Otter 141 was delivered to the United States Army on 24th July 1956 with serial 55-3290 (tail number 53290). It was assigned to the 2nd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, Kansas which later deployed to Germany, then France (as described in relation to Otter 124). During 1964 53290 was based with the platoon at Verdun, and at Orléans in 1965. It was noted flying from Gatwick to Prestwick, Scotland on 25th June 1964 in company with Otter 53294 (146), also of the 2nd Aviation Company. The next day the two Otters set off from Prestwick for Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, but they had to divert back to Prestwick due weather. They were more successful the next day, 27th June, both flying to Benbecula and then back to Prestwick where they overnighted. On 28th June, 53290 made another trip Prestwick-Benbecula-Prestwick and on 29th June both Otters made the same trip again. These flights were part of a regular tasking for the 2nd Aviation Company, supporting US Special Forces who were using the missile firing range at Benbecula.
53290 continued in service with the 2nd Aviation Company until it disbanded in March 1967 and was then transferred to the 56th Aviation Detachment at Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany which took over the duties which the 2nd Aviation Company had performed. The 56th Aviation Detachment itself maintained a Detachment at Burtonwood in England to where most of the Army's supplies which had been stored at various depots in France were moved when the Army left France in early 1967. This detachment was known as the Burtonwood Aviation Detachment and from March 1967 for the rest of that year, Otter 53290 and CH-34 Choctaw helicopter 64232 were based at Burtonwood with the Detachment.
Crew Chief of the Otter was Steve Buck and he recalls: “Our barracks was under the control tower in the main building for the flight crews. I was always getting in trouble at Burtonwood with the neighbours. Every morning at 6am I would go out and taxy down to the end of the runway to do the run-ups on 53290 to get ready for another flight, and wake everybody up. We took flights all over England, hauling passengers and cargo. We made one trip to Edinburgh in Scotland which was great. I got to see some magnificent scenery on that flight. We also made a flight to Bristol and were invited to view the Concord”. The Otter remained based at Burtonwood until the end of 1967, then moving to join the 56th Aviation Detachment's other Otters at the unit's main base at Mannheim. 53290 continued flying for the 56th Aviation Detachment until January 1971 and was then assigned to the depot at Coleman Barracks as a support aircraft. It visited Mildenhall, England on 5th August 1971, this being the last recorded visit by a US Army Otter to the United Kingdom. It flew 21 hours in August before being withdrawn from use and put into storage at Coleman Barracks pending disposal.
As explained in relation to Otter 137, eight US Army Otters in storage at Coleman Barracks, Mannheim were put up for sale by tender in December 1971. 53290 was one of the eight, all of which were purchased by Ferrer Aviation Inc of Miami, Florida. At the time of the sale, 53290 had a total time of 4,515 hours and its sale price was $39,680. On 2nd February 1972 civilian registrations were applied for and 53290 was allocated N80939. In company with N80945 (formerly 92230), N80939 was ferried from Coleman Barracks via Saarbrucken, Germany to Ashford in Kent and on to Shannon, Ireland, arriving Shannon on 7th March '72. At Shannon, ferry tanks were installed by SRS Aviation, after which the two Otters set off for the long Atlantic crossing, first stop Reykjavik, Iceland and then via Greenland and Newfoundland.
The two Otters were flown to St. Jean Airfield, Montréal where they were converted to civilian aircraft by St. Louis Aviation Inc. Otter 141 was then sold to Ilford Riverton Airways Ltd., of Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1974, registered C-GCQK. Ever since, it has served the bush country of its native Canada, passing through a series of operators. In 1975 it was in use by Laurentian Air Services Ltd of Ottawa on lease, reverting the next year back to Ilford Riverton Airways. On 9th July 1976 at God's Lake, Manitoba the pilot had been assigned a helper for docking operations because of gusty wind conditions. The helper was told to get onto the right float and throw a rope to the people on the dock. Despite shouted warnings from these people, he walked into the propeller and was killed. He had not been briefed on docking operations.
In 1978 the Otter started flying for Kyro's Albany River Airways of Thunder Bay and Jellicoe, Ontario and was to serve that carrier for the next ten years, flying alongside some Beavers, Cessnas and a Norseman. In November 1988 it was sold to Air Wemindji Inc of Wemindji, Quebec whom it was to serve for nearly six years. On 3rd September 1989, one hundred miles south of Kuujjuak, Quebec while flying on lease to Air Schefferville for the annual caribou hunt, the Otter was damaged while taxying for take-off when the right float hit a rock. The damage was repaired. C-GCQK continued to fly for Air Wemindji until March 1994 when it was sold to Twin Lakes Outfitters & Wilderness Camps Inc of Nakina, Ontario. As its website proclaims: “Fish for Walleye, Northern Pike, Trophy Speckled Trout on a remote wilderness lake accessible only by floatplane. We operate our own charter air service with Cessna, Beaver and Otter aircraft, to ensure the best of service for our guests. Our air base is located in a protected harbour on Lower Twin Lake, six miles east of Nakina. Wilderness camping and canoeing are also available. Fall moose hunts for the hunting enthusiast offer exceptional opportunities”.
In May 2001 the Otter was registered to Kenora Air Service Ltd., of Kenora, Ontario, which is associated with Twin Lakes Outfitters. In October 2003 at the end of that year's summer season, it was put up for sale, on EDO 7170 floats, with a total airframe time of 14,900 hours. It had an asking price of $495,000 Canadian. In May 2004 it was still based at Nakina, on lease to Twin Lakes Outfitters. The Otter was later sold, and the Canadian registration cancelled on 1st September 2004.
The Otter was registered N560TR on 8th September 2004 to its new owners, Jespersen Aircraft Services Inc., of Bettles, Alaska, a company owned by Jay and Judy Jespersen. The Otter would be operated by a subsidiary company, Brooks Range Aviation. N560TR left Ontario on 9th September for the long flight to Alaska, stopping in Fairbanks to have some work done on the aircraft, before continuing on to Bettles, a somewhat remote location to the north-west of Fairbanks. Here it joined the Brooks Range Aviation fleet of two Cessna 185s, a Helio Courier and three beavers. The company is so called as it specialises in serving the Brooks Mountain Range, one of the most beautiful parts of Alaska, where the adventurous traveller can go for camping, hunting and fishing.
As its website proclaims: “There are only two narrow dirt roads into an unbroken swath of wilderness that stretches from the Chukchi Sea to the border of Canada's Yukon Territory. Getting into the Brooks Range requires some ingenuity and a float plane, since the area is far from any airstrip. So why go the considerable effort of trekking into the Brooks Range? Because you will encounter the finest mountain terrain in North America, a wonderland of glacier, carved granite and pristine lakes, all within the remote wilderness of the Alaskan Arctic Region”. Otter N560TR arrived in Bettles in late September 2004 to service this area of outstanding beauty and remoteness, becoming the first Otter ever to be based at Bettles.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).