DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 152

55-3296 "Silver Salmon" at Fort Wainwright - Fairbanks, Alaska.
Photo: Dave Stern © July 1969 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N90422 "Miss Piggy", at Anchorage - PANC.
Photo: Paul Howard © 1986 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N90422 showing traces of previous markings.
Photo: John Kimberley © July 1990 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N90422 in Expedia.com livery, at Victoria Harbour.
Photo: Henry Tenby © 09 June 2001 - Karl E. Hayes Collection
N90422 current colours with Kenmore Air.
Photo: Kenneth I. Swartz © 28 August 2007
N90422 arrives home for the day.
Photo: Nigel Hitchman © 26 August 2017

c/n 152

55-3296

N90422

X

 55-3296 United States Army. Delivered 10-Oct-1956. Designated U-1A.

Initially assigned to the Arctic Test Center, Fort Greely, Fairbanks, AK.

Oct-1959. 568th Transportation Company Fort Richardson, Anchorage, AK as a support aircraft.

Jun-1961. Unit transferred to Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks, AK.

As a support aircraft also operated with 12th Aviation Company at Fort Wainwright.

Jul-1972. Formally transferred to the 12th Aviation Company, also at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks, AK., until Jun-1973.

• N90422 University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK. Operated in support of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL).

• N90422 Interior and Arctic Alaska Aero Museum, Fairbanks Airport, AK.

• N90422 Douglas G. Solberg, Juneau, AK. Regd Jun-1992.

• N90422 Kenmore Air Harbor Inc., Kenmore Seattle, WA. Regd October 1992.

Power plant: Converted to Vazar turbine.

Current

Otter 152 was delivered to the United States Army on 10 October 1956 with serial 55-3296 (tail number 53296). Although most of the U-1As being delivered at this time were painted olive drab, 53296 was painted in the ‘Army Arctic’ scheme of white overall with high visibility red on the tail and wing tips, as it was destined for service in Alaska. It was assigned to the Arctic Test Center, Fort Greely, Alaska and made the long delivery flight all the way from Downsview to its new base. It continued to serve there until October 1959 when Otter 81720 (339) was delivered to the Arctic Test Center, and 53296 departed Fort Greely for Fort Richardson, Alaska where it was assigned to the 568th Transportation Company (TC) as a support aircraft. In June 1961 the 568th TC moved to Fort Wainright, near Fairbanks, soon after the Army took over Ladd Army Air Force base and re-named it Fort Jonathan M. Wainright.

The 568th Transportation Company (radio call sign “Rivet Benders”) was a maintenance unit, its mission to provide General Support and Direct Support for all United States Army aircraft in Alaska. As well as the Otter, in the early 1960s the unit also flew a Beaver and a Cessna L-19, which were used to fly personnel and parts to where-ever they were needed, including the repair of aircraft which had force landed in the bush. 53296 was destined to serve with the 568th TC for many years. At some stage during the 1960s the paint scheme was removed and from then on it was flown in its natural metal colour with red tail and wing tips, named the “Silver Salmon”. The 12th Aviation Company with Otters was also based at Fort Wainright and from time to time 53296 was flown by the 12th when one of its Otters was down for maintenance.

Alfred Rogers, who served with the 568th TC from 1961 to 1964, describes some of 53296’s other uses: “R&R to the fishing camps located around the northern part of Alaska. These were week-end trips taking soldiers on three day passes to enjoy a couple of days good fishing. The 568th also had a maintenance mission to support the Alaska National Guard aircraft, mostly L-20 Beavers and H-21 helicopters all over the State. This included the annual inspection of the aircraft, which was almost a three day affair at remote locations. The L-20 Beaver at Juneau was on floats year round, hard to inspect but always a pleasant trip. Juneau had some wild bars in that town. We also provided support to the Alaska Scouts, small teams of Eskimo infantry patrolling the northern slopes. Places visited in the Otter included Bethel, Nome, Barrow, Juneau, Kotzebue, Unalakleet and Sitka. Days after the big earthquake in March 1964, 53296 was used to ferry guards and rations to Valdeez in support of the disaster relief”.

53296 was still serving with the 568th Transportation Company in 1971 and is mentioned in the Unit’s history: “Early in February personnel from the Sandia Missile Range Facility, Sandia, New Mexico arrived at Fort Wainright. They were here to conduct Auroral Sampling tests, using the Nike/Tomahawk missile. In order for the missile payloads to be recovered, it was necessary for a U-1A Otter to be fitted with radio direction finding gear. Although this equipment had never been fitted to this type of aircraft, this Unit’s Otter, nick-named “Silver Salmon” for its overall polished aluminium finish, was modified to accommodate it”.

On 22 April 1971 the Otter was used to deliver a new snow machine to the Catholic Priest of “Our Lady of Snows” mission at Nulato, Alaska on the Yukon River. The next day found the “Silver Salmon” engaged on a search mission north of Nome. A native family of five had attempted a cross country trip, which ended when their snow machine broke down. The crew of 53296 found the family and guided a ground team to their location. In July 1972 the Otter was transferred from the 568th Transportation Company to the 12th Aviation Company, also at Fort Wainright.  It is mentioned in the Company’s history during September 1972, taking part in a search for lost hunters in the Cantwell and Susnita regions. 53296 continued to fly for the 12th Aviation Company and was one of the three Otters it had on strength (the others being 53288 and 76128) when the Company was disbanded. On 21st June 1973 the 12th Aviation Company was formally inactivated in a ceremony conducted in its Hangar # 6 at Fort Wainright.

The Otter remained parked at Fort Wainright and on 4 December 1973 it was transferred by the US Government to Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, for educational purposes – as a ground instructional airframe for the training of aircraft mechanics. On 6 March 1974 an application was made by the School District for a registration for the Otter and N90422 was allocated. Another use was then found for the Otter and by Bill of Sale dated 6 June 1975 the School District transferred title back to the US Government who then transferred the Otter to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and on 24 June 1975 the Otter was registered to the University as N90422, to be operated in support of the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL).

The NARL had been established in 1947, located on the shore of the Chukchi Sea, between Point Barrow and the village of Barrow, the largest Eskimo settlement in North America. The NARL also had field research camps stretching across the entire North Slope of Alaska. The NARL was operated under contract to the Office of Naval Research by the University of Alaska, as the Research Support Contractor. Its task was to provide all facilities and services for accomplishing programs of basic and applied research which contributed to successful Navy operations in Arctic regions and environment, including logistic support services to field research parties at outlying camps and stations.

To accomplish this mission, the University of Alaska operated a fleet of aircraft for the NARL, including Douglas C-47, C-117s, a Twin Otter, N90422 the Single Otter and four Cessna 180s. Unique uses and operating parameters evolved for these aircraft since they were all called upon to operate from unprepared surfaces ranging from sea ice to gravel river bars to soggy tundra at temperatures ranging from 65F to -60F and with missions ranging from aerial photography to cargo and personnel transport, to equipment and supply paradrops. To give but one example of the Otter’s use, in June 1975 scientists began studies out of the Meade River Field Camp, sixty miles south of Barrow, which had a 1,500 foot runway, which was adequate for the Otter and the Cessna 180s. The camp supported 21 researchers throughout the summer who were working on different projects with the tundra ecosystem.

N90422, which was named “Miss Piggy” continued in use with the NARL for twelve years on transport and survey tasks throughout northern Alaska. In 1987 a decision was taken to dispose of the Otter and by Bill of Sale dated 3 June 1987 the University of Alaska transferred the Otter to the Interior and Arctic Alaska Aeronautical Foundation, who were planning the opening of the Pioneer Air Museum at Fairbanks. However there was delay in the opening of the Museum and N90422 remained parked at the Fairbanks Airport. The Museum did not open until 1992, by which stage the Otter had been sold.  Although the Museum was grateful for the donation of the Otter, it was too tall to come in the door of the Museum building. Also, it was considered not “historic” enough for the Museum, who decided to sell it. It was exchanged with Douglas Solberg for a Norseman, which became part of the Museum’s collection.

By Bill of Sale dated 30 April 1992 the Museum transferred title to Douglas G. Solberg of Juneau, Alaska, and the Otter was registered to him that day. It was noted at Fairbanks on 26 May 1992 being prepared for its flight to Juneau. After it had arrived there, on 2 July 1992 a ferry permit was issued allowing for a ferry flight from Juneau to Seattle. By Bill of Sale 3 September 1992 Mr Solberg sold the Otter to Kenmore Air Harbor Inc of Seattle, to whom it was registered the following month. At Kenmore Air’s facility on Lake Union, Seattle N90422 was rebuilt and converted to a Vazar turbine with a PT6A-135 engine over the winter of 1992/93. It received its Certificate of Airworthiness as a turbine Otter on 30 June 1993, having at that stage of its career 4,346 hours on the airframe. It was painted into Kenmore Air’s colour scheme and joined their Otter fleet, flying on the commuter services connecting Seattle with Victoria and other points on Vancouver Island.

In a book entitled “Seaplanes along the Inside Passage” an incident involving N90422 is described, which occurred on 28 August 1993, only six weeks after it had entered service. After delivering passengers to two destinations in the San Juan Islands, the Otter was flown to Victoria for a scheduled 6.30pm pick up. It docked behind a Canadian registered DHC-6 Twin Otter C-FGQE (msn 40) and its nine Seattle-bound passengers came on board. After engine start, as the tail of the Twin Otter was only a few feet away in front of the Otter, the pilot intended to reverse before taxying out, but he had inadvertently placed the throttle in the wrong position and N90422 went forward instead of reversing. The propeller sliced into the tailplane of the Twin Otter “in a terrible grating cacophony with shards of aluminium exploding in all directions”. Reverse then kicked in and the Otter shot backwards into the dock. The propeller was destroyed and there were some dents to the wing. The passengers disembarked, as they were clearly going no-where on N90422 and another Otter was sent to collect them. Over the days that followed, a new propeller was fitted, the engine checked and all other damage repaired so that N90422 could re-enter service.

In October 1944 N90422 took off from Lake Union, Seattle for a flight to Victoria with 8 passengers. It was in the cruise at 3,000 feet when severe vibration was experienced and the aircraft pitched down. At that stage it was over Discovery Bay at the south east edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The pilot managed to stabilize the aircraft and land on the water at Sequim Bay. Another Otter arrived to collect the passengers. The problem had been caused by a broken servo tab on the elevator, which was fixed and N90422 continued in service.

During 2001 N90422 was flown with EXPEDIA.COM billboard titles. It was flown all white during summer 2002. For 2003/4 and into 2005 it was painted into another logo colour scheme for Victoria Butchart Gardens – “100 years in bloom”. In spring 2005 it received the panoramic window modification and was painted back into the standard Kenmore Air yellow and white colours. In December 2011 it was in between schemes, flown all white with small Kenmore Air titles, but by March 2012 it was back in full standard Kenmore Air scheme.   By summer 2017 it had flown for Kenmore Air for an impressive 24 years.

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.