• 55-3315 United States Army. Delivered 28-Nov-1956. Designated as U-1A.
Detail unknown until:
Feb-1966. Electronic Warfare Laboratory, Lakehurst NAS, NJ., for conversion to RU-1A configuration.
Nov-1968. Assigned to the Army Security Agency Training Center at Devens AAF., MA.
Aug-1970. Assigned to the Army Security Agency, Test & Evaluation Center, Fort Huachuca, AZ.
Jun-1972.To storage at MASDC., Davis-Monthan AFB., Tucson, AZ, allocated the inventory code UA004.
• N432GR School of Bible & Music, Grand Rapids, MN. Regd Oct-1972. Based Freemont, MI.
Incident: Freemont, MN, Date unknown. Damaged in high winds. Subsequently used as a ground instructional airframe and source of spares for a second Otter operated by the school.
• N432GR Wilderness Wings Airways, Ely, MN. Dates unknown.
Note: Trucked to Seattle where it was re furbished at Harold Hansen’s facility at Boeing Field. Circa Jun-1978.
• N432GR William H. Magie dba Wilderness Wings Airways, Ely, MN. Aug-1978. Canx May-1980.
• N13GA Gary Archer, dba Bush Pilots Air Service Inc., Anchorage, AK. Regd May-1980.
• N13GA Taquan Air Service Inc., Ketchikan, AK. Regd Dec-1991.
• N13GA Alaska Juneau Aeronautics Inc., trading as Wings of Alaska, in April 1993. Canx 13-Jun-1996.
Accident: Taku Inlet, AK. 22-Jun-1994. Five aircraft departed Taku Sea Plane Base., one behind the other. Fog and drizzle were encountered, and the pilot of the first aircraft radioed to the pilots of the other aircraft to cross the river to the east shoreline. A passenger in the fourth aircraft (N13GA) stated that when the aircraft was over the middle of the river, she could not see either shore due to fog. The pilot of N13GA (a floatplane) stated that he encountered deteriorating weather & started a descent, intending to make a precautionary landing. He began to level, expecting conditions to improve. Subsequently, the floatplane hit the surface of 'glassy water' and crashed. Seven of the ten passengers regrettably died as a result of the incident,
Total time: 7,672 hrs at time of accident.
Note: Aircraft recovered from 90ft of water and trucked down to the Aeroflite Industries hangar at Vancouver International Airport, arriving on 31st March 1998. It was rebuilt and fitted with a turbine engine, but subsequent problems following the rebuild meant that the airframe has not been re-registered as far as is known.
• Status unknown •
Otter 179 was delivered to the United States Army on 28 November 1956 with serial 55-3315 (tail number 53315). It was delivered to the 3rd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, Kansas. This unit and its Otters deployed to Germany in 1957 but 53315 remained in the United States and was assigned to the 72nd Electronic Warfare Company, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, part of the 72nd Signal Battalion. It was used as an airborne jamming platform. In October 1964 the Army’s Signals Corps handed over the electronic warfare mission to the Army Security Agency and 53315 was transferred to this Agency, but it continued to fly from Fort Huachuca, alongside Otters 52977 (50) and 53271 (117). This continued until February 1966 when all three Otters arrived at the Electronics Warfare Laboratory, Lakehurst NAS, New Jersey where all three were converted to RU-1A configuration. Whereas 52977 and 53271were then deployed to Vietnam, 53315 remained in the United States and in November 1968 it was assigned to the Army Security Agency Training Center at Devens Army Airfield, Massachusetts.
53315 was noted at Devens AAF., in April 1969 along side two Beech C-45s, three U-6A Beavers and two U-8D Seminoles. The Otter was used to train Army personnel on the RU-1A and continued in operation at Fort Devens until August 1970, when it was assigned to the Army Security Agency Test & Evaluation Center and returned to its former base at Fort Huachuca, Arizona when the training programme was moved there. It continued to fly from Fort Huachuca until June 1972, when it made the short flight to Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona where it was put into storage at the Military Aircraft Storage & Disposition Center (MASDC). It was allocated the PCN (Product Control Number) UA004 and was one of five Army Otters to end their military careers in the “boneyard” in the Sonora Desert.
Its retirement was brief however as in October 1972, along with 81685 (291), which was also in storage at Davis-Monthan, it was allocated to the School of Bible & Music, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Vocational schools such as this were authorised to receive surplus military equipment. The School, which had recently opened an aviation section to train pilots and mechanics who would work in the field of missionary aviation, took full advantage of this entitlement and received the two Otters and also four Beavers. These aircraft were flown from Davis-Monthan to a small airfield at Fremont, outside Grand Rapids, Michigan where they were civilianised and made ready for use by the School. 53315 was registered N432GR and 81685 became N433GR.
Unfortunately N432GR was damaged in a severe wind storm while at Fremont and it was decided not to repair it. It was trucked to Newaygo Airport outside of Grand Rapids, where the School’s Aviation Division was based, and over the following years was used as a ground instructional airframe and for spare parts to keep the other Otter flying. 81685 was civilianised and registered N433GR entered service with the School based at Newaygo Airfield, used for pilot training. Of the four Beavers which the School had received, two were used as ground instructional airframes and two were in use for flying training, and were also used to transport music groups from the School around the country, even as far south as Florida. The Otter was considered too expensive for such a task and was only used for flying training. Many of the pilots who trained at the School went on to become missionary pilots in under-developed countries.
In 1978, due to rising fuel costs, the School decided to sell its Beavers and Otters, which were replaced with more economic Cessna 172s and 182s, better suited to the training role. Otter N432GR was traded in to Wilderness Wings Airways of Ely, Minnesota in exchange for an Aero Commander 500 (N180M). Having sat at Newaygo Airfield for five years as a ground instructional airframe, it was trucked across the country to Seattle for rebuild. In June 1978 N432GR was noted at Harold Hansen’s facility at Boeing Field, Seattle in bare metal, being prepared for repaint. It was registered to William H. Magie, DBA Wilderness Wings Airways the following month, and set off for its new base at Ely, Minnesota.
At Ely it joined Beaver N11015 and Beech 18 N44573 in the fleet, serving the bush country of northeast Minnesota. In March 1979 it was joined by Otter N90627 (106). N432GR continued flying for Wilderness Wings Airways until May 1980, when it was sold to Gary Archer of Anchorage, Alaska who re-registered the aircraft N13GA. According to the “Bush Pilots of Alaska” book, Doctor Archer was “a cardiologist in the morning and an air taxi operator in the afternoon”. His company was Bush Pilots Air Service Inc which operated from Lake Hood seaplane base at Anchorage. The Otter was originally painted into a scheme of brown lower forward fuselage, red rear fuselage and rudder and white upper fuselage but by 1988 had been repainted into a more attractive silver scheme with red trim. For eleven years the Otter flew for Bush Pilots A/S alongside its Beavers N11GA and N12GA, until sold to Taquan Air Service Inc., of Ketchikan, Alaska in December 1991.
The Otter features in an incident report landing at the Metlakatla Seaplane Base at Ketchikan on 4 February 1992. The pilot reported that the aircraft’s control yoke started vibrating and the nose of the Otter pitched down. The pilot corrected by re-trimming the airplane and landed without further incident. An inspection revealed that the rivets attaching the trim tab control horn to the right elevator trim tab had pulled out, allowing the trim tab and elevator to flutter. N13GA was sold to Alaska Juneau Aeronautics Ltd., trading as Wings of Alaska, in April 1993 and made the short move north to its new base at Juneau, a most scenic part of the State. Cruise liners visit Juneau in the course of cruises through Southeast Alaska’s inside passage. As well as providing scheduled services to points in Southeast Alaska with its fleet of Cessna 206/7s, Beavers and Otters, a major part of Wings of Alaska’s business was offering sightseeing flights over the nearby glaciers and ice-fields to tourists from the cruise liners.
On Wednesday 22 June 1994, five of the company’s Otters, one of which was N13GA, were engaged on these sightseeing flights. There were ten passengers from the cruise ship ‘SS Universe’ on board N13GA. The five Otters were bringing the tourists back to Juneau from a tour of the Taku Glacier and dinner at Taku Lodge. The five aircraft, all floatplanes, took off one after the other. Fog and drizzle were encountered en route and the pilot of the first aircraft radioed to the others to cross the river to the east of the shoreline. A passenger in N13GA, the fourth aircraft, stated that when the Otter was over the middle of the river, she could not see either shore due to fog. The pilot of N13GA stated that the weather along the western shoreline of Taku Inlet was deteriorating and the first three Otters, which departed ahead of him, transitioned across to the east side. He elected to transition also and en route he lost sight of the shoreline. He made a turn to proceed up river and began a descent. He last recalled seeing the altimeter at 200 feet indicated and just as the Turner Lake shoreline came into view the Otter struck the water and crashed at Flat point, twelve miles south-east of Juneau.
Six of the passengers died in the crash. The pilot and four passengers survived, although one of the surviving passengers later died. After the other aircraft had arrived in Juneau and noticed that N13GA was missing, three of the aircraft flew back, located the crash site and rescued the survivors who after forty minutes in the water were suffering from hypothermia. The Otter itself had sunk, containing three of the dead passengers. Strong currents and rough weather hampered efforts to lift the aircraft from ninety feet of water in the icy inlet. Six days later the recovery team, using three boats and a winch, succeeded in pulling the wreckage to shallow water and retrieving it. The engine, left wing and both floats were missing. There was no damage to the fuselage except for the left bottom of the engine firewall and the left cockpit floor. The interior cockpit floor was buckled upward. All the doors were missing. The Otter had a total time of 7,672 hours when the accident occurred. It had been an horrific crash, in which the unfortunate N13GA had encountered a fog bank which the other four Otters had managed to avoid.
The remains of N13GA, including the fuselage, were later trucked down to the Aeroflite Industries hangar at Vancouver International Airport, arriving 31 March 1998. Here the fuselage was repaired and fitted with a turbine engine. Testing of the turbine engine at high power however caused damage, requiring repairs to be carried out. As at October 2002 the fuselage of the Otter was noted in a jig outside of the Aeroflite hangar at Vancouver. In the event, it was decided not to rebuild the aircraft, which was parted out. In February 2010 the rear fuselage of N13GA, together with the fuselage of Beaver serial 69, were noted on a truck, passing through Vernon, BC en route to Saskatoon.
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.