Otter 172 was delivered to the United States Army on 7th November 1956 with serial 55-3310 (tail number 53310). It first served with the 3rd Aviation Company at Fort Riley, Kansas and moved with the unit when it deployed to Germany in July 1957, establishing at Illesheim. The 3rd Aviation Company disbanded in November 1959 and 53310 was then assigned to the 708th Maintenance Battalion, Germany as a support aircraft, where it served until June 1964, then going into storage awaiting disposal. In February 1966 it arrived at the ARADMAC Depot, Corpus Christi, Texas where it was prepared for service in Vietnam. The following June, having been transported to Vietnam, the Otter entered service with the 18th Aviation Company, based at Pleiku.
The Otter is mentioned in the unit history for June 1966: “Some 140 miles north of Pleiku, CWO Ira Stein was involved in a test flight accident. Ira, hereafter known as “Supersonic Stein” and “The Flash”, in a burst of speed accelerated 53310 to 200 knots. At this speed certain vibrations were experienced which are foreign to Otter type aircraft. Upon landing, an inspection revealed that the overspeed had left all the wire antennas dragging on the ground, popped numerous rivets, severely wrinkled the wings and stabilizers and had completely torn off the elevator servo tab. As a result of the flight the aircraft will require extensive inspection and rebuild. The accident was not chargeable to the 18th in as much as the aircraft had been turned over to the 604th General Support Company and had not been released at the time of the test flight”.
Tom Hull, who was the Crew Chief on “Reliable 310”, has provided some more information: “We took a small arms round through the elevator trim tab, located on the trailing edge of the left elevator. After replacing the trim tab, a functional check flight was required. Ira Stein flew the flight, with me in the right seat, in the local Pleiku area. Prior to the flight, another aviator advised him to put the aircraft into a dive and exceed the VNE (velocity never exceed) speed by 5 to 10%. If the aircraft had no vibration, it was rigged right. This was not in the Army Technical Manual. As a result, the trim tab and approximately one third of the elevator were torn off and we landed back at Pleiku with no further incident. The aircraft was grounded and the overhaul facility from Thailand (44th Engineer Group) sent a team over to replace the elevator assembly and do a dye penetration check on the wing attachment bolts and fittings for stress cracks. None were found. I think Mr Stein got a letter of reprimand. I got to remove and replace about a million screws without the benefit of an electric screwdriver”.
53310 re-joined the 18th Aviation Company after the repairs were completed. Tom Hull recalls one other incident with the Otter, on a rainy night on a return flight home from Saigon.” The magnetic chip detector light came on and oil pressure went up ten degrees. The flight-following radar knew we were just south of Phan Thiet, about 40 miles south of Nha Trang but could not determine if we were over water or land. It was raining so hard we had turned off the red rotating beacon because of vertigo and couldn't see anything. The problem was there were mountains that came near the coast at an elevation of 6,500 feet. We put on our parachutes and swung way east and hoped for the best. It was the only time I ever considered jumping, but we managed to land safely.”
The Otter continued to fly for the 18th Aviation Company until November 1968, when it was assigned to the 2nd Signal Group (HHC, 1st Signal Brigade) at Tan Son Nhut. It went to the 56th Transportation Company for overhaul in March '69, re-joining the HHC, 1st Signal Brigade the following month. It continued to serve until September 1969 when it went to the 142nd Transportation Company, Da Nang to be prepared to be shipped home. It arrived at the Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, California in December 1969, where it remained in storage for some time, before being put up for disposal.
The Otter was purchased by Air Craftsmen Ltd., of St. John, New Brunswick, a company heavily involved in the acquisition of ex-military Otters. A temporary Certificate of Registration as C-GLCW and Flight Permit was issued on 29th May 1974 to Air Craftsmen Ltd., for the importation of the aircraft to Canada. Having been refurbished and civilianised at St. John, it was registered C-GLCW and sold to Ontario Northern Airways Ltd., of Jellicoe, Ontario to whom it was registered on 30th July 1974. It flew for them until sold to Leuenberger Air Service Ltd., of Nakina, Ontario in August 1976. These operator flies’ fishermen to remote outpost camps during the summer months, its Otters usually stored at Geraldton Airport, Ontario during the winter.
C-GLCW met with an accident at Geraldton, where it had been stored for 33 days, on 2nd December 1988. The pilot took off from runway 26 at Geraldton for a VFR flight to Nakina, the Otter's base. At approximately 75 feet above the ground, the engine lost all power. The pilot made a forced landing onto the remaining runway and the Otter touched down with high vertical speed, in a right wing-low attitude and rolled to a stop. The right main landing gear attachment fitting and bulkhead were damaged. The engine had lost power due to water contamination in the fuel. The damage was repaired.
The Otter met with a similar incident at Nakina on 8th June 1991. Shortly after take-off, the engine lost power. The pilot turned the boost pump on and the engine re-started but the Otter landed heavily resulting in damage to the float struts and fuselage fittings. The damage was repaired and C-GLCW was converted to a Vazar turbine Otter by Recon Air, Geraldton. It continued to fly for Leuenberger Air Service alongside Otters C-GLCS (428) and C-FSOX (437) during the summer months, flying on behalf of Leuenberger Fly-In Lodge & Wilderness outposts -- “As all our cottages are accessible by air only, one of our Turbo de Havilland aircraft will fly you and your party into the finest Walleye and Northern Pike fishing in unspoiled wilderness you can experience in Northern Ontario”.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).