3661 • BM-1004 • C-GPPL • N342AK • C-FUAH • N342AK
X• 3661 Royal Canadian Air Force. Delivered 28-Mar-1953. Painted with a spurious code. AB.
Allocated to the Central Experimental and Proving Establishment (EPE), Rockcliffe, Ottawa, ON until 04-Jul-1953.
Accident: Small lake at Long 62.46N, Lat. 96.06W. 15-Mar-1954. The otter had left Churchill to fly to the location of a downed Norseman luckily with a repair party. When landing on the rough lake surface the tail assembly broke. The aircraft remained next to the Norseman until 20-Mar when replacement crews flew the patched up aircraft out and back to Churchill.
• BM-1004 Indian Air Force 25-Apr-1963. Withdrawn from use in 1990.
Total time: 5,051 hrs at 1990.
Note: One of 14 aircraft purchased jointly in India by La Ronge Aviation Services of La Ronge, SK., and Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales of Edmonton, AB., circa 1990.
Note Rebuilt by Skyservice, Echo Bay, ON Completed circa Spring 1995.
• C-GPPL. Watsons Algoma Vacations Ltd., Wawa, ON Regd 26-Apr 1995.
• C-GPPL Company renamed to Watsons Skyways Ltd., Wawa, ON. Regd 28-Feb-2000.
Total time: 6,900hrs circa Autumn 2000. The aircraft was only used during the summer season and stored for the rest of the year. ON. 15-Jun-2004.
• C-GPPL Hawk Air (705833Ont Ltd), Wawa, ON some ten miles north of Hawk Junction. Regd 11-Apr-2001.
Accident Dipneedle Lake, Canx 30-May-2007. After takeoff from Hawk Junction the engine cut out and the aircraft was forced to land on the aforementioned narrow and short lake. On landing the aircraft hit two dead trees resulting in severe damage to the outer section of the left wing and also damage to a float. Repaired and returned to service.
• C-GPPL Canx and deleted 30-May-2007.
• N342AK Alaska Coastal Airlines, (Wings of Alaska), Juneau, AK. Regd 30-May-2007
• C-FUAH Kal Air Repair Ltd., Vernon, BC. Regd 29-Apr-2008. Canx & del 02-May-2008.
Note: Re engined with a Texas (Honeywell) TPE331-10R Turbine by Kal-Air, at Vernon, BC., during the winter of 2007 & 2008.
• N342AK Alaska Coastal Airlines, (Wings of Alaska), Juneau, AK. Regd 05-May-2008.
• N753AK Alaska Coastal Airlines, (Wings of Alaska), Juneau, AK. Re regd 06-May-2008.
Airworthiness date: 09-May-2008. Category – Normal.
N753AK N763AK LLC., Juneau, AK. Regd, 27-Sep-2008.
Otter number 7 was the first Otter delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) on 28 March 1953, serial 3661. DHC had been allocated marks CF-GBZ for this Otter, but these were not taken up. Before formal handover, while the Otter was still at Downsview, code letters AB were painted on the fuselage side, so that the side markings were presented as AB (roundel) 661 and in this guise a number of photographs were taken for publicity purposes. The letters AB were to give the Otter a “military look”, but were not code letters of any RCAF unit then intended to operate the Otter. The official user of the code AB at that time was 401 Squadron, which then flew Harvards and Vampires.
One of the publicity photographs of 3661 is captioned: “The first commissioned Otter flies over Downsview Airport 13 March 1953. On this day a simulated SAR operation was conducted by members of the Trenton Para Rescue Section to show the new aircraft to the media”. RCAF Otters 3662, 3663, 3664, 3665 and 3666 were similarly painted with an AB code for publicity purposes only before delivery, and the codes were then removed before the Otters left Downsview.
After Otter 3661 had been formally delivered by DHC to the RCAF on 28 March ’53 it was allocated that month to the Central Experimental & Proving Establishment (CEPE) at Rockcliffe, Ottawa for the purposes of evaluation of this new type of aircraft to enter RCAF service. It then went to the Fort Churchill, Manitoba Station Flight, where its arrival is recorded on 4 July ’53. It entered service with the Flight, alongside Norseman 789.
The diary of the Churchill Station Flight records the many missions undertaken by 3661. It operated on floats during the summer months from Landing Lake at Churchill. On 14 August ’53 it operated a medevac to Baker Lake and on 20 August was in the Duck Lake and Neultin Lake areas searching for a lost trapper. Later that month it was involved in the search for 405 Squadron Lancaster 999 which had crashed, and performed a coast crawl from York Factory to Eskimo Point. When the Lancaster was found its crew of eight were picked up by the Otter from the lake where it had ditched and were flown to Churchill. On 31 August ’53 both Norseman 789 and Otter 3661 flew to Ennadai Lake with rations.
On 6 October 1953 the Otter made its last float trip to Knife Lake and on 8th October was removed from Landing Lake and re-configured with wheel skis. For the winter months it would operate from the airport at Churchill, continuing its light transport and SAR taskings. On 2 January 1954 it was involved in the search for the Flight’s own Norseman 789 which went missing on a medevac flight from Fort Churchill to Baker Lake, a flight of three hours fifteen minutes. Six Dakotas were also involved in the search for the missing Norseman, two each from Winnipeg, Rivers and Edmonton as well as Arctic Wings Anson CF-GLA. When the Norseman was found on a small lake, one of the Dakotas orbited the scene until the evacuation of the Norseman crew and passengers was carried out by Otter 3661 on 5 January.
On 15 February ’54 the Otter flew from Churchill to the scene of the Norseman forced landing with a repair party, but its tail assembly broke on landing on the rough terrain. When it became overdue Dakota 971 from Winnipeg took off to fly to the area but due to ice fog had to return to Churchill without finding the Otter. It departed again early the next morning and sighted the downed Otter beside the Norseman. The two aircraft had to remain there until 20 February when the Arctic Wings Anson flew in with replacement crews and both the Otter and Norseman flew back to Churchill.
The following month the Otter was re-assigned and took off from Churchill on 19 March ’54 en route to Ottawa, being replaced at Churchill by Otter 3672. On arrival at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ottawa Otter 3661 entered service with 408 Squadron, adopting its MN code. Although based at Rockcliffe, the squadron spent much of its time deployed away from base, having been assigned the major task of mapping and surveying large tracts of the Canadian North. During the summer of 1954 four of the Squadron’s Lancasters flew to Goose Bay, Labrador on the mapping project, supported by six of the Squadron’s Cansos and six Otters, including 3661. At the end of the summer season, 3661 and the other Otters returned to base at Rockcliffe for the winter, where they were engaged on local area flying and training.
Another major task entrusted to 408 Squadron was support of the construction of the Mid Canada Line (MCL) of radar sites along the 55th parallel of latitude, all 102 of them. In 1954 the RCAF launched a helicopter operation for the MCL with the formation of 108 Communications Flight which with its H-19, H-21 and H-34 helicopters would carry men, supplies and equipment to the numerous isolated sites. In May 1955 the 408 Squadron Otters including 3661 were engaged in float training at Golden Lake, Ontario and also “strange lake training” in the Algonquin Provincial Park. On 18 June ’55 3661 in company with 3664, both Otters on floats, departed Rockcliffe and arrived at Fort McMurray, Alberta on 21 June. The function of the two Otters was to carry men and equipment into places that were inaccessible to the Squadron’s Canso, which was also supporting the operation. The Otters remained with the operation until it reached The Pas, Manitoba. 3661 was released on 22 July ’55 and departed Flin Flon, Manitoba to return to Rockcliffe.
In December 1955 3661 was again transferred to the CEPE at Rockcliffe. It underwent a DHC All-Up-Weight modification in January 1956 before returning to 408 Squadron. On 27 June 1956 it was flown to Goose Bay where 408 Squadron crewmen instructed Goose Bay Station Flight on the Otter, following the fatal crash of Goose Bay’s own Otter (3666) on 10 April 1956. On 22 August ’56 3661 proceeded from Goose Bay to St.Johns/Torbay to transport the Canadian and Russian Ministers of Fisheries on a tour of Newfoundland and fishing ports. 3661 then returned to base at Rockcliffe.
408 Squadron’s use of the Otter came to an end in June 1957 and the following month 3661 was assigned to the Station Flight at Cold Lake, Alberta where it was to serve for the next two years. In June 1959 it went into storage as a reserve aircraft at the Lincoln Park, Calgary depot, located at what was then Calgary’s downtown airport, which became an RCAF base when the new civilian airport was built northeast of the city. In December 1959 it was taken out of storage and ferried to DHC at Downsview to be prepared for its next posting. In July 1960 it joined 102 Communications Unit at Trenton, Ontario where it served in an all silver scheme with black front engine cowling, code VR (roundel) 661 on the rear fuselage and the serial 3661 and Canadian Ensign on the fin.
In November 1962, 3661 was taken out of service and put into storage by No.6 Repair Depot, Trenton. Here it remained until March 1963 when it was one of five Otters selected by the Canadian government to be donated to India. All five were trucked to DHC at Downsview and crated for shipment to India, the official transfer date to the Indian Air Force being 25 April 1963. On arrival in India the Otter was allocated serial BM-1004 with the Indian Air Force, with whom it served for the next 27 years, until withdrawn from use in 1990. In April 1993 the Indian Ministry of Defence advertised for sale by global tender “8 Otters on the ground since 1990 and 5 Otter airframes ( without engines)”, which included BM-1004. The successful bidders were La Ronge Aviation Services of La Ronge, Saskatchewan jointly with Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales of Edmonton.
The purchasers managed to find another damaged Otter during their visits to India, which made 14 Otters to be returned home. These were located at different Air Force bases. BM-1004 was one of three Otters located at Kanpur and another five were located at Barrackpore. This batch of eight were paint stripped, dismantled and trucked to Calcutta, from where they were shipped to Canada. They eventually arrived at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan by 30 April 1994. BM-1004 had at that stage of its career 5,051 hours on the airframe. It was put up for sale, along with all the other former Indian Air Force Otters. They were advertised for sale “as is”, or else La Ronge Aviation Services would arrange to rebuild the aircraft to flying status for a customer.
Otter number 7 was purchased by Watson’s Algoma Vacations Ltd, trading as Watson’s Skyways, based at Wawa, Ontario. The Otter was one of those bought “as is” and was trucked from Saskatoon to Echo Bay Ontario where it was rebuilt for its new owners by Skyservices at the Bar River Airport in Echo Bay, to the east of Sault Ste.Marie. It was painted into Watsons colour scheme of grey overall, black cheatline with a red stripe up the tail and Watsons Skyways fuselage titles. On completion of the rebuild it was registered to Watson’s Algoma Vacations Ltd on 26 April 1995 as C-GPPL. There was a change of name of the registered owner on 28 February 2000 to Watsons Skyways Ltd, which was the airline for the vacation company.
C-GPPL joined Otter C-GOFB (39) in service with Watson’s Skyways. The Otters were based at Wawa and during the summer months used to fly fishermen to two lodges, Pine Portage and Kaby Lodge, which the company operated on Kabinakagami Lake in the Ontario interior, one of which is located 60 miles from Wawa, the other 70 miles. The Otters were also available for general charter and often flew for the Ontario government’s Ministry of Natural Resources, flying fire crews and Ministry personnel into the bush. Summer 2000 for example saw personnel flown by the Otters to Michipicoten Island in Lake Superior. By the end of the summer 2000 season C-GPPL’s total time had reached 6,900 hours. The Watson’s Skyways operation was summer only, the Otters being stored during the winter at the Bar River Airport.
PPL remained in service with Watson’s Skyways until the end of the summer 2000 season and was then placed in storage for the winter at the Springer Aerospace facility at Bar River Airport, this being an associate company of Skyservices. Watson’s other Otter C-GOFB had been converted to turbine during winter 1999/2000 and the conversion was so popular that a decision was made to add a second turbine to the fleet. The piston Otter PPL was to be sold and a Cessna Caravan on amphibious floats was added to the fleet.
Accordingly in September 2000 C-GPPL was advertised for sale, having been replaced by the Caravan. The advertisements quoted an asking price of $590,000 Canadian, with the aircraft on EDO floats, ten passenger seats, wingtip strobes, vista vents in the two crew and four passenger windows, and well equipped with avionics, including HF radio and a Garmin GPS. It was sold the following month to Hawk Air of Wawa, Ontario but remained in storage for the winter at Bar River, being registered to Hawk Air on 11 April 2001.
PPL joined Otter C-FQMN (184) with Hawk Air and continued to serve the Ontario bush country, flying fishermen to outpost camps and supplying lodges during the summer season. It retained the Watsons Skyways colour scheme but with Hawk Air titles on the fuselage sides. It was named “Skipper” on the cockpit door. It flew for Hawk Air Fly-In Vacations, which had 22 outpost camps on 21 remote lakes, “where fishing is abundant and wildlife fantastic”.
PPL was involved in an incident on 15 June 2004. Eight minutes after it had taken off from Hawk Junction en route to Esnagi Lake, the engine quit and the Otter was forced to make an immediate landing on Dipneedle Lake, some ten miles to the north of Hawk Junction. The lake was extremely narrow shortly after the point of touch down. The left wing struck two dead trees, resulting in damage to the outer four feet of the leading edge of the wing. Approaching the shore, one float struck a submerged rock resulting in a one foot hole in one compartment. There were no injuries to the five passengers or two crew. The Otter was repaired and resumed service with Hawk Air.
Having been operated by Hawk Air out of its Wawa base since April 2001, the Otter was sold to Alaska Coastal Airlines of Juneau, Alaska and was registered to its new owners on 30 May 2007 as N342AK. Alaska Coastal Airlines traded as Wings of Alaska and already operated four Texas Turbine Otters on sight-seeing flights from its Juneau base. N342AK arrived at Vernon, BC in late July 2007 from Bar River, to be converted as a Texas Turbine Otter by Kal-Air. It was still in the basic Watsons Skyways colours with the Canadian registration blanked out on the tail and N342AK on the fuselage side, where the Hawk Air titles had been. On 20 November 2007 the registration was changed to N753AK. Work on the conversion continued at the Kal Air facility over the winter of 2007/08 and was nearing completion towards the end of April 2008.
As well as being converted to Texas Turbine configuration with the Garrett engine, it received a new interior and had a lot of skin replaced. It was repainted into Wings of Alaska colour scheme, white overall with orange cheatline and trim, with its serial number presented as 007 on the rear fuselage under the tailplane. On 29 April 2008 the Otter was registered C-FUAH to Kal Air Repair Ltd but this registration was not painted on the aircraft. It was Canadian registered only for flight test purposes and with this testing complete it was restored to N753AK on 6 May 2008 to Alaska Coastal Airlines, Juneau.
There was one final test flight at Vernon on 9 May and the Otter then departed to Renton, Washington for certification before flying to Kelowna, BC to have its floats installed. On 10 May it was towed from the Kelowna Airport across fields to nearby Duck Lake, departing from there to Vancouver South-Port McNeill-Prince Rupert-Juneau, where it arrived 11 May and entered service with Wings of Alaska. On 24 September 2008 it was re-registered to 753AK LLC., Juneau but continued to fly as part of the Wings of Alaska fleet, alongside the company’s other four turbine Otters, flying tourists from the cruise liners which dock at Juneau on sight-seeing flights.
The change of registered owner however was in connection with a restructuring of the operation. Wings of Alaska also had another division which operated Beavers and Cessnas and provide scheduled services to the many outlying communities around Juneau. This division was sold off in October 2008 to a new owner, and it retained the Wings of Alaska name. The sight-seeing division with the five turbine Otters was now rebranded as Wings Airways Inc, and N753AK has continued to serve this company since then, on the sight seeing flights.
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.