DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 305

58-1703
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c/n 305

58-1703

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• 58-1703 United States Army. Delivered 06-Mar-1959. Designated U-1A with serial 58-1703.

Delivered to Fort Eustis, Virginia where they joined the Transportation Research & Environmental Operations Group (TREOG). The aircraft operated in Greenland and Panama on cold and hot and humid testing. This continued until Apr-1964.

Apr-1964 – Jan-1966 allocation unknown.

Jan-1966. 18th Aviation Company in Vietnam, serving with 2nd Platoon, Camp Holloway, Pleiku. Later 1st Platoon, Nha Trang.

Incident: Special Forces camp at Thrang Phuc. 05-Aug-1969. Undercarriage damaged on landing. A Chinook collected the Beaver for an under-slung return to its base a few days later but the aircraft was dropped from a height of some 200ft and was destroyed.

Passed to 79th Transportation Company at Qui Nhon to be scrapped.

•  Written off

Otter 305 was delivered to the United States Army on 6 March 1959 with serial 58-1703 (tail number 81703). On the same day 81704 (316) was also delivered, both Otters having been painted in overall orange colour scheme. Both were assigned to the Transportation Research and Environmental Operations Group (TREOG) and were flown on their delivery flight from Downsview to TREOG’s base at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

TREOG’s function was to test Army equipment under extreme climatic conditions, and to support scientific research. The two Otters were flown up to Greenland in April 1959. LTC Don Jordan was responsible for shipping the Otters: “We had a C-124 Globemaster brought into Langley AFB, Virginia. We then determined that we could fit an Otter into the C-124 by removing the wings, the rudder and the removable section of the vertical stabiliser.  However, to keep from having to remove the propeller we had to remove the main gear wheels and hubs. So we made wooden skids that we attached to the main gear struts and slid the birds up the nose ramp of the C-124. Then by lifting the tail in the air as it entered the cargo compartment, the prop would clear the floor of the cockpit and then the Otter could be levelled and moved the rest of the way into the cargo compartment”.

“This proved very satisfactory except that when the birds arrived in Thule, Greenland the receiving organisation didn’t take care in unloading them. They let one of the skis drop off the C-124’s ramp extensions on one of the aircraft and this jammed the gear strut up into the underside of the Otter, which had to be flown back to the US for repairs”. Somewhat delayed by these events the Otters did eventually operate in Greenland, supporting scientific research for the summer of 1959, before being returned to Fort Eustis for the winter. Based at Thule, they had been used to fly supplies and personnel to research bases out on the ice cap and to the tractor trains that moved around the ice cap. It was a difficult assignment with the aircraft experiencing plenty of high winds, blowing snow and ice fog. Both Otters were flown back to Thule in April 1960 on board a C-124, this time departing from Dover AFB, Delaware.

Henry (Hank) Duffy flew with the unit during the 1960 deployment and recalls a most interesting expedition. “The 1960 Greenland operation included an additional operation for the Otter named ‘Pole Hop’. This project planned to fly the two Otters 81703 and 81704 from Thule to Station Alert on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island and establish a base there close to but independent of the Canadian weather station. From there the plan was to fly to and land on the North Pole, being the first Army aircraft to do so. Life Magazine was all set to cover our efforts. Otter 704 was specially equipped with a Doppler navigation system, which required a large gyro to be installed in the tail compartment. Since the distance from Alert to the Pole was 400 plus miles and the round trip exceeded the Otter’s range, the plan was to ferry fuel to a point on the frozen Arctic Ocean, stash it, and use it as a refuelling base during the actual flight to the Pole.”

“Our essential miscalculation in the project’s planning was weather. We were at Alert in May and June 1960. When the ice pack starts to break up around the shore and cold water meets the warmer air, an automatic fog is produced. We had so few flying days that we were never able to proceed far enough over the Polar Basin to establish the fuel base, much less get to the Pole”. Sadly, the attempt at the Pole had to be abandoned and both Otters flew back to Thule, where they arrived by the end of June.

While this “Operation Pole Hop” was in progress, the US Army Transportation Board commenced another operation in Greenland, known as “Lead Dog 1960”.  This was a traverse of north Greenland and aerial and surface exploration of Peary Land and Crown Prince Christian Land by TREOG. A tractor train (known as a “Swing”) set off from Camp Tuto on 18 May 1960, supported by H-34C helicopters 54-908 and 54-3016. Otter support was also required but as TREOG’s Otters were at the time engaged on “Pole Hop”, on 28 May 1960 the two Polar Research and Development Otters 92218 (358) and 92219 (360), which were also operating in Greenland that summer, flew to the tractor train with supplies and mail, and spare parts for a broken tractor.

By 1 July 1960 the tractor train was at Mile 489 from Thule, making its way back to base. The two TREOG Otters 81703 and 81704 had by that stage returned to Thule after their abortive attempt to reach the North Pole and so were available to support the train. They arrived at the train that day, bringing fresh food, mail, spare parts and one scientist. They arrived at 23:05 hours on 1 July and set off for departure at 0120. The aircraft attempted to take off but were unable to reach sufficient speed because of the softness of the snow. The weather deteriorated below a safe minimum and the aircraft were shut down.

While waiting for the weather to clear, two tractors were dispatched to pack a runway a mile in length. At 03:40 the weather cleared sufficiently and both Otters took off. However they returned at 04:45 due to adverse weather in the vicinity of Mile 450. At 22:05 they attempted another departure to Thule. For two hours tractors worked hard to get the aircraft airborne. Even after being broken loose from the snow surface, which was done by pulling the aircraft with a D8 tractor, the aircraft were still unable to move under their own power. A short strip 250 yards was packed by two tractors and 81703 was towed over to it. However it was still unable to move itself. 81703 was then towed down to the strip at Mile 9.2. While 81703 was being towed, 81704 was towed to the short strip, where it was able to pick up sufficient speed to taxi down to the longer strip. Both Otters then took off en route to Thule but they returned an hour later.

IFR weather continued throughout 4 July, when it was decided to leave the aircraft and crews and to proceed with the tractor train. The “swing” set off, leaving 5 personnel and 20 days rations with the aircraft. At 2000 hours on 5 July, the “swing” received a message from 81703 that the two Otters had gotten airborne and were flying to the swing’s position. At 2205 the swing stopped and five minutes later the Otters landed. After a quick meal for the crews, they took off for Thule. The swing had been delayed by 68 hours due to the difficulties with the two Otters. The swing eventually arrived back at Camp Tuto after a 69 day expedition. The two TREOG Otters and its two H-34C helicopters continued to support exploration work in Greenland for the remainder of that summer of 1960 and were then flown back to Dover AFB from Thule aboard a USAF Douglas C-133 Cargomaster, then making their way back to Fort Eustis.

That was to be the end of TREOG’s involvement in Greenland. Instead the Otters were used in support of operations in Panama, testing equipment in humid jungle conditions. As Hank Duffy explains: “When I returned from Greenland in 1960, I went to Panama for Jungle Survival School and worked with the Army unit (IAGS) doing the geodetic survey work in order to get oriented. I flew in their aircraft in northern Colombia. They only had Beavers, L-19s and H-19s at that time. I then returned to the States and led a section of two CH-34 Choctaws that flew from Fort Eustis to the Canal Zone (at 80 knots and 500 feet). The next year, 1961, I flew Otter 81704 from Fort Eustis to Panama and return in support of another Transportation Board mission.  We used the Doppler navigation system for locating our ground units in the Darien Gap rain forest”.

The two TREOG Otters continued in operation for the next few years, supporting the annual “Swamp Fox” and other expeditions, until April 1964 when TREOG’s use of the Otter came to an end and the aircraft were assigned to other units. After several years of flying together, the two Otters parted company and by February 1966 81703 had joined the 18th Aviation Company in Vietnam, having lost its overall orange colour scheme in favour of standard Army olive drab. 81703 is mentioned in the Company history on a number of occasions during 1969. During May of that year, it was attached to the 3rd Flight Section, 2nd Platoon of the 18th Aviation Company located at Camp Holloway, Pleiku in the Central Highlands. On 12 May Captain Daniel Frost and WOI “Porky” Porter were flying “Reliable 703”. While climbing out of Ben Het en route to Kontum, the Special Forces camp at Ben Het came under enemy attack. The Otter was struck with one round from a .30 calibre weapon. It went through the main spar but was unnoticed until the aircraft landed at its home field.

On 14 July 1969 CW2 John Holihan was flying “Reliable 703” en route from Qui Nhon to Nha Trang, where the Otter was then based with the 1st Platoon. They were flying ‘feet wet’ and were three miles east of Tuy Hoa AFB. The engine began to run rough and lose power. The pilot cut the engine and made a forced landing at Tuy Hoa AFB., without damage to the aircraft. The cause of the engine failure was a broken push rod on the number one cylinder.

On 5 August 1969 1st Lt Close and CW1 Porter badly damaged the landing gear of 81703 while landing at the Special Forces camp at Thrang Phuc on a flight from Camp Holloway.  They stayed at the camp for three days waiting for a Chinook helicopter to lift 703. The Chinook finally arrived at Thrang Phuc and proceeded to drop the Otter from 200 feet, completely wrecking it. The wreckage was handed over to the 79th Transportation Company, Qui Nhon to be scrapped, phosphorous grenades being used to destroy what was left of the Otter. A sad end indeed to an Otter which had seen service in so many parts of the world.

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.