After an excellent home-cooked meal at Big Creek Lodge -- sadly, the lodge burned down a few days after we visited -- we headed back for Sandpoint, Quest's Northern Idaho home.
The takeoff from Big Creek, an accelerating downhill, rollercoaster ride of an affair, was a lot of fun, and before we knew it, we were snaking our way out the same canyons we'd used to get in. But for the hour-long trip back home VFR looked impractical, if not impossible, so I gave Seattle Center a call, air filed and headed north at 12,000 feet between layers as evening approached.
It was barely above freezing at that altitude, and there were no reports of icing even in the clouds, which was good. The current airplane doesn't have any icing equipment on it, though Quest is far along in the process of getting flight into known icing (FIKI) approval for it using the TKS "weeping wing"system.
Another system that's not quite there yet is the G1000 in the current Kodiak. It's a first generation system, so there's no GFC 700 autopilot and there's no WAAS. For an autopilot, the Kodiak is currently outfitted with the S-Tec 55X. It does a passable job, but if you've flown Garmin's autopilot, you'll be pining for it. And WAAS will be a much desired upgrade, as well, as VNAV GPS approaches will come in handy in an airplane like this that regularly finds itself heading into remote destinations that are 100 miles or more away from the nearest ILS.
As we broke out of the clouds, Kenny pointed out the airport to me, I gave Seattle a call to cancel and we continued the approach. It was quiet on unicom as we descended, and the touchdown on Sandpoint's single paved runway seemed a bit anti-climactic. I wondered aloud if there was a gravel strip or fire road around somewhere we could have used instead.
The Quest Continues
Part of Quest's unique and smart business plan was to ramp up production slowly. The company was planning to produce only a handful of airplanes in 2008, with around 35 expected to come off the line in 2009 and around one per week in 2010. These are numbers that can easily be accommodated at Quest's 84,000-square-foot plant. That said, the delicate balancing act of ramping up production to even modestly high rates is perhaps the single most difficult feat for startup manufacturers to pull off. There are many costs, expected and not, and dozens of potential pitfalls. But given Quest's track record of designing, type certifying and then producing and delivering an airplane that almost no one, me included, ever thought would see the light of day, I'd be the last one to bet against them, especially now that I've flown the airplane.
The Kodiak is, in short, everything the company says that it is, a good flying, powerful, heavy hauling bush machine that can do double duty as an air taxi or executive flyer. And it's only going to get better as it receives additional refinements, including known ice protection and new avionics capabilities. And if its promised operating economies come to pass, which seems likely, it will undoubtedly prove popular with backcountry operators and in the process help a lot of needy people in some of the hardest to reach places on earth.
For more information, visit questaircraft.com, and be sure to check out our web gallery of the Quest factory on flyingmag.com.