Aircraft: For God and Backcountry
We are 2,800 feet above the northern Idaho backcountry on this cool, clear October morning and descending toward the grass strip at Cavanaugh Bay, on the eastern edge of Priest Lake. The tamaracks paint splashes of gold in the forest that surrounds the lake, and the glasslike surface of the water below mirrors the clouds, the mountains, and our white and yellow Kodiak, a new, 10-place, all-metal turboprop from Quest Aircraft Co.
Our pilot and Quest’s sales and marketing manager, Kelly Mahon, slows the plane and stabilizes the approach toward a strip that is bounded by tall trees on three sides and runs uphill to the southeast. Touching down at barely 60 knots, Mahon does not need the grade to slow the plane and shorten the roll-out; the pilot engages the propeller’s reverse mode, and before the aircraft crosses a third of the available turf, it stops. Mahon, with two heavier-than-average passengers and 1,800 pounds of fuel aboard, later performs another typical slow-speed, curving bush-style approach to a municipal airport, lands the plane, brings it to a full stop, and then takes off again using far less than 1,000 feet of runway.
Equipped with wheels (floats will be an option), the Kodiak can cruise at faster than 190 knots. It has a range of 1,050 nautical miles (not including a one-hour fuel reserve) when flying 185 knots at 12,500 feet. It can climb at 1,700 feet per minute from sea level, and 1,150 feet per minute from 10,000 feet. Pilots will appreciate the plane’s high-wing design, robust landing gear, and 19-inch prop clearance that enable it to land on and depart from grass strips, gravel bars that emerge from lakes during the dry seasons, and other backcountry landing areas that were once the nearly exclusive habitat of Beavers and Otters, as well as Couriers and Porters.
These features, Kodiak’s minimal runway requirements, and its reconfigurable interior (with eight removable passenger seats) make the plane well suited for fly-in fishing trips in the Pacific Northwest. However, Quest Aircraft, a company founded in 1998 in Sand point, Idaho, not far from where we landed, designed the Kodiak specifically for Christian missionary and humanitarian organizations in parts of the world where the ground temperatures are high, the air is thick, and the reliability and high horsepower-to-weight ratio of a turbine is ideal. The chairman of Quest’s board of trustees, Bruce Kennedy, has been working for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) since 1991, when he left his post as CEO and president of Alaska Airlines. For the last eight years, he has served as the chairman of OAF, an organization operating about 90 light aircraft that transport missionaries and relief supplies to remote regions. The design, development, construction, and FAA certification of the Kodiak are being funded through donations—$14 million to date—to not-for-profit missionary and humanitarian organizations such as OAF. In return, Quest plans to deliver one in every 10 Kodiaks that it produces to a missionary or humanitarian organization at cost.
The plane’s current base price of $1.3 million includes a three-screen Garmin G1000 avionics suite. Quest expects the Kodiak, which made its maiden flight in October 2004, to receive FAA certification by the end of June and to make its first delivery in July. The company says it already has a backlog of orders that extends into late 2008.
Quest Aircraft Co.