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 Aerea de Nicaragua (FAN). 81694 took the serial FAN-1015.
FAN-1015 was damaged on landing in the Nicaraguan jungle on 7th September 1976, as was a second Otter FAN-1011. The full story of this incident is told in a fascinating article in the Nicaraguan Air Force section by Roy Westgate, who was involved in the February 1979 expedition to recover the Otter. FAN-1015 was taken on a make-shift raft down the Rio Coco River from the crash site to Managua. The expedition also purchased the fuselage of FAN-1012, another of the Otters which had crashed, which had been dumped behind a hangar at Mangua's Las Mercedes Air Base. Both of these Otters were shipped from Managua to Miami, manifested as “scrap metal of aircraft, constructor’s numbers 131 and 307, both involved in accidents”. From Miami, the two Otters were trucked to Montreal. They were then sold to York Realty Ltd., of Duncan, BC and trucked across the country to Duncan, on Vancouver Island. Parts from the two Otters were used in the rebuilding of Otter 288, which York Realty were working on. After that, both Otters were sold by Bill of Sale dated 10th September 1980 to Harold J. Hansen, and were trucked via Vancouver to his facility at Boeing Field, Seattle for rebuild.
Both of these Otters were registered to Harold Hansen on 19th November 1980, 131 as N8510Q and 307 as N8510T. Both Otters were rebuilt by Mr Hansen at his Boeing Field facility. 307 had at that stage of its career 2,160 hours total time on the airframe and its certificate of Airworthiness was issued on completion of the rebuild on 10th February 1982. The Otter was noted at Vancouver Airport on 14th March 1982, in primer colour, not yet repainted after its rebuild. It was sold to James J. Harkey of Auburn, Washington by Bill of Sale dated 12th April 1982. Mr Harkey also purchased number 131 from Mr. Hansen. He retained 131 for his own personal use, and this aircraft was re- registered N58JH, but 307 was sold, by Bill of Sale dated 16th April 1984 from Mr Harkey to Garry Duff. The Otter was registered the following month to Gary Duff, trading as Turtle Airways In., of Napa, California. N8510T was based at Napa, not far north of San Francisco, on amphibious floats. It was in an overall red colour scheme with white cheat line, and was named “Big Red”. Turtle Airways specialised in charter services to northern California's 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 Turtle Airways brochure: “The flights operate daily from the 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 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 operated Otter 338. N8510T was flown that summer, based at Port Alsworth. It was sold on in March 1987 to Red Baron Leasing Inc., of Anchorage, a leasing company, and leased to Sound Adventures Air Service Inc, based at Lake Hood, adjoining the Anchorage International Airport. In May 1988 it was sold to Alaska West Guides & Outfitting of Nikiski, Alaska and operated on their behalf by Alaska West Air Service. The Otter was flown until the end of the summer 1995 season, when it was replaced by turbo Otter N87AW (52) with Alaska West Air Service.
N8510T was purchased by Mike and Melissa Parnell, but was put into storage in October 1995 at Victoria, BC in the hangar of Viking Air Ltd. Also in storage there was Otter 393, both intended for conversion to turbo Otters. Viking Air had acquired the Cox Turbo Otter programme and were engaged in modifying the Cox design to their own requirements. Both Otters were damaged when the hangar roof collapsed on them in December 1996 due to an accumulation of snow. 393 became the first Viking turbo Otter, making its first flight as such on 9th May 2002, registered C-GVTO (the VTO standing for Viking Turbo Otter). All the while N8510T remained stored at Victoria, ready to be worked on as the second Viking turbo conversion. On 4th April 2000 the Parnells transferred ownership of the aircraft to Splash Air LLC., of Eastsound, Washington to whom the Otter was then registered, but it remained in storage at Victoria. It was noted still in storage there in October 2002 during the celebrations held by Viking Air to celebrate the Otter's 50th birthday, at which stage the first Viking Turbo Otter C-GVTO was still test flying and had not yet been certified. C-GVTO was subsequently converted to a Vazar turbo Otter and sold. N8510T was noted at the Viking Air facility in September 2004, with a turbine engine installed, and being painted into a most fancy colour scheme. According to Viking Air, it is to be completed during Summer 2005 as a Viking Turbo Otter.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)