DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 118

55-3272 on photo shoot.
Photo: DHC © c.May 1956 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
CF-BEP at Wawa, Ontario.
Photo: Don Fynn © 1975
CF-BEP at Ermine Lake - gets an engine change.
Photos: Don Fynn © 1976
CF-BEP in the smoke, north of wawa, after dropping off fire crews.
Photo: Don Fynn © 1976
CF-BEP at Wawa base.
Photo: Don Fynn © Winter 1976
C-FBEP missing something rather important items.
Photo: Rich Hulina © Date unknown - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N104BM awaits conversion at Vernon, British Columbia.
Photo: John W. Olafson © 25 September 2003
N104BM ready and willing.
Photo: Bald Mountain image ©

c/n 118

55-3272 • CF-BEP • C-FBEP

N104BM

X

• 55-3272 United States Army. Delivered 19-May-1956. Designated as U-1A.

Allocated to the 14th Army Aviation Company, Fort Riley, KS.

The unit was re-designated the 1st Aviation Company but remained at Fort Riley, KS.

Returned to Downsview for modifications to accommodate airborne radar components being developed as a classified project by the University of Illinois. The aircraft became known as the “Radar Otter”.

The 416th Signal Aviation Company was  entrusted with flight testing which was based at Libby AAF, Fort Huachuca, Arizona entrusted with flight testing although the aircraft was based at the University of Illinois' Willard Airport near the town of Savoy, Illinois for the duration of the testing. This lasted for some eighteen months after which it returned to U-1A configuration. The actual period for this testing is unclear.

Returned to Fort Riley, Kansas and continued to serve there until March 1962.

Assigned to Headquarters Company of the 45th Transportation Battalion based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, Vietnam from Mar-1962.

In May-1963 the Otter was re-assigned to the 52nd Aviation Battalion.

In Aug-1963 it joined the 18th Aviation Company and converted to RU-1A in Apr-1968.

Dec-1968 joined the 2nd Signal Group. Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon. Converted back to U-1A June 1969.

Handed over to the 388th Transportation Company in August 1969 when it was prepared for return to the United States.

It arrived at the Forest Park Army Depot, Atlanta, GA where it was put into storage. Deleted from the Army inventory in May 1972, but remained in storage at the depot until put up for disposal as military surplus.

• CF-BEP Air Craftsmen Ltd., St. John, NB. Reserved circa Oct / Nov-1972. Rebuilt and civilianised.

• CF-BEP Air Dale Ltd., Wawa, ON. 1974.

• CF-BEP Leased to Willy Laserich, Yellowknife, NT. 1977.

• C-FBEP Re regd at unknown date.

• C-FBEP Air Dale Ltd., Wawa, ON. Canx 04-Dec-1985

• C-FBEP Air Dale Flying Services Ltd., Wawa, ON. 25-Apr-1991. Canx 03-Apr-2004.

• N104BM Jeanne G. Porter, Homer, Alaska. Regd 17th April 2001. dba Bald Mountain Air Service Inc., Homer, AK.

Airworthiness Date: 01-May-2001. Category Standard – Normal.

Current

x

Otter 118 was delivered to the United States Army on 19th May 1956 with serial 55-3272 (tail number 53272). It was allocated to the 14th Army Aviation Company, Fort Riley, Kansas. In August 1956 the 14th was re-designated the 1st Aviation Company and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia but 53272 remained based at Fort Riley, where it was noted in January 1957. Later that year it was selected to take part in an airborne radar experiment.

The University of Illinois had entered a tri-services contract to develop a classified airborne radar system. The military assigned the project to the Army, who directed that an Otter be used, as it was the only Army aircraft large enough for the purpose. 53272 was the aircraft selected and it was flown back to Downsview where DHC were to perform the modifications. As the project was classified, the University of Illinois could not send the actual radar components to Canada but they did provide DHC with the dimensions and weight of the individual boxes. Using this information, DHC designed racks for all the equipment and determined the weight and balance. They also hung a large radome under each wing. The antennae were synchronized so that the starboard antenna would sweep from 0 around to 180 degrees, then the port antenna would take over and sweep from 180 back to 360 degrees. This obviously added weight and complexity, but was the only practical solution, given the Otter as the test vehicle.

This work was undertaken at Downsview, where 53272 became known as the “Radar Otter”. The flight testing was entrusted to the Army's 416th Signal Aviation Company which was based at Libby AAF., Fort Huachuca, Arizona. This unit did not have any Otters, nor any pilots qualified on the Otter. One of their number, Clyde Young, was selected and sent to Stockton, California where the 521st Engineer Company were based, which flew Otters on topographic survey duties. At that time, they had an Otter stationed at an abandoned WWII Air Corps training field at Thermal, California where a survey was being conducted. The Otter was used to ferry personnel and supplies between Stockton and Thermal. Officer Young deployed to Thermal and was checked out on the Otter. He then went to Downsview, picked up 53272 and flew it to the University of Illinois' Willard Airport near the town of Savoy, Illinois where the Radar Otter was to be based for the duration of the testing.

The flight characteristics were quite different from the standard U-1A due to an extreme aft Centre of Gravity, a different maximum gross weight and turbulence from the two radomes. There was a gasoline fuelled turbine/generator located in the rear of the cabin, with the result that the rear fuel tank could only be half filled to keep the C. of G. and the AUW within limits. Besides the pilot, a civilian technician flew in the co-pilot's seat and there was a seat in the cabin for an engineer/operator. The rest of the cabin was filled with racks of electronic equipment. On arrival at Willard Airport, the actual, classified equipment was installed and the project was up and running.

Doubts were expressed about the airworthiness of the Otter in its modified state, and it was flown to Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio for an evaluation by the USAF, which included a T-28 chase aircraft. As Officer Young recalls “It was fun watching the T-28 pilot trying to keep his plane in the air while staying with the Otter!” After about six weeks, the project got the all clear to continue, subject to periodic checks on the ailerons. There was a concern about metal fatigue from buffeting from the radomes. 53272 returned to Willard Airport and the project continued for the next eighteen months. On conclusion of the testing, the radomes and all other equipment were removed, and 53272 reverted to standard U-1A configuration.

The Otter returned to Fort Riley, Kansas and continued to serve there until March 1962 when it was transported to Vietnam and assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 45th Transportation Battalion, based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon. The HQ Company was assigned a few aircraft, including the Otter, for the use of the Battalion Commander and his staff. In May 1963 the Otter was re-assigned to the 52nd Aviation Battalion and in August 1963 it joined the 18th Aviation Company, where it was to serve for some years. There is one reference to the aircraft in the unit's history: “An exciting 4th July 1966 was experienced by Captain Sokowoski and CWO Messeder when they experienced engine failure in aircraft 53272. The failure occurred at 2,500 feet in the vicinity of Chu Lai. Immediately, restart procedures were initiated and proved successful. The aircraft ran intermittently and made a successful precautionary landing at Chu Lai Marine airfield. Carburettor failure was the cause of the trouble”.

In June 1968 the Otter was converted to RU-1A configuration and in December 1968 joined the 2nd Signal Group. It continued to fly in Vietnam until August 1969 when it was handed over to the 388th Transportation Company who prepared it for return to the United States. The following month, September 1969 it arrived at the Forest Park Army Depot, Atlanta, Georgia where it was put into storage alongside many other Otters which had been returned from Vietnam. It was deleted from the Army inventory in May 1972, but remained in storage at the depot until put up for disposal as military surplus.

53272 was one of six Army Otters purchased by Air Craftsmen Ltd., of St.John, New Brunswick, all six being located at the Atlanta Depot. Air Craftsmen Ltd., was a company which traded in Otters, buying military surplus aircraft, restoring them as civilian and selling them on. The six Otters were reserved as CF-BEO/BEP/BEQ/BER/BEV and BEW. In the case of 53272 the marks CF-BEP were allocated on 11 October 1972, the Bill of Sale from the Defence Surplus Sales Office to Air Craftsmen Ltd was dated 10 November 1972 and the following day a ferry permit was issued for a flight from the Forest Park Army Depot, Atlanta to St.John, New Brunswick. All six otters were flown to St.John during October / November 1972, where they were to be re-built and civilianised.

Work on CF-BEP continued throughout 1973 and its Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 23 April 1974, at which stage it had total airframe time of 6,018 hours. Three days later it was registered to Air Craftsmen Ltd., and on 30 April 1974 it was sold by Bill of Sale to Skyservices Ltd., of Sault Ste.Marie, Ontario and sold on the same day to a Dr.H.Ironstone. He leased the Otter to Air Dale Ltd to whom CF-BEP was registered on 10 June 1974. Air Dale was based at Sault Ste.Marie Airport in Ontario and at the time operated Beech 18s and DC-3s and were just about to start flying Twin Otters on scheduled services for Norontair. However, the company also had a sub-base at Wawa, Ontario some fifty miles north of Sault Ste.Marie on the shore of Lake Superior and it was here that the Otter was based, flying alongside three Beavers. These aircraft were used on fly-out fishing charters, hunters and tourists, providing the usual range of bush services. CF-BEP was to be Air Dale’s only Otter and it would serve the company for a remarkable 27 years. It was painted with an orange lower fuselage, brown cheatline, white upper fuselage and tail, with a brown stripe on the tail. It carried Air Dale titles on the cheatline.

During summer 1977 the Otter was briefly leased to Atlas Leasing of Yellowknife, the company of Otter operator Willy Laserich, for August and September that year, and sub-leased to Buffalo Airways, flying out of Yellowknife, NWT, returning to Wawa and resuming service with Air Dale. During this period it had been on lease to Air Dale from Dr.Ironstone but he sold it to Air Dale by Bill of Sale dated 25 June 1979, at which stage its total time had increased to 7,629 hours. On 1 January 1980 it went on lease to Central Air Transport of Sioux Lookout, Ontario. A few days later, on 5 January 1980, it suffered an incident at Pickle Lake, Ontario. After landing on wheels on the ice, the Otter began to come up on its nose. The pilot caught the aircraft, but not before the propeller had hit the ice. It was repaired and continued in service with Central Air Transport until returned off lease to Air Dale on 15 April 1980. It then underwent its C. of A. renewal in the hangar at Sault Ste.Marie on 9 May 1980, total time 8,094 hours, before re-entering service with Air Dale for the summer.

Operations continued out of Wawa during the years that followed. In August 1984 the registration was changed to C-FBEP. At its C. of A. renewal in April 1986 total time had climbed to 9,668 hours. By Bill of Sale dated 30 April 1986 the Otter was sold to Great Northern Freight Forwarding Ltd., but was leased back to Air Dale and continued flying from Wawa alongside the Beavers. A new company called Air Dale Flying Service Ltd., was formed, a subsidiary of Air Dale, to run the Wawa base and the floatplanes and on 18 April 19888 the lease of the Otter was changed to Air Dale Flying Service Ltd., and C-FBEP was registered to that company. The titles on the Otter were changed to Air Dale Flying Service and flying continued from Wawa as before. The main Air Dale company at Sault Ste.Marie ceased trading in 1996 but Air Dale Flying Service was not affected and it continued in business at Wawa.

When BEP was inspected for its C. of A. renewal in May 2000, total time had increased to 13,085 hours. By this stage the company was finding the maintenance of the Otter somewhat expensive and it was decided that the Otter would be sold, and operations continue with the Beavers. After a 27 year operation with Air Dale, the registration of the Otter as C-FBEP to Air Dale Flying Service was cancelled on 3 April 2001 on the sale of the Otter to the United States. The Otter had been sold  by Bill of Sale dated 5 February 2001 from its owners, Great Northern Freight Forwarding Ltd., to Bald Mountain Air Service of Homer, Alaska.

The new owner of the Otter was Jeanne G. Porter of Homer, to whom the aircraft was registered as N104BM on 17 April 2001, for operation by her company Bald Mountain Air Service Inc. The company started out as a bear viewing guide service, flying daily during the summer months from its base at Homer back and forth across the Cook Inlet to Katmai National Park. Its fleet during the mid 1990s comprised Beaver N102SY and Otter N103SY (296). In April 2001 these were joined by N104BM and all three aircraft were active during the summer of 2001 and again in summer 2002 flying tourists to the Katmai National Park to view the bears. An estimated four thousand Alaskan coastal brown bears inhabit this immense area.

During 2003 Otter N103SY (296) was sold, to provide funds for the conversion of N104BM as a Texas Turbine Otter with the Garrett engine. N104BM continued in service out of Homer during the summer of 2003. At the end of that season, on 18 September 2003, it was taken out of the water and brought to the airport at Homer, to be put on wheels. It then made its last flight as a piston Otter down to Vernon, BC where it had arrived by 25 September 2003. At Vernon it was converted to Texas Turbine configuration by Kal Air, being conversion number 11. It made its first flight as a turbine from Vernon on 21 December 2003 and then departed for Bellingham, Washington en route back to Homer. Even after turbine conversion it still carried the same basic colour scheme as it had during its time with Air Dale.

The turbine conversion was a great success for the business, but it was costly to run the Otter during the summer only. Accordingly Bald Mountain Air started winter operations as well, opening a base at Deadhorse on the Alaskan North Slope. This proved a good move and contracts came in from scientific firms and oil companies, allowing Bald Mountain to expand. New hangars were built at Homer and Deadhorse and two DHC-6 Twin Otters were acquired. Aircraft could thus be moved between the two bases as required. Starting in December 2005 Bald Mountain Air based turbine Otter N104BM and one Twin Otter at Deadhorse for the winter. On 21 February 2008 the landing gear failed on N104BM on landing at Teshekpuk, which is on the northern Arctic coast some eighty miles east of Barrow. The damage was repaired and the Otter returned to service.

In May 2008 N104BM was joined by piston Otter N413JP (314) in the Bald Mountain Air fleet, which was later also converted as a Texas Turbine, giving a fleet of two turbine Otters and two Twin Otters, which divided their time between the Homer and Deadhorse bases. The Otters continued with the bear viewing flights from Homer during the summer. Although Otters usually fly VFR, occasionally they do feature on the flight-tracker websites when an IFR plan is filed. An example is N104BM on 27 April 2010 routing from Deadhorse to Fairbanks, a three hour flight at 11,000 feet and 125 knots. It was returning to Homer after being based at Deadhorse for the winter.

For summer 2014 N104BM was painted in a new colour scheme of white overall, all-yellow wings and horizontal tailplane, and company ‘bear’ logo on the tail. It was again based at Homer for the summer and Deadhorse in the winter, same the following year, flying from Fairbanks to Deadhorse on 15 September 2015. An incident was recorded at Homer on 19 June 2016 during a training flight with two pilots on board, when it struck an eagle at 2,500 feet ten miles north-east of the Homer-Beluga seaplane base. There was significant damage to the wing leading edge and the Otter made a go-around on final approach due to control difficulties. On the second approach at a higher speed, the difficulties were overcome and it landed successfully. The damage was repaired and it continued in service with Bald Mountain Air.

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.