Otter number 48 was one of the batch of the first six Otters delivered to the US Army, an “off-the-shelf” purchase of aircraft urgently required to assist in a survey of Alaska. Number 48 was allocated serial 55-2975 (tail number 52975) and like the others was painted in an all white scheme with arctic red tail and wings. All six aircraft set off together from Downsview on 14 March 1955 on delivery to their unit, the 521st Engineer Company at Crissy Army Airfield (AAF), San Francisco at the water’s edge near the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The six Otters were flown to Alaska in April 1955, routing first to Idaho Falls, then Great Falls, Montana-Edmonton, Alberta-Whitehorse, Yukon to Ladd Field, Fairbanks, Alaska. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1955, 52975 and the other Otters operated on floats north of the Brooks Range, supporting the survey work. Main base was at Umiat, with a secondary base at Kotzebue. As well as mapping and photographic work the Otters were used to resupply the field parties who were working with their helicopters in the bush. At the end of September 1955 the Otters made the long return flight back to San Francisco. The following month the 521st Engineer Company relocated to the Sharpe General Depot at Stockton, California.
That winter the six Otters took part in various evaluation exercises and during 1956 were used for survey work in the deserts of Arizona, California and Nevada. The operations of the 521st Engineer Company were scaled down during 1957 as its tasks were completed and the unit was formally inactivated on 24 June 1958, the Otters being re-assigned to other units. The subsequent Army career of 52975 has unfortunately not been recorded, but it was deleted from the Army inventory in October 1961 as “crashed”. The damaged Otter was sold on the civilian market and acquired by Ferrer Aviation Inc of Miami, a company which specialised in dealing in Otters. Between 1959 and 1972 it traded 17 Otters, including several wrecks which were brought to Miami and rebuilt, including this one, 52975. On 9 April 1968 a Provisional Certificate of Registration as CF-XFO was issued together with a Flight Permit for an importation flight from Miami, Florida to Edmonton, the importer being Gateway Aviation Ltd. The Otter was formally registered to Gateway Aviation Ltd on 4 June 1968 and was recorded as having total airframe time of 4,713 hours at that stage, indicating quite an amount of use during its military career.
Although Gateway Aviation had its office and maintenance base at Edmonton, it operated mainly in the Northwest Territories and High Arctic in support of government projects, mining exploration and oil industry support. XFO was painted into the Gateway colour scheme of white upper fuselage, red cheatline below the windows and grey under-fuselage, with Gateway Aviation fuselage titles. It entered service alongside the company’s other Otters and by the time of its C.of A. renewal on 31 March 1972, XFO’s total time had increased to 6,860 hours. Its nearly four years of service with Gateway Aviation came to an end in May 1972 when it was sold to Nipawin Air Services Ltd., of Nipawin, Saskatchewan and it was registered as C-FXFO to its new owners on 15 May 1972.
With Nipawin Air Services it was based at Otter Lake and serviced the bush country of northern Saskatchewan. It continued flying for this operator until an accident on 3 May 1977. The Otter was en route from Ennadai Lake to Collins Bay, Sask and landed with the tailwheel cocked, causing damage. Temporary repairs were carried out at the scene and XFO then flown to Calgary on 5 May for permanent repairs. That incident however ended its career with Nipawin A/S., and it was sold to Watson Lake Flying Services Ltd., of Watson Lake in the Yukon in July 1977, being registered to its new owners on 14 November 1977. It was painted into their colour scheme of white overall with orange cowling and cheatline.
Watson Lake was the centre of the Yukon forest industry and a service centre for the mining industry. The Yukon is an extremely attractive countryside and plays host to many tourists, hunters and fishermen. There was therefore much work for XFO, which flew alongside a Beaver and some single Cessnas with Watson Lake F/S. For a remarkable twenty years XFO flew for this operator out of its Watson Lake base. By June 1996 its total time had increased to 17,882 hours. Sadly, the company ceased trading not long afterwards and the Otter and other aircraft were sold.
By Bill of Sale 28 February 1997 Watson Lake Flying Services sold XFO to P&D Aircraft Leasing Ltd of La Ronge, Sask who on 14 March 1997 leased the Otter to Blok Air Ltd., of Thompson, Manitoba, to whom C-FXFO was registered on 18 April ’97. It joined Otter C-FIOF (24) which Blok Air had on lease, but which was returned to the lessor at the end of the summer 1997 season. C-FXFO continued flying for Blok Air until its registration to that company was cancelled on 11 May 1999 and the Otter was returned to the lessor P&D Aircraft Leasing. In July of that year, Blok Air was re-structured and its business taken over by P&D and renamed Venture Air. The Otter was registered on 22 July 1999 to P&D Aircraft Leasing T/A Venture Air. By this stage its total time had increased to 18,786 hours. The Otter, now operated by Venture Air, continued flying from Thompson, Manitoba until its luck ran out on 15 September 1999.
On that day the pilot was flying five caribou hunters from Thompson to Nicholson Lake, Manitoba. The number three cylinder cracked, the engine lost power and a fire broke out. The pilot managed to land the float-equipped Otter on a small un-named lake some 160 miles north of Thompson in the vicinity of Kozak Lake and evacuated the aircraft with his passengers. At this remote location there was unfortunately nothing they could do to put out the fire, and they stood helplessly at the side of the lake as the fire consumed and completely destroyed the Otter. Registration C-FXFO was cancelled on 17 May 2000.
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.