The view from the Quest Kodiak’s cockpit seems odd and mildly unnerving, although it’s precisely the kind of situation the rugged short-takeoff-and-landing airplane is built for.
Lined up for takeoff on a lumpy, cracked, 2,000-foot-long asphalt runway just 25 feet wide with a clump of tall trees at the departure end, the picture would seem appropriate from a Super Cub or Husky. From the elevated perch of a roomy, climate-controlled turboprop, however, the feeling is reminiscent of a Pilatus PC–12 or a TBM 700, so the rugged surroundings appear a bit incongruous.
And even though the performance charts show the Kodiak is capable of vaulting off much shorter airstrips than this one (Maryland’s Davis Airport), it seems like an awfully big airplane for such a small place.
“Those trees are no concern to us,” says Kenny Stidham, a Quest test pilot, dismissively. “We’ll clear them by a country mile.”
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With flaps set at 20 degrees, rudder trim deflected halfway to the right, the prop in high pitch (2,200 rpm), and 1,600 foot pounds of torque, the Kodiak surges forward to its rotation speed of 55 KIAS and jumps into the air after a ground roll of just 300 feet. The best angle of climb airspeed, 72 KIAS, produces a 2,000-fpm rate of climb; with flaps retracted at 100 KIAS, the rate increases to 2,300 fpm.
The 50-foot trees look tiny as we pass 1,000 feet overhead.
Even though we take off in near-optimal conditions (35 degrees Fahrenheit, six-knot headwind, half fuel, and three people aboard), the boxy metal airplane’s eagerness to catapult itself skyward is astonishing. Equally impressive, the airplane makes few demands of the pilot as its handling mixes docility and obedience with gravity defying power.
Quest Aircraft Co. was founded with a higher calling. The company’s sole purpose was to create a clean-sheet aircraft that would allow missionary and humanitarian organizations to safely perform their demanding work in some of the world’s most remote and inhospitable regions.
Conversations between Tom Hamilton, co-founder of the Stoddard-Hamilton Experimental aircraft series (Glasair and Glastar), and pilots from the Missionary Aviation Fellowship got things started. Quest was founded in Sandpoint, Idaho, in 2001, and a list of missionary and humanitarian organizations provided the seed money to get their new aircraft built and FAA certified. After that, commercial aircraft sales would fund deeply discounted airplanes for the original investors to carry out their charitable work.
So far, it’s pretty much worked that way. Quest has produced and delivered 47 airplanes, and nine of them are working in remote areas such as New Guinea, Indonesia, and Africa. The others are being used as aerial SUVs, jump planes, Part 135 charters, and floatplanes, and they’re owned by individuals, businesses, and government agencies. The proceeds for each nine airplanes Quest sells to retail customers are used to build one for the service organizations that helped found the company and launch the Kodiak. Quest and its roughly 130 employees manufacture Kodiaks at an 84,000-square-foot production facility in Idaho.
Everything about the Kodiak is dictated by the harsh nature of its uncompromising mission:
- The Pratt & Whitney PT6A-34 turboprop engine (750 shaft horsepower) was selected because 100LL has become scarce or completely unavailable in remote corners of the world.
- Tall gear and 29-inch main tires provide 19 inches of ground clearance for the four-blade Hartzell aluminum prop, a vital consideration when flying in and out of rough airstrips.
- An oversized oil cooler allows operation in equatorial regions and temperatures as high as 131 degrees F (55 degrees C).
- A 49-inch-square cargo door allows the unloading of palletized containers.
- A cuffed wing with a downturned outboard section lowers the angle of incidence and keeps the ailerons effective even after the wing roots have stalled.
- A rubberized floor and metal tie-down straps secure cargo.
- Two 24-volt Concorde batteries linked in series provide up to 48 volts for high-and-hot starts.
- An inertial separator (which is electronically actuated) keeps the engine from ingesting debris.
A three-screen Garmin G1000 suite with synthetic vision allows pilots to avoid terrain in mountainous areas.
“We know these airplanes are likely to be flown extensively in mountainous areas so we make sure synthetic vision is standard equipment,” Stidham said. “We want all our customers to have the safety benefits that come with it.”