Mindful that with six adults, some gear, and fuel onboard we are near maximum landing weight, I add the angle of attack indicator on the glareshield into my scan. Over the trees at the narrow end of the creek is not the place to run out of energy. On this early summer Tuesday afternoon, almost all the boats in the marina at the western edge of the creek are in their slips. We have the place to ourselves. Full flaps and set the pitch attitude. Mind the airspeed—85 knots. And wait.
And then, there it is—again. Remarkable. That soft settling sense as the carbon fiber Aerocet floats skim the water and then settle in. No kidding. Like landing on a pillow. What’s up with that? Where’s that grabby sense you normally feel as the water nabs the float and pulls it in?
First-time seaplane pilots are often surprised at the firmness of water landings. With no tires or gear-suspension system, the floats transfer the impact of landing directly to the fuselage. And although it’s certainly possible to make “soft” landings on water, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. With that in mind, I was surprised when Mark Brown, Quest Aircraft’s chief demo pilot and director of marketing, splashed the new Kodiak 100 Series II turboprop down on a narrow tributary of Maryland’s Chester River and it felt as if we touched down on a cushion. The Aerocet amphibious floats seemed to just brush the water, and yet we were down and taxiing. Similarly, on takeoff, the airplane climbed onto the step and lifted off effortlessly, with none of the dragginess you usually get from the water wanting to hang onto the floats. Wow, this guy is good, I thought.
And he is, but, as I discover later on my landing and takeoff on nearby Fairlee Creek, a lot of the finesse comes from the mirror-smooth surface of the floats. Gone are the seams and rivets of a conventional aluminum float—and a lot of the maintenance headaches associated with them. I noticed a similar change in handling when flying a Cessna 185 on Aerocet composite floats in Florida earlier this year—after flying it on aluminum floats the year before. It’s as if the smooth, hydrodynamically efficient hulls slice through the water with much greater ease than their metal cousins.
As Brown reports, Aerocet didn’t just focus on hydrodynamics when designing the floats. The company spent a lot of time in wind tunnels, too, finessing the floats for aerodynamics. The results are amphibious floats that are some 400 pounds lighter than an equivalent pair of aluminum floats—“meaning I can carry two more people,” Brown comments, with less of a speed penalty than conventional floats. At a maximum cruise speed of 162 knots true airspeed, the Aerocet-equipped Kodiak is the fastest amphib in its class, he claims. That’s about 8 knots faster than a Kodiak on metal floats. Undoubtedly the hand-in-glove fit between airplane and float is more than happenstance. Aerocet founder and President Tom Hamilton was a founder of Quest and a visionary for the aircraft project. Hamilton also founded Stoddard-Hamilton in 1979, the maker of Glasair kit airplanes, so he has a long history in composite manufacturing.
Each of the Kodiak’s floats contain three storage compartments and nine sealed bays meant to maintain flotation even if one or more of them is ruptured. With aluminum floats, the bays must be pumped frequently because water enters through seams and around rivets. But the composite bays are truly sealed, with water getting in only through the top access ports. Brown tells of flying a de Havilland Beaver on metal floats and having to pump the floats every 12 hours or it would sink. He flew the Aerocet-equipped Kodiak on a month-long trip, landing on the water every day and leaving it on the water overnight a couple of nights, and pumped the bays only twice. That’s some workload—and worry—reliever for floatplane pilots.
The Kodiak was designed from the get-go to be equipped for floats, and every one ever built can be easily equipped. As a result, after the initial installation, swapping between wheels and floats takes less than a day. The floats and related installation gear weigh 1,204 pounds, but with the conventional gear removed, the weight change is only 775 pounds.
Certification of the carbon fiber floats in 2015 is just one of a long list of enhancements Quest has made to the rugged single-engine turboprop over its 10-year life. Combining many of those early upgrades and a host of new ones, the Idaho-based manufacturer branded the latest generation of Kodiaks with a “Series II” moniker. Quest detailed the changes in a five-page, single-spaced “technical information” sheet. Suffice it to say, there are a lot.
More than two of the pages highlight the changes with the upgrade to the NXi version of the Garmin G1000 avionics suite. We’ve reported on the NXi changes before. The primary improvements are related to faster processors and improved memory, which allows for new horizontal situation indicator mapping features and many other upgrades. Series II now makes available the Garmin GWX 70 weather radar, which includes four-color cell storm tracking, improved image stabilization, and improved attenuation interpretation.
Turbulence detection and ground clutter suppression are additional optional radar features. Ditching the three mechanical standby instruments in favor of the L3 ESI-500 standby instrument frees up space on each side of the panel for enclosed storage compartments handy for phones, sunglasses, charging cords, and other accessories. Up on the glareshield, the Safe Flight angle of attack indexer is standard now, giving the pilot constant awareness of the ship’s margin of safety related to stall—especially helpful in a backcountry environment where a pilot is dealing with short runways, high elevations, and high-density altitude situations. And when landing on floats with a full boat skimming over trees into the narrow end of Fairlee Creek!
Also standard are dual Precise Flight A5 boom oxygen cannulas that mount to headsets for convenient use. The optional Precise Flight X3 Demand Conserver stretches available oxygen supply some 300 percent by supplying the gas only when you demand it.
As with the panel storage compartments, sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most. The now-standard LEMO plugs for the pair of included Bose headsets eliminate the need for battery packs. And door stays: The new designs quickly and easily hold the two cockpit doors open. Need to open the cowling during preflight? The two-position door stays allow for that. When not needed, the stays snap off and clip to the inside of the doors.
Not so minor, but still important—especially for seaplane operations—is the optional single-point pressure refueling system. Housed in a panel on the inboard bottom of the left wing root, the system means fuelers don’t have to dig out the really tall ladder to feed the beast over the wing. And when on the water, one doesn’t have to drag fuel hoses across the fuselage while attempting not to fall in. Good luck with that.
The Series II changes also include a host of new paint schemes, colors, and interior upgrades. Remaining, though, are the attributes that made the big turboprop a hit with a variety of users throughout the world over the past decade—versatility and economy. With its short takeoff and landing capabilities and relatively narrow wingspan, the Kodiak is at home on short, skinny runways in the middle of nowhere—regions where avgas may be nearly impossible to find but where Jet-A is reasonable. With its big cargo door, people will pay you to let them depart the airplane in midair. And if you need to stuff a stretcher inside, that works too. Big windows make it a good sightseeing and charter platform, and for wealthy individuals—a prime market in the United States in particular—a great way to move friends and family from the city to the lake house, or your favorite variation on that.
With the many upgrades and making standard a number of previously optional features, Quest raised the base price of the Series II by $75,000 to $2.15 million. The amphibious floats add about $400,000 to the price tag. But, hey, how cool will you look stretched out on a float as all those two-dimensional yachters motor by your Kodiak anchored just outside the marina entrance?
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