Otter 110 was delivered to Taxi Air Group Inc of Detroit, Michigan on 13th April 1956, registered N96T. The company acquired a second Otter from DHC, N98T (181), delivered on 16th November 1956, and with the two Otters established a unique city-to city commuter service, which was perhaps ahead of its time, but foreshadowed many of today's inter city services. Taxi Air Group (TAG) took the philosophy of the bush pilot - making use of the nearest landing facility (lake, river or short strip) in getting cargo and passengers to an isolated destination, and applied it to link the centres of two of North America's major cities, Detroit and Cleveland.
Starting in April 1956, the airline operated four round trips each week day between the seaplane base on the Detroit River (ten minutes by taxi from the centre of downtown Detroit) to the city dock at Cleveland Lakefront Airport, a mere three minutes from the main business district. Flight time between the two points was just under an hour and the return fare was $25. This contrasted with the optimum regular airline time between the two cities, which averaged 3 hours 9 minutes, being 44 minutes in the air plus one hour ten minutes limousine time between the City Airport and Cleveland and one hour fifteen minutes in ground transport between Detroit and Willow Run Airport. The normal time by bus was five and half hours.
The service was initially operated by Otter N96T and a Beaver, the second Otter being delivered in November 1956. Public reaction to the services was favourable, load factors averaging 40%. The service operated mid April to mid November. It could not function during the winter due to adverse weather and the freezing over of the lake. The Otters were moved down to Miami for the winter of 1956/57 and operated services to Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Stuart, Key Largo and Marathon. These services operated again during the summer of 1957 between Detroit and Cleveland and in Florida for the winter of 1957/58 but were then discontinued. Presumably they must not have proved commercially successful. Both Otters were sold.
The company continued in business, changed its name to TAG Airlines Inc and built up a large fleet of de Havilland DH.104 Doves. Services continued between Detroit and Cleveland from the conventional airports, and also to Meigs Field, Chicago. On 28th January 1970 one of the company'sDoves crashed into Lake Erie killing the seven passengers and two crew. It would appear, as often happens, that the company could not survive the lack of public confidence after this crash and ceased operations, a sad end for an airline which had made such pioneering use of the Otter. To return to Otter N96T, after its career as an inter-city commuter airliner was over, it became a true bush plane, serving the remote reaches of the Northwest Territories. It was sold to Western Aero Renters Ltd., of Edmonton in April 1958 and leased to Wardair, registered CF-JRS. It was based alongside Wardair's other Otters at Yellowknife. It is mentioned twice in the Western SAR Area files, experiencing communications difficulties, on 16th September 1958 on a flight from Fort Simpson to Hay River, and again on 17th October 1958 en route from Yellowknife to Hay River. On that occasion, the pilot did not file an arrival message and had a violation recorded as a result.
Just a year after entering service with Wardair, CF-JRS was destroyed in a take-off accident at Coral Harbour on Southampton Island, Northwest Territories, on 11th May 1959. The Otter was under charter to the Magic Film Company and was taking off, on skis, from a small strip on a lake near Coral Harbour with the pilot and two passengers on board for a long flight across Hudson Bay to Churchill, Manitoba. On take-off, acceleration appeared slower than usual and the Otter reached the end of the strip by the time it got airborne, followed by a slow and sluggish climb. Due to an upward slope, the rough ground rose faster than the aircraft could climb, and the skis skipped over the rough ground. The Otter was nearly at the top of the hill when the right ski struck an obstruction and broke, tearing a large hole in the side of the fuselage. Still under power, the aircraft continued to move until it reached the top of the hill and the pilot then cut the power and turned off the ignition switches. Momentum carried the Otter a short distance further and it came to a stop in the snow, with flames pouring out from the right hand side of the aircraft. The three on board rapidly vacated the aircraft, which exploded shortly thereafter and became a mass of flames.
The strip from which the take-off was attempted had been used successfully by CF-JRS during the previous ten days and was considered suitable. The accident report concluded that due to an accumulation of ice and hoar frost on the wings, the aircraft failed to become safely airborne during the take-off and collided with the ground. The Otter was completely destroyed by the post-crash fire.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).