of the higher weight and length, Brown explained, “If the elevator trim is not blue, as soon as you power up over a certain amount, the airplane thinks you’re taking off and it will annunciate ‘trim is not synced.’ If it was out of trim, it could be a real problem."

With trims set and flaps 20, once lined up with the runway, I advanced the torque to the high green. The Kodiak accelerated quickly, and I made one more small adjustment to the torque before it was time to lift the nose at 60 knots and rotate.

Climbing out to the west, I initially pitched for 85 knots then once the flaps were up, 120 knots. The 900 climbed 1,700 to 1,800 fpm at our light weight, a“ big improvement from the 100,” he said.

I climbed to 8,000 feet and renewed my Kodiak acquaintance with a few turns, noticing immediately that Brown was right about the 100 and 900 feeling almost exactly the same. “It’s a very stable platform,” he said. “That’s a big deal for us.”

Kodiak 900 airplane over Columbia River

Climbing to 11,000 feet, we saw 815 hp through 9,500 feet, and at 11,000 feet 800 hp. “That’s 100 more [hp] than the Kodiak 100 would be at sea level,” he said. Once level at 11,000 feet, the airspeed settled on 207 ktas at ISA +12 deg C, about 3-4 knots slower because of the optional weather radar and its pod on the right wing. Fuel flow was 423 pph.

The 900’s handling is responsive and stable. “If you trim it out it’s going to stay where you keep it,” he said. “Our guys did a lot of control surface testing at higher speeds because this was a new regime for the plane. So credit to the early engineers of the Kodiak 100, there’s very minimal changes that we had to do.”

For pilots who want to save on fuel, the 900 has a handy marker on the torque gauge that shows where to set power for economy cruise. Brown prefers to fly faster, however, and he does take advantage of the 900’s ability to generate more power at high altitudes where supplemental oxygen is required. “We don’t feel a lot of people would go up there regularly,” he said, "but you have that ability if you need it.” Dropping power back to 400 hp, Brown demonstrated fuel burn down to the 200s (pph). For special missions work at 93-97 knots and 10 degrees flaps, he said, “With full tanks, this airplane will easily go to eight to nine hours of loiter time.”

We stayed in the low-speed regime, and Brown showed how easy it was to fly at 80 knots with 20 degrees flaps. The 900’s wing features the same discontinuous leading edge as the 100, which prevents the ailerons from stalling at slow speeds. “You can do 30- to 45-degree banked turns, this is what we call terrain flying. If you get into a pickle or you’re going to inspect a new airstrip, this is what we recommend, 20 deg flaps at 80 knots at a 40-degree turn. The radius is a quarter mile, so you can turn around in some really tight canyon-type scenarios. You're basically pivoting over a point.”

With full flaps deployed, we could feel a little buffet. "That’s normal because the airflow is being disrupted from the horizontal [stabilizer] a little bit,” he said. “We only teach this in the pattern. It’s mostly drag and a little bit of lift and it lets you fly behind the power curve.” We slowed the 900 further, with airspeed in the 60s, and it remained rock solid. “Normal landing speed is in the 70s,” he said, “but if you’re coming in real short, you want to be as slow as possible. I like to show that [because] even at a landing speed of 70 knots you’ve got tons of margin. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall out of the sky.”

Brown demonstrated a clean stall, which was uneventful, then set power for zero thrust to show how even such a large airplane can glide and give the pilot plenty of time to troubleshoot and find a place to land. Reducing airspeed again, he demonstrated turning with the stall horn beeping and the control wheel all the way back. “I still have full aileron control in a full stall. Then I relax back pressure, and I’m out of the stall. The aileron never loses control authority. The two things needed for a spin are full wing stall and complete loss of aileron control, and you can’t get that in the 900, just like the 100. You get all the benefits of speed but don’t lose the real magic from the wing of the Kodiak.”

Before returning to Hillsboro, I flew two steep turns, a good way to get familiar with the handling of a new airplane. The Kodiak 900 felt like it was on rails.

Approaching Hillsboro from the North, the tower set us up for a right downwind to 31R. On final approach with full flaps selected, I switched off the yaw damper and aimed for the runway. Speed was perfect, but as the 900 settled over the runway, I could feel it getting heavy and realized I should have added some aft trim. The 900 dropped firmly onto the runway, and I pulled the power lever into beta to slow down, then taxied to Hillsboro Aviation.

After 1.4 hours in the 900, I can see how easy it would be to transition not only from the Kodiak 100 but from other Garmin-equipped airplanes. The 900 delivers a lot of performance and utility, while bringing the Kodiak up to FAA Part 23 Amendment 63 standards (versus Amendment 55 for the 100). Daher is developing a 900-specific training program, but model 100 pilots will be able to complete a transition training program.

Surprisingly, most of the buyers of the 900 represent a new demographic and aren’t transitioning from the 100, according to Brown. “We’ve had a lot of people put down deposits that have said, ‘I’ve needed an airplane that can carry everything, I’m not in the $6 million market for a PC-12, and this is the perfect airplane I’ve been looking for. I wouldn’t have bought anything [slower than] 200 knots, but there wasn’t anything that fit that mission. We feel like we kind of hit a blue space with this airplane.”