We were sitting inside the new Kodiak 900 on the ramp at Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport in the Palouse Region along the Washington and Idaho border. Known for its spectacularly beautiful and fertile rolling hills, this mid-June day we were just trying to escape the unrelenting and bitterly cold wind.
“How do we make the Kodiak go faster?” he stressed, as the airplane rocked in the wind. It’s never easy to make a well-designed airplane go faster, especially a backcountry utility hauler like the Kodiak 100, which hit the market 15 years ago and is a favorite of missionary and relief organizations. With its short wing span optimized for narrow jungle strips and its large, plump tires designed for rough surfaces, “go fast” wasn’t an original design criterion. Yet, at 175 knots true airspeed or so, the Kodiak kept up with other single-engine utility turboprops, such as the Cessna Caravan. In fact, with its faired-in cargo pod, the 100 would best a Caravan with a cargo pod every day.
Still, who doesn’t want to go faster—at least in your turbine-powered airplane? Especially with the company now owned by Daher, a French company that makes the speedy TBM 960 single-engine turboprops, among other things. Planes, trains, or automobiles—the French like to go fast.
Brown said the Kodiak revisions started in 2016, well before Daher bought the former Quest Aircraft in 2019. But the acquisition brought with it extra engineering horsepower that accelerated the project, so to speak.
However, like many a home-improvement project, one thing leads to another and replacing the sink soon leads to a whole new kitchen. As they homed in on what was needed to make the 100 faster, the marketing, manufacturing, and engineering teams brought forward a whole list of other nice-to-haves, such as more space, more luxury, and easier maintenance.
A larger cabin would make the airplane more competitive in the commercial and special mission markets. However, the manufacturing team understandably wanted to make as many parts in common with the 100 as feasible to simplify certification, production, and support.
The end product meets those design goals through a faster, longer airplane that still has plenty of backcountry capability, but a little more citified inside for those seeking the latest creature comforts. The new model was expected to be under wraps until the official unveiling, scheduled for July 25, the first day of EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
A primary part of the go-faster change is the usual one: more horsepower. A 900-shaft-horsepower Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140 supplants the 700-shp PT6A-34 in the Kodiak 100—so no magic there. The PT6A-140 is the same engine powering the Grand Caravan EX—you might be getting a sense by now of the Kodiak’s biggest competitor. But even a 22-percent increase in horsepower only does so much. Throughout the airframe, there have been changes to reduce drag. The nose section is new—all composite and completely fairing in the cargo pod, which is now standard and integral to the airframe. Flap tracks have been faired in and, most noticeably, the airplane now sports wheel fairings. The robust fairings house smaller and higher-pressure tires than the 100. Brown explained that the new model, which keeps the same wing span and tail section as the original, may not be as optimized for the shortest, most rugged strips in the backcountry, but the tires and fairings still offer plenty of performance for rough strips in out-of-the-way places. We landed on a gravel strip along the Snake River with lots of terrain in the vicinity. Even with four aboard and nearly full fuel, the airplane rocketed off the gravel in about 1,000 feet, climbing away at nearly 1,800 feet per minute.
To address the size issue, the engineers added two plugs to the squarish fuselage section—one just behind the flight deck and another just ahead of the empennage. The new model retains the same interior width and height as the original. Like the 100, the new model will come standard with six passenger seats in the cabin. Although with the extra 37 inches of length, the cabin will easily accommodate a double-club configuration, as was in the development airplane we flew and photographed. In fact, the cabin can easily accommodate 12 seats in countries where that is legal; a maximum of 10 seats are permitted in the United States in this category.
Even with eight seats in the cabin, access is easier because the aft row of seats is behind the large cabin door, so you’re not having to slide by passenger seats when boarding through the rear. The flight deck retains its left and right doors for easy crew access. The fuselage steps have been replaced by new telescoping ladders that fold into the flight deck with the doors closed. Cleverly, the front doors can be held open in up to moderate wind—15 knots or so—by magnets hidden in the doors that mate to magnets behind the skin in the nose, allowing the doors to swing completely open and stay that way.
Taking a nod from the luxury of the TBM line, each of the new Kodiak seats has next to it a LEMO headset jack, conventional headset jacks, two USB ports (one each for USB-A and USB-C), a phone holder, and a cup holder. Overhead, each has a gasper air vent and a light. Cargo tiedowns are embedded in the floor, walls, and ceiling throughout, providing lots of flexibility for hauling gear.
The seat frames are all new and include arm rests on both sides. They all recline and can face either direction. In addition, no tools are required to remove them, and a pilot can remove the seats without an A&P signoff.
Further increasing comfort, the environmental control system takes advantage of additional bleed air from the larger engine to assure a warm cabin even at 25,000 feet. The air-conditioning system has also been optimized for the larger cabin volume, Brown said. Two zones allow pilots and passengers to have their own temperature settings.
Maintenance improvements include a split cabin overhead that makes it easier to remove for inspections. Inspection ports in the overhead allow quick access to key areas. The airplane comes standard with single-point refueling, something that was an option on the 100. The TKS anti-icing tank is behind an easily removed false wall in the forward cargo compartment and can be taken out for maintenance. A small panel inside the engine cowling allows for automatic TKS tank filling, the system automatically adding the amount the pilot selects up to its 19.5-gallon limit. The Garmin displays inside show minutes remaining at various TKS flows as well as gallons remaining, a helpful new data point.
The volume of the cargo pod remains the same, but the aft two compartments are joined, allowing for carriage of larger items. A new hatch on the bottom allows long items such as fly-fishing rods and lumber to be slid into the pod from behind, further increasing utility. New flush-mount stainless steel latches keep the three side hatches closed.
Again, simplifying operations, the pilot can remove and install the wheel fairings without a logbook entry. When we flew the airplane, Brown said the engineering team was still tweaking the nose gear fairing design to make it more compatible with typical FBO tugs.
AOPA Pilot was given an exclusive early look at the airplane in mid-June. During our flight tests, the design team’s first goal of more speed became most evident. Where a Kodiak 100 with a cargo pod would cruise at about 175 KTAS, the new airplane tooled along at just over 205 KTAS at 12,500 feet msl on 430 pounds per hour with the engine running at 2,120 pounds of torque and the new Hartzell five-blade composite propeller loafing at 1,900 rpm. Brown said that at standard temperatures, without the radar pod, and with final production airframe changes, the new model will likely see 210 KTAS—35 knots faster than the 100. Brown estimated an airplane without the wheel fairings would cruise seven to 10 knots slower. The Daher engineers found that changing the angle and position of the wheel fairings slightly resulted in a five-knot increase in speed. Details matter!
The new model carries the same 322 gallons of fuel as the 100. With the new engine’s greater efficiency and ability to get to altitude faster, he expects range to be about the same as the 100: about 1,000 nautical miles. Most customers, he noted, have missions that are closer to 450 nm.
At just more than 1,400 pounds, the new model has about 70 pounds greater useful load than a Model 100. The maximum takeoff weight of 8,000 pounds is about 745 pounds more than the smaller model. Most customers were seeking more volume, not necessarily the ability to carry significantly more weight, Brown said.
The nose section is new—all composite and completely fairing in the cargo pod, which is now standard and integral to the airframe.The handling characteristics changed very little with the longer fuselage and greater weight. It feels a little more stable in yaw, thanks to the extra length. As with the original model, the automatic trim system kicks in with flap deployment to mostly eliminate pitch changes as the boards come out. For as big as it is, the airplane is fairly light on the controls.
Integrating the cargo pod into the fuselage allowed the engineers to drop the gear structure to underneath the cabin floor and move it aft slightly, which simplifies cable runs for the flight controls, raises the airplane about five inches higher off the ground, and allows it to sit more level on the ground, rather than nose high. With the change in gear position, the airplane will not need a tail stand in most cases, simplifying ground operations.
One thing that didn’t change as much is the cockpit, which, like the latest models of the Kodiak 100 Series III, includes the Garmin G1000 NXi cockpit and the GFC 700 autopilot. The latest variant includes Garmin WireAware. Developed for the helicopter industry, the system graphically and aurally alerts to powerlines—a handy feature for an airplane like the Kodiak that often flies in challenging terrain and obstacle situations. In addition, the audio system compensates for changing cockpit noise levels.
Less evident is the all-new four-bus electrical system that includes auto load shedding and allows for simplified troubleshooting. Brown noted that they could have gone with a Garmin G3000 cockpit, the Home Safe Autoland system, and other upgrades, but that would have increased development and certification time and costs. As it is, the new model will sell for about $500,000 more than the Kodiak 100, which will remain in production. The new model “pretty much fully loaded” with the Executive Package and six passenger seats will sell for just under $3.5 million, including a four-year maintenance program for Part 91 operators. Weather radar and additional passenger seats are among the options not included. The Kodiak 100 without the cargo pod was certified for floats several years ago. No company has certified a single-engine turboprop with a cargo pod on floats, according to Brown. It remains to be seen whether that could be an option later.
Brown said the new model will most likely appeal to the commercial and special mission markets. He expects their owner-flown customers for the most part to stick with the Kodiak 100 because it fits their needs and budgets.
Look for Kodiak 900s to start showing up around the country in early 2023.