DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 307

l0l5 of the Fuerza Aérea de Nicaragua.
Photo: Unknown photographer © via G.J. Kemp - Karl E. Hayes Collection
l0l5 making its way up the Rio Coco River on a raft.
Photo: Roy Westgate © date unknown - Karl E. Hayes Collection
l0l5 unmarked, at Vancouver - CYVR, British Columbia.
Photo: John Kimberley © October 1980 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N8510T at Vancouver - CYVR, British Columbia.
Photo: John Kimberley © March 1982 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
C-GITL at Abbotsford - CYXX, British Columbia.
Photo: Ken Kula © 2009 - Aird Archives

c/n 307

58-1694 • FAN-1015 • N8510T • C-GITL

N8510T

x

• 58-1694 United States Army. Delivered 27- Dec-1958. Designated U-1A..

Initially delivered to Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, CA.

17th Aviation Company, Fort Ord, California. Actual dates unknown.

27-May-1963. Arrived in Vietnam and attached to the 339th Transportation Company.

Jun-1963. Allocated to 18th Aviation Company, probably based at Saigon.

Nov-1966. Returned to USA Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, CA.

Dec-1967. To the 54th Aviation Company, in Vietnam until Jan 1971.

Jan-1971 56th Aviation Company, Vietnam.

Feb-1971. 388th Transportation Company, Vung Tau, Vietnam for storage and disposal.

FAN-1015 Government of Nicaragua under Military Air Programme. Fuerza Aérea de Nicaragua.

Accident: Unknown location, Nicaragua. 07-Sep-1976. Damaged in a landing accident at a jungle location. See below for further information on th recovery process.

• No regn York Realty Ltd., Duncan, BC.

• N8510T Harold J. Hansen. Seattle, WA. Purchased 10-Sep-1980. Regd 19-Nov-1980.

Total time: 2,150 hours

Airworthiness date: 10-Feb-1982.

• N8510T James J. Harkey, Auburn, WA. Bill of Sale 12-Apr-1982.

• N8510T Garry Duff (Turtle Airways Inc), Napa, CA. Bill of sale 16-Apr-1984. Regd May-1984.

• N8510T Wayne C. Alsworth, Port Alsworth, AK.

• N8510T Red Baron Leasing Inc., Anchorage, AK. Regd Mar-1987.

Accident: Location unknown. 16-May-1987. Right main gear collapsed into float on landing.

• N8510T Leased to Sound Adventures Air Service Inc., Lake Hood, Anchorage, AK.  Dates unknown.

• N8510T Alaska West Guides & Outfitting, Nikiski, AK. Regd May-1988. Operated by Alaska West Air Service.

• N8510T Mike and Melissa Parnell.

Note: Placed into storage at Viking Air, Victoria, BC.

Incident: Victoria, BC. Dec-1966. Damaged when hanger roof collapsed caused by accumulation of snow.

• N8510T Ownership transferred to Splash Air LLC., Eastsound, WA. Regd 04-Apr-2000.

• C-GITL. Viking Air Ltd. Victoria, BC. Regd 30-Aug-2007. Canx 26-Feb-2008. Regd 26-Mar-2008. Canx 27-Jan-2009. Regd 25-Mar-2009. Canx 30-Aug-2010. Regd 30-Sep-2010. Canx 01-Sep-2011. Regd 28-Oct-2011. Canx 13-Oct-2012 and deleted on export to USA 30-Jan-2013.

Power plant. Converted to Cox P & W PT6A turbine by Viking Air. First flight as such mid Sep-2007.

• N8510T Splash Air LLC., Eastsound, WA. Regd 28-Feb-2013.

Airworthiness date: 21-Mar-2013.

Current

Otter 307 was delivered to the United States Army on 27th December 1958 with serial 58-1694 (tail number 81694). It was assigned to the 17th Aviation Company at Fort Ord, California. It was delivered from Downsview to the Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, California before continuing on to Fort Ord. In 1963 it was one of eight Otters of the 17th Aviation Company sent to Vietnam to augment the 18th Aviation Company. The eight Otters arrived on 27th May 1963 on board the 'USNS Core' and were initially taken on charge by the 339th Transportation Company. The Otters were taken to Tan Son Nhut airport where they were re-assembled by Air Vietnam and by the end of June '63 all were again in flying condition. One (298) was retained by the 339th TC but the other seven, including 81694, were allocated that month to the 18th Aviation Company. 81694 is mentioned in the unit's history in April 1965 as being then attached to the platoon based in Saigon.

81694 continued flying for the 18th Aviation Company until November 1966, when it was returned to the United States for depot level maintenance at the Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, California after which in December 1967 it was returned to Vietnam, joining the 54th Aviation Company. The aircraft is mentioned in the 54th's history for September 1968: “Spartan engine rebuilds continued to cause trouble. CW2 Charpentier and CW2 Bishop brought 694 in with a rough engine. Inspection revealed that the exhaust push rod of one cylinder had been drilled at one end for oil passage, but not at the other. The cylinder had been starved for oil, but had run 96 hours in this condition”.

81694 continued flying for the 54th Aviation Company until January 1971, when the unit disbanded, when it was taken on charge by the 56th Transportation Company and the following month handed over to the 388th Transportation Company at Vung Tau, the unit responsible for the disposal of all Army Otters in Vietnam. It remained in storage at Vung Tau until deleted from the Army inventory in May 1971. It was one of five ex Army Otters to be donated to the Government of Nicaragua under a Military Aid Program. The five Otters were loaded aboard ship at Vung Tau and transported to the port of Balboa in Panama. From there they were taken to Albrook AFB, Panama where they were re-assembled by the Army's 590th Aviation Maintenance Company, and handed over to the Fuerza Aérea de Nicaragua (FAN). 81694 took the serial FAN-1015.

The five Otters were overhauled and painted into grey overall colours with FAN markings. They were allocated Nicaraguan serials FAN-1011 to 1015 inclusive, with 81694 becoming FAN-1015. The Nicaraguan pilots and maintenance personnel were converted onto the U-1A at Albrook and then set off with their five Otters en route to their new home, the Las Mercedes Air Base, outside the capital city of Managua. They were operated by the Escadron de Transporte. Over the years that followed, the Otters flew transport missions throughout the country. 1013 crashed and was destroyed, details unknown. 1012 also crashed and its fuselage was dumped behind a hangar at the Las Mercedes Air Base.

Something of a disaster struck on 7 September 1976 when two of the remaining Otters were damaged in separate incidents on that day. The two Otters were on a patrol, with four crew members in each. They intended to land at a small, short and rough airstrip at a place called La Piragua, where there was a radio station. The first Otter to land, FAN-1011 (121) touched down hard and the pilot lost control, damaging the aircraft, killing one crewman and injuring the rest. The Otter had crashed at the mid-point of the strip, blocking it for the other to land. The crew of the second Otter FAN-1015 (307) then decided to land on an unused airfield less than a mile away but on the Honduran side of the border. They could see it was brush covered but decided to land anyway. It stopped on its wheels so abruptly that it too sustained some damage and injuries to its crew.

A radio message was sent to Managua requesting emergency help. A CH-34 Choctaw helicopter, serial FAN-517, was dispatched from Las Mercedes with a medic and several barrels of fuel on board. The helicopter had enough fuel for the outbound trip but would need to refuel for the return. It landed near the radio shack and they hand-pumped the fuel into the helicopter’s tanks. They then loaded the empty barrels and the two Otter crews and took off in the direction of Managua. The Choctaw was just airborne when it blew up, killing all 13 on board. Not a piece bigger than a coconut could be found. The theory was that a spark had ignited the fumes in the empty fuel drums. After such a disaster, the two Otters were just abandoned (although their engines were removed) and they would lay there for some time.

Some two years later the Fuerza Aérea de Nicaragua (FAN) advertised for sale many of its older aircraft, to raise funds for more modern equipment. A Mr. Jacques Lacombe and his brothers owned a lumber mill in Laval, Québec which was very successful and allowed them to indulge their hobby of collecting warbirds. They were very interested in T-28 Trojans and B-26 bombers which the FAN had for sale, but also agreed to buy the two wrecked Otters, which they would sell on. The mission to retrieve the two Otters was given to Paul Hajduk, a Canadian bush pilot, and Roy Westgate, and would result in a most arduous undertaking to bring the Otters out of the jungle.

The mission started in January 1979 when they drove in their truck all the way from Ontario to Managua, then into the jungle to Wiwili, which was at the end of the road. Here they chartered three dug-out canoes and set off up the Rio Coco river, taking three days to cover the 100 miles to La Piragua / Jinotega, where the two wrecked Otters were. They had been bought by the Lacombe Brothers for $5,000 “as is, where is” so it was up to the news owners to retrieve them. Roy Westgate takes up the story:

“To retrieve the Otter on the Honduran side, FAN-1015, we had to cut down the brush and trees, then pull it with ropes down to the river. We had a dozen Mesquite Indians on our payroll, at one US dollar each per day. The fuselage of the Otter at the radio shack (FAN-1011, serial 121) was kinked, so I used a gas-powered abrasive cut-off saw to remove only the most valuable parts, which included the front and rear spar carry-throughs. The wings were loaded into the larger dug-out canoe and padded with mattresses. The rest of that Otter was scrapped. We lashed the other two canoes together with wooden beams, then with all hands loaded Otter 1015 with one main wheel in each canoe. Now we started back up the Rio Coco the hundred or so miles to Wiwili against the current”.

“The first night we were in dense jungle. The natives seemed nervous as we made our camp on a small sandbar. The Nicaraguans talked about ‘el tigre’ and kept their machetes at their side as they bedded down on the sand. Paul and I were unarmed. In the middle of the night we were awakened by a tremendous roar. As it continued we determined it was a very large gorilla. Paul and I moved our bed rolls onto the floor of the Otter fuselage”.

“Moving up river was many times more difficult than the trip down stream. The two dugouts with the fuselage made for a much wider craft and the two had to move in unison. The outboard motors laboured relentlessly. Much of the time everyone was in the water, pulling on ropes, lifting or pushing the canoes around rocks or over submerged sandbars. By the third day we could go no further with the fuselage. The river was very narrow and deep at this point, which made the current very swift. We would have to portage past this section of the river. We summoned more help from the natives. They worked tirelessly unloading the Otter onto the bank and then slashing the jungle with their machetes. We pulled the Otter with ropes over the rough ground and stumps. The canoes we pulled one by one with long ropes going to both shores. At the end of the day we had everything re-assembled at the top of the portage”.

“Towards the end of the sixth day we were back at Wiwili. Unloading the aircraft and equipment, we settled our accounts with the Mesquite Indians. The next morning we loaded the wings on our truck and contracted some Nicaraguans with a four-wheel drive pick-up truck to tow the fuselage back to Managua. The four-by-four led the way, Paul and I followed in our truck. The pick-up driver was a bit aggressive and as he rounded a sharp corner he dropped one main wheel of the Otter into a steep ravine, but we managed to pull the aircraft back to safety and continue on”.

“That evening we arrived at a coffee plantation and were invited to spend the night at their hacienda. We removed the Nicaraguan Air Force insignia from the Otter fuselage, as this would only have brought trouble from any Sandinista rebels who might spot it as we passed through the countryside and small towns. In the morning we were on our way for the final stretch to Managua. We went directly to the airport where we parked the truck and the fuselage. We negotiated for the fuselage of Otter 1012 (131), which was dumped behind a hangar at the Las Mercedes Airport and secured that one as well, which we loaded onto our trailer. We also obtained other spares including one engine and worked at preparing the entire load for shipping. The two Otters, serials 131 and 307, were sold by the FAN represented by Brigadier General Orlando Zeledor Aguilere to Paul Hajduk and Les Placements JSGR Inc (which was the Lacombe Brothers company).”

“The next day we were on our way to deliver our collection to the seaport, where it would be shipped to Miami. Paul led the way in the larger truck with the trailer and I followed towing the Otter on wheels with a pick-up we had borrowed. There was no shoulder on the paved road and I was forced to drive with one wheel of the Otter in the opposing lane. All I could do was flash my headlights to warn on-coming drivers. Many yelled at us and shook their fists but we escaped incident. At the seaport the two Otters and whatever else we had acquired were loaded on board ship and sailed for Miami, manifested as “scrap metal of aircraft, constructors numbers 131 and 307, both involved in accidents”.

From Miami the two Otters were trucked north to the Lacombe Brothers facility at Laval, Québec. The cost of retrieving the aircraft from Nicaragua and transporting them to Quebec was many times what had been spent on purchasing the Otters, so they were put up for sale immediately so that the Lacombes could recoup their money. A buyer was found straight away and in March 1979 the two Otters and all the spares were sold to York Realty Ltd., of Duncan, BC for $55,000. Soon the Otters were on their way again, trucked across the country from Québec to Duncan on Vancouver Island. At that stage, York Realty were working on the rebuild of Otter serial 288 and for this purpose used some of the spare Otter parts they had acquired from the Lacombe Brothers.

The two former Nicaraguan Otters were sold on to that master Otter rebuilder Harold Hansen of Seattle by Bill of Sale dated 10 September 1980 and trucked to his facility at Boeing Field, Seattle via Vancouver. Otter 131 had arrived at Boeing Field by late September and was noted there on 2 October 1980 being worked on. Otter 307 was at that stage still on a trailer at the Vancouver international Airport, but arrived at Boeing Field shortly thereafter. Both Otters were registered to Harold Hansen on 19 November 1980, 131 as N8510Q and 307 as N8510T. At that stage of its career 307 had 2,160 flying hours on the airframe. The rebuilding of both Otters continued at Boeing Field during 1981. 131 was finished first and sold to James J. Harkey of Auburn, Washington by Bill of Sale 4 May 1981. It was painted red overall with a broad white cheatline. Work then continued on 307 and was completed by the end of the year. It was granted its Certificate of Airworthiness on 10 February 1982. It was noted at Vancouver all silver on 14 March 1982 and was painted into the same colour scheme as 131, red overall with white cheatline. It too was sold to James Harkey by Bill of Sale 12 April 1982.

James Harkey retained 131 for his own use, for pleasure flying, which was re-registered to him as N58JH, but he sold 307 by Bill of Sale 16 April 1984 to Garry Duff, trading as Turtle Airways Inc of Napa, California to whom N8510T was registered the following month. The Otter was based at Napa, not far north of San Francisco, on amphibious floats. It retained its previous colour scheme and was named “Big Red”. Turtle Airways specialised in charter services to Northern Californian recreational waterways and made different use of the Otter depending on the time of year. During January to April N8510T was used for one hour observation flights for whale watching. To quote from the company’s brochure: “The flights operate daily from Half Moon Bay Airport and provide a warm, comfortable vantage point to observe the noble gray whale on its annual migration. Each flight carries a naturalist to provide a complete commentary on the whales and other marine creatures that may be seen along the California coast”. Price was $69 for each passenger.

From May through September it was time for the Wine Country Tour: “Buckle in for a fascinating scenic flight over the gorgeous Napa Valley and surrounding countryside. Enjoy the panorama from your comfortable window seat. Listen to the interesting commentary on famous Valley landmarks, vineyards and wineries. You’ll thrill to a water landing on Napa County’s unspoiled Lake Berryessa where you’ll board a patio boat for wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres”. Price was $85 per person. During October through December it was the Western Odyssey: “A rare and limited opportunity to experience the splendour of the West. Small groups, not exceeding 8 passengers, will be provided with an exhilarating seven day aerial odyssey to Death Valley, Lake Mead, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Hopi Country, Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon and Phoenix”. Price per person was $1,595.

This was the Otter’s pattern of operation until September 1986 when it was sold to Wayne C. Alsworth of Port Alsworth, Alaska who also flew Otter N338D (338). His business was Wayne’s Aircraft Salvage and Otter Air Cargo and he used N8510T while having work done on his other Otter. It was flown on cargo work out of Port Alsworth that autumn of 1986 and during the winter of 1986/87. It was sold in March 1987 to Red Baron Leasing Inc of Anchorage, which was a leasing company, and leased to Sound Adventures Air Service Inc., based at Lake Hood, Anchorage during summer 1987. This was a company formed by Wayne Alsworth and his partner James O’Meara, which flew four Otters on general charter work out of Lake Hood that summer, the other three being N338D (338), N90627 (106) and N666SA (408).  N8510T still retained the overall red colour scheme with white cheatline, going back to its time was James Harkey, but carried Sound Adventures titles and phone number. It was returned to the lessor at the end of the summer 1987 season and put into storage at Anchorage.

In May 1988 N8510T was sold to Alaska West Guides & Outfitting of Nikiski, Alaska and operated on their behalf by Alaska West Air Service. It joined the company’s fleet of a Cessna 185, Cessna 206 and a Beaver, although more Beavers were added later as the fleet increased. The Otter was to fly for Alaska West Air for 8 years on general charter work and flying fishing guests to the lodges. It was sold at the end of the summer 1995 season, when it was replaced by turbo Otter N87AW (52).

In 1994 James Jannard, founder and major shareholder in Oakley Inc, the world-famous sunglasses company, had acquired Otter 300, which he had converted to a Vazar turbine Otter for his personal use in commuting from the mainland to his house on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, off the Washington coast north-west of Seattle. Shortly after Mike Parnell, who was the CEO of Oakley Inc., purchased Otter N8510T from Alaska West Air in October 1995.  He too had a house in the San Juan Islands. This was at a time when Oakley Inc., was going public, making both men very rich, and they evidently decided that a turbine Otter each was the way to go for their personal transportation. N8510T was flown from Alaska to Victoria, BC., on Vancouver Island, where it was to be converted to a turbine Otter for Mr Parnell by Viking Air. This was likely to take some time, so in the meantime Mr. Parnell used his DHC-2 Beaver N299EE to commute from his home at East Sound on Orcas Island to the mainland. The Beaver was registered to Mr Parnell’s company Splash Air LLC.

On arrival at Victoria, Otter N8510T was put into storage in one of Viking Air’s hangars. Also in storage there was Otter 393, intended for conversion as the prototype Viking Turbo Otter. Viking Air had acquired the Cox Turbo Otter programme and were engaged in modifying the Cox design to their own requirements. Both of these Otters were somewhat damaged when the hangar roof collapsed on them in December 1996 due to an accumulation of snow. N8510T was registered to Mike Parnell’s company Splash Air LLC., in April 2000 but remained in storage in Victoria.

Otter 393 was eventually converted as the prototype Viking Turbo Otter, making its first flight as such on 9 May 2002, appropriately registered C-GVTO. It then started test flying to achieve official certification of the conversion but it would be some years before this was obtained. All the while N8510T remained in store but in late 2005 work was finally started on its conversion to a turbine. This was a somewhat slow process extending throughout 2006 and into 2007. On 30 August 2007 the Otter was registered to Viking Air Ltd., of Sidney, BC as C-GITL, when the conversion had been completed and it made its first flight as a turbine Otter (and indeed its first flight after 12 years on the ground) from Victoria in mid September 2007. It was painted into a most unusual ‘wavy’ colour scheme, the same as carried on Mr Parnell’s Beaver, with a depiction of blue water splashing down the side of the fuselage and floats. The colour scheme has been described as “wild waves” and “wet and wonderful”.

Certification of the Viking Turbo Otter conversion was finally achieved in June 2009, with the issue by Transport Canada of Supplemental Type Approval SA08-17. According to the Viking Air website, C-GITL then became the first certified Viking Turbo Otter to be delivered to a customer, with a PT-6A-34 engine and on amphibious floats. It was officially handed over to Mr Parnell with due ceremony at Victoria, but it remained registered to Viking Air. It moved to its new base at Orcas Airport and was used by Mr. Parnell for his commuting to and from the mainland, in regular use again after so many years on the ground. It appeared on static display at the Abbotsford International Airshow on 7 August 2009.

The Otter frequently commuted between the San Juan Islands airport, Friday Harbour on Orcas Island, to the Seattle airports, particularly Boeing Field and sometimes Paine Field. It was also used for transport up and down the Pacific coast. For example, it was noted on the flight-tracker website during early September 2010 routing Whidbey Island-Boeing Field-Skagit-Whidbey Island-Boeing Field-Orcas Island. During late August 2011 C-GITL flew to Victoria Airport. On 1 September 2011 the Canadian registration was cancelled, N8510T was painted on the Otter and it remained in open storage, tied down against the elements, during September and October 2011. However, on 28 October 2011 the Otter was restored as C-GITL again registered to Viking Air and resumed service. It was noted at Boeing Field 4 April 2012. On 10 June 2012 it flew from Orcas Island to Chehalis-Centralia, to the south of Seattle, a one hour flight. Most flights with the Otter are conducted VFR but occasionally bad weather requires an IFR operation, so that the Otter appears on the flight tracker websites. On 30 October 2012 it was noted flying from Friday Harbour to Boeing Field, 43 minutes flying time.

The registration of C-GITL to Viking Air was finally cancelled on 6 January 2013 and on 28 February 2013 the Otter was restored to its previous registration N8510T, being registered on that day to Mr . Parnell’s company Splash Air LLC. It resumed its commuting, using its American registration, for example, routing Friday Harbour to Boeing Field on 16 August 2013 in 44 minutes. In September 2015 N8510T was noted at Sealand Aviation in Campbell River on Vancouver Island undergoing maintenance. In the years that followed it has continued this pattern of operation, commuting from the San Juan Islands to the mainland and around the greater Seattle area. On 13 November 2018 it routed from East Sound to Victoria and onwards to Campbell River for further maintenance.

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.x