So what is the Kodiak? In a giant-sized nutshell, it's a big sheet-metal Pratt & Whitney PT-6-powered single with long beefy landing gear and a voluminous interior that seats up to 10 or hauls 248 cubic feet of cargo (or 310 cubic feet with an optional bottom-mounted cargo pod). Topped off with 320 gallons of jet-A and up to max weight, it will take off in around 750 feet, fly better than 1,000 nautical miles, cruising at right around 180 knots along the way, and land in less than a thousand feet.
The ballpark cost of the Kodiak, with good standard equipment, including the G1000 suite, and a cargo pod is just over $1.5 million, a bargain for a turbine airplane with this kind of capability.
The key to the Kodiak's capability is its power-to-weight ratio, an impressive 9 pounds per horsepower. Even though it weighs just 6,750 pounds, the Kodiak is outfitted with a monstrous 750 shp (700 shp continuous) Pratt & Whitney PT6A-34 engine. With that kind of power it can get itself out of tight spots even while fully loaded. With tanks full the Kodiak can haul 800 pounds. But with tanks only slightly less than half full, which still gives you almost 500 nautical miles of range, it will carry a literal ton of people and/or cargo. That kind of capability gets missions done, and many of those missions save lives.
The centerpiece of the Kodiak design is the wing, a one-off invention that features a discontinuous, cuffed leading edge, like on the Cirrus airplanes. The idea is ingeniously simple. When the stall comes, the leading edge design forces the root, or inboard, part of the wing to stall before the outboard section, which is where the ailerons are. With the outboard wing still flying, the pilot retains control down to and into the stall. As I'd soon find out, when you're bringing a near-7,000-pound single into a tiny grass strip with little margin for error, every knot counts.
Flying the Bear
The Kodiak flies very much like what it is, a big, relatively heavy single. At the same time, it's remarkably honest in its response to control inputs, making it, I dare say, an easy airplane to fly. Even though it weighs almost as much as two 182s (and you feel that bulk) it's certainly no wrestling match to get the airplane to do what you want it to. Indeed, the control feel will be a pleasant surprise to many, even those moving up from true lightplanes. I hopped into the Kodiak with a 20-minute briefing and proceeded to fly it for a couple of days, putting several hours and a handful of landings on it. There's simply no mystery there.
There was doubtless some luck involved, but my first landing, at Lewiston, was one of my best efforts. Despite a slight crosswind, I was able to set it down right on the aiming point and make the first turnoff with only moderate braking and no use of beta. Our ground roll was about a thousand feet, right around its published ground roll number. And with a little determination and spirited use of the big hydraulic wheel brakes, I'd venture that I could have cut that figure by a lot.
There are several reasons for its good landing manners. First, the visibility is very good out the sides, and to a slightly lesser degree, out front. The flaps, huge true Fowler-type flaps, are assisted by the trim system to automatically compensate for a nose-up pitching moment when the big flaps take effect. With full flaps, the stall speed gets down to just 59 knots. And once you're on the ground, the powerful brakes give you all the stopping power you'll likely need. If you need more, you have the advantage of using the beta setting on the propeller, which helps get rid of any residual speed.
The confidence that I got from those first landings at Lewiston was reassuring on my next approach, to an Idaho backcountry strip called Big Creek. Real Northwest backcountry pilots reading this right now are probably rolling their eyes, because Big Creek, with its 3,550-foot-long, 110-foot-wide strip, is child's play to genuine purveyors of outback flying. But to a newbie like me, it was an exciting proposition. Moreover, it had the real advantage of being the only mountain strip the weather would let us get into that day.
While the Kodiak is a no-holds-barred bush plane, it's also one of the few small-production airplanes to be equipped with the Garmin G1000 avionics suite. Strangely, when Quest first announced the avionics package, some of its customers expressed disappointment. But I was reminded that a lot of these folks are dyed in the wool backcountry types for whom the idea of flat panels in a bush plane is heresy. The good news, I'm told, is that it typically takes about half a flight with G1000 to change their minds. And the advantages in redundancy, dependability (forget about vacuum pumps and mechanical gyros) and ease-of-replacement make for clear advantages when the nearest repair station could be half a continent away.
On our flights the technology advantages were crystal clear. By the time we got to the Bitterroots, the tops of the peaks were obscured, or worse. We were navigating valley to valley, working our way toward Big Creek, popping a hundred feet over the ridgelines when necessary, but never once feeling as though we had anything but lots of options. That's because on the G1000 we had a beautiful TAWS display right there, with clear depictions of where the terrain was high and where it was lower. Through the XM Weather utility, we had constantly updated weather conditions at what few airports there were around us. And should all else fail, we had the ability to go emergency IFR, aim in the direction of lower terrain and climb at better than 1,000 feet per minute, even at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Who could fail to love the safety edge that G1000 gives you? And it's only going to get better at some point soon, as the Kodiak gets a number of Garmin-related enhancements, including WAAS and the GFC 700 autopilot.