Otter 69 was delivered to Canadian Pacific Air Lines (CPA) on 1st April 1955 registered CF-CZP. On the same day the airline also took delivery of Otter number 71 which was registered CF-CZO and the careers of both these Otters were destined to move in tandem for many years. CPA had been formed in 1942 and represented a consolidation of many small airlines. One of these airlines which had gone into the formation of CPA was Mackenzie Air Services and in 1955 CPA was still operating in the Mackenzie District of the Northwest Territories. Although CPA was based at Vancouver and by 1955 was one of the most important Canadian airlines with a huge international network, it was also active in bush operations. It was to its bush division that the two Otters were delivered, based at Norman Wells, Northwest Territories.
It is often written that the Otter was one of the aircraft instrumental in opening up the Canadian North to development, and this is undoubtedly the case. The number of Otters so engaged however was relatively small, as the majority of Otter sales were actually to military customers worldwide. Foremost among the Canadian civil Otters engaged in the development of the northern part of their country were the Wardair aircraft, and also the two very hard working CPA Otters. Mail, cargo and passengers came up to Norman Wells on CPA's scheduled DC-3 flights from Edmonton, McMurray, Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Simpson. From Norman Wells the loads were carried on by the Otters, south to Fort Norman and north to Fort Mc Pherson, Arctic Red River and Aklavik, by means of a twice weekly scheduled service. Charters were also flown by the Otters throughout the Mackenzie region.
The Otters operated on wheel-skis in winter, on floats in summer. When on wheel-skis they flew out of the airport at Norman Wells. On floats they used the Mackenzie River when the ice went out and the river was high, then moved to Transmitter Lake, which was just south of the airport. Files on the Western SAR Area in the Canadian National Archives detail some of the comings and goings of the two Otters throughout the late 1950s, and they both feature quite frequently. Not that the aircraft were in any difficulty as such, but communications in this remote, mountainous region were difficult and often an alert was raised when the Otters could not establish radio contact. Norman Wells- Aklavik; Norman Wells-Fort McPherson; Fort Smith-Fort Simpson; Fort Norman-Aklavik; Aklavik-Fort Good Hope; Vermillion-Aklavik and Fort Simpson-Hay River, all these routings are mentioned many times over the years. Sometimes the Otters had very busy days, such as 28th June '58 when CFCZP's routing for the day was Tuktoyaktuk-East Three-Aklavik-Norman Wells; or 30th August '58 when the day's tasking was Norman Wells-Fort Good Hope-Arctic Red River-Fort McPherson- Aklavik.
This activity in the Mackenzie region continued until 1959, when CPA relinquished its domestic routes in northern Alberta and the Mackenzie region and other Northwest Territories services to Pacific Western Airlines (PWA) as part of the government's policy of expanding routes for smaller airlines, and the two Otters were acquired by PWA. This was at the time the largest single transfer of scheduled services in Canadian aviation history, involving routes from Edmonton to eighteen points in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories. After the transfer was complete, in addition to its existing routes, PWA was licensed to provide scheduled services over approximately 7,000 miles throughout western and northern Canada. The two Otters were registered to Pacific Western Airlines (Alberta) Ltd of Edmonton, Alberta in March 1959. The aircraft were based at Edmonton, where they received their maintenance, but continued to provide service to remote northern parts.
On 9th September 1960 CF-CZP sustained substantial damage in an accident at Berry Creek in the Yukon Territory. At 1630 hours that day, the Otter took off from Fort McPherson on a freight flight to Old Crow in the Yukon. After an hour's flying and 60 miles from the destination, the engine began to run rough, failing completely before a suitable landing area could be reached. A forced landing was attempted in a slough. The engine was smoking badly and the pilot had to use the side window to line up on his approach. The landing was made with full flap, the aircraft hitting the water hard, bouncing off the side of the slough and landing on the bank. At this point the float struts broke and the Otter skidded a further 300 feet before coming to rest. There was no fire and the two on board exited the aircraft immediately. The pilot had been able to put out a distress call which was acknowledged by Inuvik Radio.
The underside of the fuselage, the main undercarriage attachment fittings and bulkhead, the fuel tanks, the left float and the propeller were substantially damaged. The float struts, wires, fittings and the right float were destroyed. The lower cowlings and augmenter tubes were crushed. The engine failure was due to a valve failing in one of the cylinders. History alas does not relate how the Otter was retrieved from this remote location, but retrieved it was, repaired and returned to service with PWA, continuing to fly alongside CF-CZO. The two Otters continued to fly for PWA until 1965, when PWA sold its bush operation to Northward Aviation Ltd of Edmonton. Included in the sale were four PWA Otters (CZO, CZP, IKK and JAO). Northward Aviation had been formed that year by the amalgamation of the feederline and charter divisions of PWA, Bow Valley Industries and Northward Air Services. Northward Aviation became one of the biggest bush operators in the country, its Otters and other aircraft flying throughout the Northwest Territories.
With Northward Aviation, CZP flew mostly out of Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay. In his much recommended book 'Bush and Arctic Pilot', Al Williams describes a flight he made in CZP from Cambridge Bay to Pelly Bay, four hundred miles to the east, in September 1967: “Departing Cambridge Bay, we climbed at only 50 feet per minute and passed just north of the DEW radar site on Jenny Lind Island. About 40 miles west of the Gladman Point radar site on King William Island, I could see a cloud deck at nearly our altitude of 5,000 feet. Having crossed King William Island we overflew Gjoa Haven, on the southeastern coast at 68 degrees 38 minutes North and 95 degrees 57 minutes West. We continued on to Pelly Bay where we off-loaded our cargo and refuelled CZP from the two 45 gallon drums we carried (since Pelly Bay had no fuel available). We were soon winging our way back to Cambridge Bay for a second trip”. After that, it was back to Yellowknife for CZP, some six hours flying away, typical of its work with Northward Aviation.
CZP continued in service with Northward Aviation until 1973, when both it and CZO were sold, as Northward disposed of its Otter fleet during the mid seventies. For nearly twenty years CZO and CZP had flown together, operated by the same carriers, but now they drifted apart, CZO being sold to Ontario Northern Airways of Jellicoe, Ontario in July 1973 and CZP being sold that same month to Carter Air Service Ltd of Hay River, Northwest territories, to whom it was registered as C-FCZP.Carter Air Service was a typical bush carrier, based at Hay River on the southern shore of Great Slave Lake, who already flew Otter C-FIOF. Otter CZP joined its fleet and continued to serve the Canadian north.
One accident was recorded while flying for Carter Air Service, on take-off from a wet, sticky snow
surface in a strong cross-wind at Nahanni Butte, NWT on 30th January 1976. During a second attempted take-off, the pilot forced the aircraft into the air at low airspeed. It settled into the bushes and came to rest in the over-run area, 450 feet beyond the end of the strip. There were no injuries to the eight on board but the Otter had been badly damaged and was grounded for the next two years as a result of the accident. Repairs costing $130,000 were carried out during 1978 and CZP resumed service with Carter Air Service, until sold to Raecom Air Ltd of Yellowknife in May 1980.
CZP moved across Great Slave Lake to its new base at Yellowknife and continued to serve the Northwest Territories. In September 1981 it was once again joined by its sister ship C-FCZO, when Raecom Air acquired that Otter. In 1983 a Polish PZL-3S engine of 600 horse power was installed in CZP but that engine did not work well with the Otter. It certainly did not work well in CZP, as on 16th August 1984 while cruising near Yellowknife, the engine failed and the pilot had to make a forced landing on a lake. The propeller and hub had left the aircraft when the engine disintegrated. The R- 1340 was re-installed and CZP continued in service alongside CZO and C-GGSC, the company's other Otters.
In May 1985 CZP was advertised for sale by Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales of Edmonton, as was CZO. CZP was advertised as having 19,000 hours total time on the airframe, certainly a high time machine, on EDO 7170 floats, and with an asking price of $149,000 Canadian. Although CZO was sold, CZP was not and continued in service with Raecom Air. During 1988 new management took over the company which, with effect from 1st November '88 was re-named Air Tindi Ltd. CZP was re-registered to Air Tindi in April 1989 and continued serving the Northwest Territories from its base at Yellowknife. It suffered another mishap at Indin Lake on 26th November 1992, which the accident report summarises as follows: “The Otter on skis was delivering fuel drums to a mining exploration camp. It broke through the ice while taxying towards the shore. The tail remained on the ice and the occupants escaped through the rear cabin door as the front of the aircraft settled and water entered the cockpit. The pilot activated the ELT and SARSAT picked up the signal. An RCC search found and communicated with the pilot that night”.
While CZP was being repaired, Air Tindi leased Otter C-FIOF from Carter Air Service. CZP arrived back in Yellowknife on 22nd April 1993 after repair, and it was put up for sale, being replaced in service with Air Tindi by DHC-3T turbo Otter C-FXUY. A buyer did not immediately materialise and CZP remained parked at Yellowknife, in the open, and was noted there during May 1995. The Otter was then sold, the buyer being Williams Aero Service (164814 Canada Inc., DBA) of Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, to whom the Otter was registered in July 1995. It returned to the Mackenzie region which it had originally served when flying for Canadian Pacific. CZP's remarkable 42 years of service in the Northwest Territories came to an end in August 1997 when it was sold to Cargair Ltée and moved east to its new base at St.Michel-des-Saints, Quebec. It was in service with Cargair for less than a year, being sold to Walsten Air Service (1986) Ltd of Kenora, Ontario in July 1998. The Otter was still in service with Walsten Air during 2004.
Note: History to be updated.
Full history courtesy of Karl E. Hayes © from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005).