Otter 466, the very last Otter built, was delivered to Laurentian Air Services Ltd., Ottawa on 16 June 1967. Laurentian’s first Otter had been CF-JFH (155), acquired in 1962 to service the company’s new base at Schefferville in northern Québec. JFH was sold in May 1966 and Laurentian had no Otter for that summer nor the following winter. However JFH was eventually replaced when Laurentian agreed to buy serial 466. It was painted by DHC with a white upper fuselage, blue cheatline, grey under-fuselage and red outer wings. Its tail was all blue with a stylised LAS logo. As it would be operating in Québec, on the cheatline were Laurentian Air Services Ltd/Services Aeriens Laurentian Ltee. It was handed over by Russ Bannock, then vice-president of DHC, at a ceremony at Downsview on 16 June ’67 and was then delivered to its base at Schefferville.
At Schefferville VQD took over from JFH, flying hunters and fishermen and supporting the mining and exploration industries, on floats during the summer months and on wheel-skis in winter. It flew alongside a Turbo-Beaver and Cessna 180. VQD was to fly for Laurentian for ten years, based at Schefferville, although it did return to Ottawa periodically for maintenance. It was also at the Ottawa base in June 1970 for the attachment of an under-fuselage water-bombing tank. On that occasion VQD took part in a formation flight with a company Beaver and Goose which produced some memorable photographs of the three aircraft in formation, which were published in the Ottawa Journal the following year to commemorate the company’s 35th anniversary.
VQD then returned to Schefferville and the water tank was deposited there for use during the summer fire season. It was in fact used on the Squaw Lake fire near Schefferville in 1972 but was found not to be all that effective. A minor incident was recorded with VQD at Roberval in 1974 after the oleo on one of the wheel skis came undone on landing. VQD continued in use with Laurentian Air Services from the Schefferville base until sold in June 1977.
The buyer of the Otter was Sabourin Lake Airways Ltd (sometimes called Sabair) to whom the Otter was registered in June 1977 as C-FVQD and it moved to its new base at Cochenour, Ontario a short distance from Red Lake, a most suitable location for serving the wilderness areas of Northwestern Ontario. This was a ‘First Nations’ airline, owned by seven native communities. VQD was to fly for Sabair for nearly twenty years. At first it was flown in the LAS scheme but when it was joined by C-GPHD (113) in May 1980, both Otters were painted in Sabair’s colours of white overall with red and black cheat line and tail stripes and Sabourin fuselage titles. Other aircraft in the fleet included Cessnas, Norseman, Piper Navajo, Beech 99s, Twin Otters and two DC-3s. The aircraft were used for regional charter work, contract services and air taxi.
The Otters in particular were used to service remote northern settlements year round and for tourists, fishermen and hunters during the summer months. They were also used on occasion as air ambulances. An incident was recorded in January 1984 when a Cessna 180 made a forced landing on a no-name lake in the Ontario wilderness. Two para-rescuemen (PJs) jumped from a Canadian Armed Forces Hercules to rescue the pilot, but one of the PJs was himself injured when he broke his leg landing in the deep snow. Al McNeil of Sabourin Lake Airways was asked to rescue the trio and flew the ski-equipped Otter from Cochenour to pick up the two PJs and the Cessna pilot from the lake, then flying them to Pickle Lake and onwards to Winnipeg.
An incident with VQD was recorded at Lingman Lake, Ontario on 19 December 1987 when after the engine was shut down the Otter sank through the ice. VQD was involved in another incident at Sandy Lake, Manitoba on 5 December 1991. The aircraft had started its engine on the ramp, a truck stopped in front of the Otter to drop off passengers for another aircraft. The pilot of the Otter was unaware of the vehicle and taxied forward. The propeller contacted the roof of the truck’s camper top, fortunately without damage to the Otter, which after inspection was returned to service. Sadly, commercial pressures eventually got the better of Sabair and by July 1996 it was on its last legs. That month both Otters were sold, and the company closed down in September 1996. Registration of VQD to Sabair was cancelled on 3 July 1996 and it was registered that day to its new owners, Black Sheep Aviation & Cattle Company Ltd of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. It retained the Sabair colour scheme while flying for Black Sheep and flew alongside Otters C-GSUV (376) and C-GMCW (108) in the Black Sheep fleet, providing the full range of bush aviation services throughout the Yukon.
Its service with Black Sheep was not to be for very long. VQD was involved in an incident on 4 September 1996 landing on a remote mountain strip fifty miles north of Mayo in the Yukon. The Otter was carrying a load of mining supplies. A light tail wind existed and during the landing roll a crest in the runway caused the aircraft to become airborne for a short distance. The pilot was unable to stop before running off the end of the strip into the bushes. The main landing gear, propeller and empennage sustained damage. That was the end of its service with Black Sheep Aviation, whose registration was cancelled on 12 June 1997. The Otter was repaired and in April 1998 sold to Eagle Aviation Ltd of Silver Falls, Manitoba and went on lease to Blue Water Aviation Services Ltd, also of Silver Falls, to whom it was registered on 14 April ’98.
Having flown for Blue Water Aviation for the summer of 1998 and winter 1998/99, VQD went on lease from Eagle Aviation to Sowind Air of Little Grand Rapids, Manitoba for summer 1999, registered on 4 June 1999, replacing Otter C-GLJH (310) with Sowind Air. It was registered again to Blue Water Aviation in April 2000, again on lease from Eagle Aviation and on 5 April 2001 it was registered to Wamair Service & Outfitting Inc of Matheson Island, Manitoba again on lease from Eagle Aviation. Having flown for this company for summer 2001 it was then flown to Kelowna, BC where it was converted with a Walter turbine engine by AOG Air Support, becoming the second Otter (after serial 24 C-FIOF) to be converted with this type of engine. It still retained its basic Sabourin Lake Airways colour scheme and was put on amphibious floats. On 18 June 2002 it was registered to 3097448 Manitoba Ltd (Adventure Air) of Silver Falls, a company associated with Eagle Aviation Ltd. It went on a demonstration tour, including a visit to Red Lake. It starred at the Otter’s 50th anniversary celebrations held by Viking Air at Victoria BC in October 2002, impressing all with its agility even on amphibious floats.
Having spent the winter parked at the Kalair facility at Vernon, BC, Otter VQD went on lease in May 2003 from Adventure Air to Inland Air Charters Ltd based at Prince Rupert, BC, joining the company’s piston Otter C-FRHW (445). Two incidents were reported on CADORS while VQD was flying for Inland Air Charters. On 6 July 2003 VQD landed at Prince Rupert and cleared the runway without incident. While on taxiway Alpha the pilot discovered a problem with the brakes and had to be towed to the apron. On 13 January 2004 VQD was on finals for the Prince Rupert seaplane base when a boat crossed the landing path and cut off his arrival. After a missed approach the Otter landed without incident. VQD continued to fly for Inland Air Charters until the end of 2004 and was then returned off lease to Adventure Air.
In February 2005 VQD was at the AOG facility at Kelowna, BC with its engine removed for inspection. It had been the first Walter engine Otter to have been operated in a salt water environment (while flying for Inland Air Charters out of Prince Rupert) and inspection of the engine was necessary to see how it had fared. By mid April the Otter had departed from Kelowna and returned to its base at Silver Falls, Manitoba to be operated by Adventure Air. However it was soon leased out again, this time to Northway Aviation based at Arnes, Manitoba. It flew for Northway Aviation for summer 2005, supplementing Northway’s own piston Otter C-FUKN (456). An incident with VQD was recorded on 19 June 2005 at St.Andrews Airstrip, Winnipeg. The Otter, still on amphibious floats, had just undergone maintenance to replace the brake pads, and was on a taxi run on runway 18 to seat the new pads. The caliper seals on the left brakes leaked fluid onto the brake assembly and at the end of the taxi run a small fire occurred on the left brake. The fire self extinguished. The left tire and brake seals were replaced and the Otter returned to service.
VQD arrived back at its Silver Falls base on 10 September 2005, where it was parked over the winter of 2005/06. It was again leased by Adventure Air to Northway Aviation for the summer of 2006, serving the native communities of Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi. It again spent the winter of 2006/07 parked at Silver Falls and for summer 2007 it went on lease to Northwest Air Lease Ltd of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories to whom it was registered on 16 May 2007. It was used by Northwest for mining and lodge support flights, and the lease continued into the winter. An incident is noted on CADORS for 9 December 2007 when the pilot of VQD on flight PLR 403 landed on the apron at Baker Lake, Nunavut because the runway was closed. As the report explained: “A Canadian North Dash 8 is chartered by a mining company to fly explosives into Baker Lake from Yellowknife. On such occasions runway 16/34 is closed and a Notam issued. A flat bed trailer is used to offload the Dash 8 which for safety reasons is parked on the button of runway 34, the furthest point away from the terminal. The pilots who fly the wheel/ski equipped DHC-3T for Northwest Air Lease are accepting the reduced safety margins when operating onto and off the taxiway/apron at Baker Lake”. VQD continued to fly for Northwest Air Lease until May 2008 when it was returned to Adventure Air at Silver Falls. It was registered to Adventure Air on 23 June 2008.
As well as leasing out its Otters, Adventure Air flew its Otters in support of its own fishing operation, Jackson’s Lodge and Outposts, with several lodges located throughout the north-eastern side of Manitoba, within three of the Province’s beautiful Provincial Parks – Atikaki, Nopeming and Whiteshell. VQD was engaged on this work for the summers of 2008 and 2009, flying the fishing guests to the lodges and for fly-out fishing. Its registration to Adventure Air was cancelled on 17 March 2010 and it was parked at Silver Falls awaiting sale. It was sold in October 2010 to the North Star Resort of Knee Lake, Manitoba. As its website explains: “Knee Lake is located 400 miles north of Winnipeg. The lake is 50 miles long with widths up to 5 miles and is made up of numerous islands, bays, reefs and weedbeds creating ideal structures and producing some of the finest fishing anywhere. We offer fishing enthusiasts access to over 50,000 acres of water abounding with trophy Northern Pike and Walleye”. VQD was registered on 20 May 2011 to Kississing Lake Lodge Ltd, trading as Wings over Kississing of Steinbach, Manitoba who were to operate the Otter on behalf of the North Star Resort. This operation was to continue for summers 2011, 2012 and 2013, until the end of August 2013 when the Otter was advertised for sale.
The advertisement said that the Otter was “available for immediate sale” and that it was the “end of a legend – the last Otter built”. It had 22,203 hours total time on the airframe and an asking price of $1,150,000. A sale was negotiated over the winter and on 6 March 2014 the Canadian registration C-FVQD was cancelled on export of the Otter to the United States. On 17 March ’14 it was registered as N725TH to Hans W. Munich of Yakutat, Alaska. He is the owner of Yakutat Coastal Airlines, who already operated Walter powered Otter N703TH (456). Having carried basic Sabourin Lake Airways colour scheme for the past 34 years through a series of operators, Otter 466 was repainted into Yakutat Coastal Airlines colour scheme and joined N703TH in service out of Yakutat. It was operated on wheels, and wheel-skis in winter.
As its website proclaims: “Yakutat Coastal Airlines provides service to all corners of Alaska’s Gulf Coast. We fly in and out of Alsek River, Tatshenshini River, Tsiu River, Itabo River, Hubbard Glacier, Icy Bay, Glacier Bay National Park, St.Elias National Park, Lituya Bay and the Yana River. If you are looking for a great Yakutat fishing trip, out Yakutat air taxi service will take you there”. In addition to flying anglers, the two Otters provided the full range of bush aviation services out of Yakutat. In the fall of 2014 both Otters were used together to make up for the lack of a DC-3 which usually served the Tsui River commercial fishery, 125 miles north of Yakutat. The DC-3 was unavailable and the two Otters made many trips empty to Tsiu River and then back to Yakutat with loads of fish.
In July 2015 N725TH was advertised for sale by Hans Munich, with an asking price of $1,375,000. By that stage the Walter engine had been upgraded to GE H-80 status and the engine had 250 hours since new. The Otter had the BARON STOL conversion and a new Kaydex interior, with Atlee Dodge seats for the back two seats. The Otter did not sell on that occasion and continued in service out of Yakutat alongside N703TH. In October 2015 N725TH was noted at the STOLAIRUS facility at Kelowna, BC having work done on it.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © 2016