Otter 310 was delivered to the United States Army on 31st December 1958 with serial 58-1696 (tail number 81696). It was allocated to the 17th Aviation Company, Fort Ord, California. It was delivered from Downsview to the Sharpe Army Depot, Stockton, California before continuing on to Fort Ord, where it served until September 1963. It was one of three Otters from the 17th Aviation Company (the other two were 53256 and 53267) which in September 1963 were flown to the Sharpe Depot at Stockton where they were prepared for service with the United States Air Force, and painted into USAF markings. The USAF crews were trained by Army personnel at Fort Ord and in October 1963 collected the three Otters at Stockton and flew them all the way across the country to Goose Bay, Labrador, where they arrived on 22nd October 1963.
The Otters were assigned to the 4082nd Strategic Wing at Goose, and replaced U-6A Beavers as support aircraft. Given its remote location in the wilds of Labrador, and outlying radar installations, the base had need of such a support aircraft. This was a unique tasking - the only USAF facility which ever had USAF Otters supporting it. The 95th Strategic Wing took over from the 4082nd in October 1966. 81696 was the only one of the original three Otters to survive its Air Force tour of duty, the other two being written off in accidents. It was joined by 53251 in July 1974, as a replacement for the two lost. 53251 and 81696 soldiered on together until 16th May 1975, when the USAF withdrew from Goose Bay.
The two Otters were then transferred to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). At Goose they received civilian registrations, 53251 becoming N5323G and 81696 becoming N5324G. In these marks, they were flown on the wheel-skis they had operated on in Labrador, all the way back across the country to Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington where they had arrived by early June 1975.
N5323G was actually worked on at Boeing Field and repainted in CAP colours, this work taking until January 1977 when it departed for Alaska. N5324G was assigned to the Civil Air Patrol (Pacific Region) although it never entered service. After it had sat at Boeing Field for some months, it was sold to Air Craftsmen Ltd., of St. John, New Brunswick, a company which traded in Otters. It was in fact exchanged with Air Craftsmen Ltd., for a pair of Cessna 182 Skylanes, which the CAP wanted. A ferry permit was issued to Air Craftsmen Ltd., on 16th March 1976 to import the Otter into Canada from the United States, and two days later, on 18th March 1976, the Otter was registered C-GLJH to Labrador Airways Ltd., who had purchased the aircraft from Air Craftsmen Ltd. It flew back across the country, from Seattle to Goose. Thus, less than a year after it had left Goose Bay having served there with the USAF for twelve years, it was back now in civilian service with Labrador Airways as part of their large Otter fleet, serving the coastal communities of Labrador from its base at Goose Bay.
In the years that followed, C-GLJH was registered to and operated by the various airlines which flew the Otters at Goose Bay. In June 1981 it was registered to Newfoundland Labrador Air Transport Ltd. It had the Polish PZL-3S engine installed, but when that did not work too well, it was converted back to the P&W R-1340. It was registered to Goose Bay Air Services Ltd in May 1982. It returned to Labrador Airways Ltd., trading as Air Labrador, in October 1987. While in service with Air Labrador, a number of incidents were recorded. On 9th September 1990, while in the air some twenty miles from Goose Bay, smoke filled the cockpit and the pilot force landed on a lake. A cracked cylinder had caused the smoke. No damage was caused. The following month, on 7th October 1990, at Millwalkie Pond, the Otter was being taxied and struck a submerged rock. On 27th August 1993, while en route to Goose Bay, the engine began to run rough and at the same time smoke appeared in the cockpit. The pilot carried out a successful forced landing on Jug Pond. Maintenance found a radial crack on the number nine cylinder, which they replaced.
On 18th July 1994 the Otter was en route from Otter Creek, the seaplane base at Goose Bay, to Ann Marie Lake, about seventy miles to the southwest. Five minutes after departure and climbing to two thousand feet, the engine backfired. The pilot reduced power and advised ATC that he intended to land on the Churchill River, five miles south of Goose Bay. The aircraft landed without further incident and the pilot taxied to the shore. Maintenance found that cylinder number three had failed when the exhaust valve separated and exited the cylinder. According to the incident report “Maintenance will clean the oil screens and replace the cylinder before returning the aircraft to service”. This they must have done quickly, as two days later, on 20th July 1994 the Otter was back in service and flying from Minonipi Lake to Otter Creek when another incident occurred. The pilot intended to climb the aircraft another 500 feet because of precipitation at his then altitude. When the throttle was advanced, there was no change to the engine power output, and the pilot observed that the engine oil temperature was increasing and the oil pressure decreasing. The pilot reduced the engine RPM to idle and advised Goose Bay FSS that he would be carrying out a forced landing on a small lake 23 nautical miles southwest of Goose. The aircraft landed without further incident. As this was the second incident within two days “Maintenance will replace the engine and send it to a repair facility for examination”.
That solved the problem, but the following year, on 15th June 1995, C-GLJH suffered a more serious incident at Otter Creek, Goose Bay. To quote from the accident report: “The Otter had taxied out from the seaplane base in the Terrington Basin and back-tracked to the second buoy out from the Canada Dock before commencing the take off run towards the northwest. It was a hot day, with a temperature of 21C, and the take off weight was 7,932 pounds, 35 pounds under gross. The take off run was long and uneventful. However, when the pilot reduced flap and manifold pressure to thirty inches after take off, the aircraft began to settle. The pilot advanced the throttle to 33 inches of manifold, but it was evident that the aircraft was not going to clear the trees at the end of the basin. The pilot initiated a thirty degree right bank turn and flew along the bottom of the basin. The aircraft was now flying down-wind and continuing to settle and was once again approaching trees. The pilot realized that he was not going to clear the trees and made a quick decision to ditch on the water surface. He applied full right rudder and a lot of aileron and lowered the nose. He flared at the last moment and the aircraft struck the water hard in a flat, nose-up attitude at approximately 50 mph.
The aircraft came to rest 150 feet from the shoreline, aground in mud. The pilot and passenger, who were uninjured, unloaded some of the cargo and the aircraft was re-floated. The pilot then taxied the Otter back to the seaplane base. The Otter sustained substantial damage in the hard landing”.
The Otter was taken to Calgary in a container for repair, and was out of action for the best part of a year before it returned to Goose Bay and resumed flying for Air Labrador. In November 1996 it was sold, and once again left Goose Bay for a long ferry flight, the routing being Goose Bay-Sept Îles- Baie Comeau-Québec City-Ottawa-Sudbury-Thunder Bay-Winnipeg, a flight time of 29 hours. The aircraft had been sold to Sowind Air Ltd., of St. Andrews, Manitoba and was registered to them in May 1997, having been overhauled at Winnipeg during the winter. Having flown for Sowind Air that summer, the Otter was sold to a Mr.John P. Gerken of Sandpoint, Idaho.
The new owner arranged to have LJH converted with the Polish PZL 1,000 horse power engine, this work being performed at Winnipeg by Plummer’s Lodge, whose own Otters have also been converted to the PZL engine. LJH was also converted with a VIP interior, featuring a bed and other luxuries. It was put on EDO amphibious floats, registered to Mr. Gerken as N21PG in May 1999 and departed Winnipeg for its new base at Sandpoint, Idaho. Mr Gerken used the Otter for recreational purposes, fishing and hunting trips to northern Canada and N21PG has been north of the Arctic Circle. It is the only PZL-converted Otter on amphibious floats. A further modification was made in May 2001 when the EDO floats were replaced with International Aeroproducts Inc 8100 amphibious floats, another first for the Otter. This work was undertaken at the Aeroflite Industries facility at Vancouver, before N21PG returned to its base at Sandpoint, Idaho.
Mr.Gerken continued to use the Otter until he sold the aircraft in June 2004 and it headed north to Alaska. Its new owners were Summit Leasing LLC., of Kenai, Alaska to whom the Otter was registered on 29th July 2004. The Otter went on lease to Alaska West Air of Kenai, joining their turbine Otter N87AW (52). On 28th August 2004 marks N49AW were reserved for Otter 310, although it continued flying for Alaska West Air as N21PG until formally registered N49AW on 27th September 2004.
During the winter of 2004/2005, the Otter underwent the installation of a 9,000 pound upgross kit. As well as the two Otters, the fleet of Alaska West Air includes a Turbo-Beaver, two piston Beavers and two Piper Super Cubs.
Full history up to 2005 courtesy of Karl E Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter - A History (CD-ROM 2005)