Otter 152 was delivered to the United States Army on 10th October 1956 with serial 55-3296 (tail number 53296). Although most of the U-1As being delivered at this time were painted olive drab, 53296 was painted in the 'Army Arctic' scheme of white overall with high-visibility red on the tail and wing tips, as it was destined for service in Alaska. It was assigned to the Arctic Test Center, Fort Greely, Alaska and delivered from Downsview to Fort Greely. It continued to serve there until October 1959 when Otter 81720 (339) was delivered to the Arctic Test Center, and 53296 then departed Fort Greely to Fort Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska where it was assigned to the 568th Transportation Company as a support aircraft. In June 1961 the 568th Transportation Company moved to Fort Wainright, Fairbanks, Alaska, soon after the Army took over Ladd Air Force Base and re-named it Fort Jonathan M. Wainright.
The 568th TC, radio callsign “Rivet Benders”, was a maintenance unit, its mission to provide General Support and Direct Support for all United States Army aircraft in Alaska. As well as the Otter, in the early 1960s the unit also flew a Beaver and a Cessna L-19, which were used to fly personnel and parts to wherever they were needed, including the repair of aircraft which had force landed in the bush. 53296 was destined to serve with the 568th TC for many years. At some stage during the 1960s, the paint scheme was removed and from then on it was flown in its natural metal finish with red tail and wing tips and was named the “Silver Salmon”. The 12th Aviation Company with Otters was also based at Fort Wainright and from time to time 53296 was flown by the 12th when one of its Otters was down for maintenance. Alfred Rogers, who served with the 568th TC from 1961 to 1964, describes some of 53296's other uses: “R&R to the fishing camps located around the northern part of Alaska. These were week end trips taking soldiers on three day passes to enjoy some good fishing. The 568th also had a maintenance mission to support the Alaska National Guard aircraft, mostly L-20 Beavers and H-21 helicopters all over the State. This included the annual inspection of their aircraft, which was almost a three day affair at remote locations. The L-20 Beaver at Juneau was on floats year round, hard to inspect but always a pleasant trip. Juneau had some wild bars in that town. We also provided support to the Alaska Scouts, small teams of Eskimo infantry patrolling the northern slopes. Places visited in the Otter included Bethel, Nome, Barrow, Juneau, Kotzebue, Unalakleet and Sitka. Days after the big earthquake in March 1964, 53296 was used to ferry guards and rations to Valdez in support of the disaster relief”.
53296 was still serving with the 568th Transportation Company in 1971 and is mentioned in the unit's history: “Early in February, personnel from the Sandia Missile Range Facility, Sandia, New Mexico arrived at Fort Wainright. They were here to conduct Auroral Sampling tests using the Nike/Tomahawk missile. In order for the missile payloads to be recovered, it was necessary for a U- 1A Otter to be fitted with radio direction finding gear. Although this equipment had never been fitted to this type of aircraft, this Unit's Otter (nick-named “Silver Salmon” for its overall polished aluminium finish) was modified to accommodate it”.
On 22nd April 1971 the Otter was used to deliver a new snow machine to the Catholic Priest of “Our Lady of Snows” mission at Nulato, Alaska on the Yukon River. The next day found the “Silver Salmon” engaged on a search mission north of Nome. A native family of five had attempted a cross- country trip which ended when their snow machine broke down. The crew of '296 found the family and guided a ground team to their location. In July 1972 the Otter was transferred from the 568th TC to the 12th Aviation Company, also at Fort Wainright, one of three Otters flown by the Company at that time. It is mentioned in the Company's history during September 1972, taking part in a search for lost hunters, flying in the Cantwell and Susitna regions. 53296 continued to fly for the 12th Aviation Company and was still one of the three Otters it had on strength (the others being 53288 and 76128) when the Company was disbanded. On 21st June 1973 the 12th Aviation Company was formally inactivated in a ceremony conducted in its Hangar #6 at Fort Wainright.
Although its Army career was over, the Otter would continue to have a military involvement. It was transferred to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks registered N90422, but operated in support of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL). The NARL had been established in 1947, located on the shore of the Chukchi Sea between Point Barrow and the village of Barrow, the largest Eskimo settlement in North America. The NARL also had field research camps stretching across the entire North Slope of Alaska. It was operated under contract to the Office of Naval Research by the University of Alaska, as the Research Support Contractor. Its task was to provide all facilities and services for accomplishing programs of basic and applied research which contributed to successful Navy operations in Arctic regions and environments, including logistic support services to field research parties at outlying camps and stations.
To accomplish its mission, the University of Alaska operated a fleet of aircraft for the NARL, including Douglas C-47s, C-117s, a Twin Otter, N90422 the single Otter and four Cessna 180s. Unique uses and operating parameters evolved for these aircraft since they were all called upon to operate from unprepared surfaces ranging from sea ice, to gravel river bars to soggy tundra, at temperatures ranging from +65F to -60F and with missions ranging from aerial photography to cargo and personnel transport, to equipment and supply paradrops. The Otter flew for the NARL for fourteen years. In June 1975, to give but one example of its use, scientists began studies of the Meade River Field Camp, sixty miles south of Barrow, which had a 1,500 foot runway, which was adequate for the Otter and the Cessna 180s. The camp supported twenty one researchers throughout the summer, who were working on different projects with the tundra ecosystem.
N90422 continued in use with the NARL until it was disposed of in 1987. In June of that year, it was registered to the Interior and Arctic Alaska Aero Museum, and parked at their facility at the Fairbanks airport. It was in a natural metal finish, named “Miss Piggy”. It remained in this retirement for five years, until June 1992 when it was registered to Douglas G. Solberg of Juneau, Alaska. This was in connection with its sale to Kenmore Air Harbor Inc. to whom it was registered in October 1992 and it joined their fleet based at Kenmore in Seattle after re-build and re-paint into the company colours. As with the other Kenmore Otters, it was converted to a Vazar turbine Otter. During 2001 it was flown with EXPEDIA.COM billboard titles. For summer 2003 its 'logo' colour scheme was for Victoria, BC's Butchart Gardens “100 years in bloom”. Victoria is one of the destinations it serves on its commuter services for Kenmore Air. It retained this 'Butchart Gardens' logo colour scheme during 2004.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).