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A Successful Quest
Reprinted with permission
GANews, Copyright 2008
By Meg Godlewski
Photo Will Jones
The company enters a new phase as deliveries of its Kodiak begin
"We've worked really hard. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know when you are heading into one of these certification programs, and that makes it really hard to predict. Everyone falls into the trap of being maybe a little too irrationally exuberant.''
     Paul Schaller, president and CEO of Quest Aircraft, made that comment last summer during EAA AirVenture. Just six months later, the very first production Quest Kodiak rolled off the assembly line and into the waiting hands of JoAnn Wolters and Dan Schroeder owners of Spirit Air, a leasing company in Salmon, Idaho.
     The last time we spoke with Schaller, the Sandpoint, Idaho based company was still in the afterglow of getting the Kodiak Type Certificate.
     Since then, the emphasis has been on ramping up for production and delivery, said Schaller, as he playfully listed all that had been accomplished in the past few months.
     Completion of some of the final test reports for flight and structural tests, closing on product liability insurance, investment in FAA Industry Training Standards (FITS) syllabus development, upgrade of our website in preparation for customer delivery, crossing items off the list for the planned Production Certificate in the third quarter, upgrading the company CAD system, completion of standard airworthiness certificates for the first two aircraft, fatigue tests planned, scheduled, approved and test articles prepared, shoveling snow, managing cash flow, beginning certification approvals beyond the USA, creating production tooling fixtures, lots of customer visits, shoveling more snow, holidays at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's - and a couple thousand other things. And did I say something about the snow?"
     Schaller notes that there weren't really any surprises during the flight testing.
     "We did have some iterations to work through on the autopilot settings," he notes. "The Kodiak performs very much as designed - that's a check in the good column."
     At first glance, the Kodiak, a high-wing turbine design, looks like a Cessna Caravan.
     Schaller concedes that the planes are visually similar, but notes they were designed for different missions and, as such there are subtle differences.
     If you want to fly packages around, choose a Cessna Caravan - that is what it was designed for," he says. "They can be adapted very cleverly with minor investments for personal use, but they weren't designed for passengers. We started with a clean sheet design with an eye toward missionary aviation organizations and made it very clearly a personal use, short takeoff and landing capability airplane with high prop clearance and a good useful load."
     The Kodiak is powered by a Pratt and Whitney PT-6A engine, which is "a good reliable engine," Schaller, says.
     "The panels have the Garmin G1000," he adds. "It is really fantastic for situational awareness in terms of weather. It is just a tremendous package."
     The aircraft, designed to be compatible with floats, can take off in under 700 feet at the full gross takeoff weight of 6,750 lbs. with a useful load of 3,325 lbs. Climb rate is more than 1,700 feet per minute.
     Part of the certification challenge was that Quest is a new company and the Kodiak a new design, according to Schaller. As such, there were lots of hoops to jump through to get certification.
     "The people at the FAA have been really great to work with over the last year," he says. "I think they have a standard that is a little higher for a first-time company with its first aircraft, because they don't have much to base their trust on, because there is no track record. It is entirely reasonable for them to be a little more persnickety about some things, which they are, but they are also very helpful. They give you some guidance in terms of 'maybe you could try it this way or that way.' Their expertise is something that you want to consider."
     Construction of the prototype and creation of a production line began in October 2004.
     It had its moments, says Schaller, because there were times when the engineers would want to make a part in a particular way.
     "But how it had to be assembled was very different from what the engineers saw," he says. "We had to adapt some designs to make it easier to manufacture."
     Once the production line was in place, the emphasis was on training employees while simultaneously achieving certification of the aircraft. The company delayed the announcement of the acquisition of the Type Certificate for a few weeks, says Schaller, noting that it was a calculated move on his part.
     "We actually got the Type Certificate on May 30, and like many certificates that you see in the industry, it had limitations placed on it by the FAA," he says. "There are often caveats when you get a TC, like if it is pressurized you can't fly it over 12,000 feet, or daytime VFR only, no passengers, operation with two pilots, and so on. We got the TC with some limitations, then put it in a drawer and said we're not going to talk about the TC until we get those limitations removed."
     Deliveries officially began Jan. 28.
     There is definitely a market for the aircraft, says Schaller.
     "We have more than 100 commercial orders for the Kodiak and more than 25 orders for missionary and humanitarian aviation," he says. "We currently have a three-year backlog based on our last business plan production rate increase. As we have just begun deliveries, we will be working that down as quickly as possible as we ramp up."
     Base price for the Kodiak is $1.45 million.