Otter number 74 was delivered to the Manitoba Government Air Service on 9 February 1956, registered CF-MAU. It was joined in June 1958 by CF-MAX (267). The Otters were based in Winnipeg, but deployed to Lac du Bonnet during the summer months. Both Otters were destined to enjoy very long service with the Provincial Government, during which the operating division underwent some changes of title. Initially known as the Department of Highways and Transportation, later the Department of Mines and Natural Resources, the Province of Manitoba Air Division and then the Air Service. As well as Lac du Bonnet, the Air Service also had an all-year round base at The Pas. Summer only bases were at Norway House and Wabowden. By 1962 the fleet stood at the two Otters and six Beavers.
The Otters were used for the following tasks: general transportation of government personnel and freight; detection and suppression of forest fires (which included water bombing); aerial patrols for Wildlife & Fisheries programmes; placing and servicing field parties for the Mineral Resources branch, Survey branch and others; emergency flights and medical evacuation; northern highways surveys and winter transportation programmes; general transportation for Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Telephone System.
The Otters spent most of the summers on forest protection duties, fitted with floats equipped with water bombing gear. They were converted to wheel-skis for winter operations, enabling them to fly year round. Only one minor incident is recorded for C-FMAU. On 30 July 1988, while approaching to land at Lac du Bonnet, the float-equipped Otter landed too close and ran up onto the shore, coming to rest on the harbour breakwater. The Otter sustained damage to the floats and some damage to the fuselage at the rear float attachments. The damage was repaired and MAU re-entered service.
In May 1989 the two Otters were joined by C-FODY (429) which had previously been operated by the Province of Ontario. Describing the activities of his three Otters in May 2000, the Manitoba Government Air Service Chief Pilot Stephen Doolan wrote : “The three Otters are operated in summer on floats and one in winter on wheel-skis. Two are based in Thompson on the river and one at Lac du Bonnet. Island Lake, an aboriginal community, is an occasional base in summer. The otters range as far north as the Northwest Territories border, conducting “fish cop work” – game warden activities with caribou, polar bears and general fisheries management with the biologists. Fuel drums and freight are often a cargo to bush camps for ground firefighters at temporary fire fighting bases carved out of the bush near an active forest fire. These aircraft are an integral part of the annual operations to fight wildfire starts. All three Otters are equipped with a water bombing system in the floats allowing the pilots to skim the water and scoop approximately 170 gallons of water depending on fuel load. They can drop the water on a new forest fire start, preventing it from spreading until the heavy water-bombers arrive. Often they will go out on patrol with an initial attack crew, drop them off near the site of the fire and then begin water bombing. There are no plans at present to replace the Otters as they are unique in what they do. We may look at one of the engine conversions to increase performance”.
MAU continued flying for the Air Service but during August 2003 experienced two incidents, reported on CADORS. On 18 August 2003, twenty seven miles north-east of God’s River, Manitoba on a fire patrol, the engine failed and the pilot made a distress call. The Otter force landed safely at Pine Rapids, having sustained a failure of the number two cylinder. It was repaired and returned to service but shortly afterwards was in trouble again. On 27 August 2003 “The crew of PAG 406 relayed to Winnipeg Centre that Otter MAU had conducted a forced landing on a river sixteen miles north of Island Lake. Manitoba Air Services dispatched a helicopter to pick up the crew. It had been en route from Island Lake to God’s Lake Narrows with fire control equipment. The intake valve on the number two cylinder was found to be stuck open. This was the replacement cylinder from the previous incident. The cylinder was changed on site and the Otter flown back to Island Lake”.
MAU was fitted with a new R-1340 engine at Thompson, Manitoba during May 2004 before deploying to Lac du Bonnet for the summer season, flying barrels of fuel to such places as Bloodvein, Berens River and Little Grand Rapids in support of fire fighting aircraft and moving government personnel around the bush. MAU continued to serve the Manitoba Government until it was withdrawn from use in February 2005, a remarkable 49 years of service. It was parked at Winnipeg in its government colour scheme of yellow overall, red cheatline and red line on the tail, and was advertised for sale. The Air Service had secured funding to purchase a DHC-6 Twin Otter, and had acquired C-FWAH, Max Ward’s aircraft which had crashed and which was rebuilt for them by Viking Air at Victoria, BC. At the same time they had also secured funding to convert two of their three Otters with turbine engines, and had selected MAX and ODY. Unfortunately they could not obtain funding to convert the third Otter, leading to the decision to sell MAU.
The Otter proved slow to sell but it was eventually sold to, by coincidence, Max Ward, the veteran Canadian aviator who had founded Wardair. MAU departed Winnipeg in early January 2007 routing to Calgary and then on to Vernon, BC where it arrived 8th January 2007. At Vernon it was to be converted to a Texas Turbine Otter by Kal-Air. This work took place over the following months and on 23 May 2007 C-FMAU was registered to Marjorie Ward of Edmonton, Alberta, the wife of Max Ward. The Otter, which retained the yellow colour scheme with red trim of its previous operator, made its first flight with its new Garrett turbine engine on 14 June 2007, flown by Bobby Bishop of Texas Turbines, and Max Ward, then aged 86 and still going strong, was present for the event. The Otter later departed for Edmonton, where Max Ward lives, and was used during the summer based out of Yellowknife on floats. It was back in Vernon by 9 September, and was parked at Edmonton for the winter. It arrived back in Vernon early May 2008 for new float installation by Kal-Air and then went to Campbell River on Vancouver Island where Sealand Aviation carried out weight and balance tests. It then returned to its base at the Edmonton Municipal Airport.
The Otter is flown by Max Ward and his family for their recreational use, on wheels, wheel-skis or floats depending on the season. Max Ward has a luxurious cabin at Red Rock Lake on the Coppermine River, 180 miles north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, so the Otter is usually used during the summer months on floats for commuting from Edmonton to the lodge and between the lodge and Yellowknife. On 27 February 2013 the Otter was re-registered to Ward Haven Holdings Inc of Edmonton. It was based at a private hangar on the Edmonton Municipal Airport, but when that airport closed in November 2013 moved to a new hangar at the Cooking Lake Airport near Edmonton.
A few incidents have been reported on Cadors:
22 August 2013. First Air ATR on flight FAB 125 from Hay River to Yellowknife reported a TCAS advisory from VFR traffic, being Otter C-FMAU routing from Yellowknife to Edmonton. The Otter was subsequently observed on radar climbing VFR through 14,300 feet without clearance. It was subsequently cleared to 16,000 feet for the flight to Edmonton. High flying indeed for an Otter.
30 July 2015. Upon arrival at Yellowknife water base, the Otter did not report down on the water. The RCMP were notified. Discovery Air flight DA403 inbound for the water base shortly thereafter reported Otter MAU was down and safe.
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.