Otter number 15 was delivered to the Ontario Provincial Air Service (OPAS) as CF-ODL on 28 May 1953, the third of an order for eleven Otters, the main base for which was at Sault Ste.Marie. As with all the other OPAS Otters it was registered to the Ontario Department of Lands & Forests. In their attractive and distinctive all yellow colour scheme with black trim, these Otters served the Province for many years, providing a full range of aerial bush services.
They were most active during the summer months, but some of the fleet were also kept going on wheel-skis during the winter. The Otters were modified as water bombers to fight forest fires which plague the Province in summer and were also invaluable for moving fire crews. The Fish & Wildlife Branch was another big user of the Otter, on surveys, census taking, fish stocking and enforcement of game laws. Timber surveys were another task. Year round the Otters provided transportation for officials to the remote parts of Ontario including the many native settlement. They were also available for SAR and medevacs.
During 1955 OPAS had three Otters in service (ODJ, ODK and ODL) and they were used to good advantage hauling heavy loads of equipment and personnel from Sioux lookout to the Hudson Bay coast. The OPAS Otters were also available to other provinces in need of assistance. In August 1961 CF-ODL undertook a three day ferry flight through high winds and rainstorms to Newfoundland. On its first day of operation, 14th August, to protect fishing outposts from a 400,000 acre fire near Traverse Brook, the Otter dropped 38 loads on the fire in 6 hours 40 minutes. The next day, assigned to a three mile section of fire line in a combined assault with ground crews, the Otter flew nearly 11 hours, dropping 94 loads. ODL had to undergo an engine change at Island Pond, Newfoundland during the deployment, before returning to Ontario.
In 1963 ODL was involved in an interesting salvage operation when it flew to Algonquin Park, Ontario to assist in the retrieval of an historic Fairchild KR-34 CF-AOH which had crashed there years before. The frame and floats of the Fairchild were attached to the Otter’s floats as an external load and flown back to Sault Ste.Marie. As with all the OPAS Otters, serial 15 was re-registered in September 1972 to the Province of Ontario, Ministry of Natural Resources, becoming C-FODL. It continued serving the Provincial government for all of 32 years, until sold during 1985 as the government was disposing of its Otter fleet.
As with many of the former OPAS Otters, it remained in Ontario. It was sold by Bill of Sale dated 7 June 1985 from the Ministry of Natural Resources to Slate Falls Airways Ltd., to whom it was registered on 20 June ’85. Its new base was at Sioux Lookout, where it was to remain for many years. As the Trans Canada highway runs through Ontario, route 72 heads off to the north and at the end of this road is Sioux Lookout, ideally placed to serve the wilderness areas of North West Ontario. ODL joined Otter C-FITS (90) with Slate Falls Airways. The company also flew a Beaver and single Cessnas. As at 28 April 1986 ODL had total airframe time of 9,379 hours. Both Otters were registered to Slate Falls Airways (1987) Ltd., following a restructuring of the company that year. The company provided the usual range of bush services throughout the Ontario wilderness to hunters, fishermen, tourists and the mineral exploration industry.
In May 1989 C-FODL was transferred to Sioux Air Ltd., (registered 23 May ’89), a company associated with Slate Falls Airways. It was repainted into a colour scheme of light blue upper fuselage, blue cheatline, dark blue lower fuselage with white trim. It carried “Knobbys” fuselage titles. Sioux Air flew for Knobbys Fly-In Camps/Knobbys Fly-In Lodge and Outposts. The Otter flew alongside two Beavers serving the Knobby’s Lodge guests during the summer months of 1989, 1990 and 1991, still based out of Sioux Lookout. The registration of the Otter to Sioux Air Ltd was cancelled on 16 July 1992 and it went on lease to Sioux Lookout Fly-In Camps (881823 Ontario Inc) to whom it was registered that day for operations during summer 1992. It remained in the blue colour scheme but the “Knobbys” titles were removed as despite the similarity in name, this was a different outfitter with its own guests. That operation only lasted for the summer of 1992 and the Otter was again stored for the winter.
By Bill of Sale dated 9 December 1992 C-FODL was sold to yet another Sioux Lookout based operator called Matt’s Air Service Ltd., owned and operated by one Matthias J. Mitchell. It was prepared for service over the winter months and registered to Matt’s Air Service Ltd on 11 May 1993, ready to start flying for summer 1993, again based out of Sioux Lookout. It retained the blue colour scheme of its previous operators but received Matt Air titles. The company provided general air charter services throughout North West Ontario, summer and winter, and the Otter flew alongside several Cessna 180/185s. By the time of its annual inspection on 31 January 1994 ODL’s total airframe time had increased to 12,293 hours.
A minor incident was recorded on 31 March 1995. The Otter, with only the pilot on board, departed from an ice strip at the Slate Falls Reserve, returning to its base at Sioux Lookout. Shortly after take off, the pilot noticed a decrease in the aircraft’s performance, and saw that the left wheel-ski had become partially detached, being supported only by its cables. The pilot diverted the flight back to the Slate Falls Reserve and landed without further incident. The Otter sustained minor damage to its left wheel-ski, which was repaired and it returned to service with Matt’s Air Service, where it would continue flying until replaced by a Cessna 208 Caravan which the company acquired in time for the summer 2001 season.
Having been based at Sioux Lookout, Ontario for 16 years with four different operators, Otter ODL was sold by Bill of Sale dated 22 June 2001 from Matt’s Air Service to Texas Air Cargo Inc of Decatur, Texas. At the time of sale its total time had increased to 14,705 hours and its Canadian registration was cancelled on 27 June 2001. Bishop Aviation Inc of Decatur had certified a turbine conversion of the Otter using a Garrett TPE-331 engine, which became known as the Texas Turbine Otter. The prototype was N120BA (115) which had been used as the test aircraft and then as a demonstrator and then for Bishop Aviation’s own use, including for parachute drops. This Otter crashed at Decatur on 31 March 2001 during a parachute flight and accordingly Bishop Aviation needed a replacement, for which they bought C-FODL, which was registered as N150BA on 3 July 2001 to their associated company Texas Air Cargo Inc.
The Otter was flown south from Sioux Lookout to Decatur, where it was converted to turbine power with the Garrett TPE-331 engine, becoming the third such conversion. It replaced the crashed prototype and was initially used as a test aircraft for approval of the Wipline 8000 floats for the Texas Turbine Otter, and for Canadian approval for the conversion. It was then used as a demonstrator and for Bishop Aviation’s own use, until it was advertised for sale in February 2003. “Texas Turbines 1000hp ‘Super Otter’ demonstrator is for sale for less than it cost to buy to buy an airplane and do the conversion”, the advert stated. It had a new paint scheme and 100 hours since the factory engine had been installed. According to the company they had enough satisfied customers for their conversion, didn’t need a demonstrator any more and word of mouth was their best advertising. Prices quoted were $775,000 on wheels, without radios; $805,000 with radios and $955,000 on Wipline 8000 floats with radios.
The Otter was sold in May 2003 and on 2 June ’03 registered to its new owner, Kenai River Xpress LLC., of Soldotna, Alaska, retaining the registration N150BA. This was the company of Alan Norville, a commercial land developer based in Arizona but who had bought the Otter for travel around Alaska during the summer months, on private sight-seeing, fishing trips etc. The aircraft was named “Norville’s Otter” which was painted on the nose, also the painting of an Otter, and it was put on amphibious floats and flown all the way from Decatur to Soldotna, Alaska.
Having been used in Alaska for summer 2003, it arrived at Vernon, BC., late October 2003 for the installation of a new customized interior, with plush leather seating throughout the cabin, and to be fitted with panoramic windows, the work being performed by Kal Air. It then returned to Alaska where it flew for Mr Norville over the years that followed, still in service summer 2016.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005), now with added and updated information which Karl has supplied for the benefit of the website.