DHC-3 Otter Archive Master Index

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c/n 52

CF-MPO in original RCMP scheme.
Photo: W. Sowerby © Date unknown - Michael J. Ody Collection
CF-MPO at Winnipeg - CYWG, Manitoba.
Photo: Tim Martin © 27 June 1970 - via AirHistory.net
C-FMPO at Yellowknife.
Photo: Karl E. Hayes © May 1995
N87AW at Nikiski, Alaska.
Photo: Michel Leonard © 27 July 2007
N87AW at Lake Hood, Anchorage, Alaska.
Photos: Dirk Septer © 30 June 2012
N87AW departing Lake Hood, Anchorage.
Photo: Kihei Kitagawa © 17 July 2009

c/n 52

3686 • CF-MPO • C-FMPO



• 3686 Royal Canadian Air Force. Delivered 16th November 1954. In Aug-1956 it was allocated to 121 Communications & Rescue Unit, Sea Island, Vancouver, BC.

Accident: Location unconfirmed, 12-Jul-1961. During a maximum performance take-off and climb in the course of  a proficiency flight, the check pilot retarded the throttle at 100 feet to simulate engine failure. At that point, the Otter was in a maximum climb attitude, with take-off flaps and an indicated airspeed of 56 knots. A steep dive was established, resulting in the airspeed rising to 62 knots. On roundout, the aircraft fell through and landed hard. The lower fuselage skin, ribs and stringers were buckled. The Otter was taken to the Canadian Pacific Airlines repair depot at the Lincoln Park, Calgary RCAF base and fixed, returning to its unit at Sea Island that same month.

• CF-MPO Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Regd 09-Aug-1965. Based at The Pas. MB. Canx 30-Sep-1992.

• C-FMPO Re regd at unknown date.

Total time: 1,691hrs at Oct-1964.

Accident: Kawinaw Lake, Manitoba, 30-Oct-1972. Report summarised as - Engine failure; fatigue fracture; substantial damage. Repaired and returned to service

• C-FMPO 825 Elks Air Cadet Squadron, Yellowknife, NT. Oct-1992.

• C-FMPO Direct North Airways, Yellowknife, YT. Regd 12-Jul-1995. Canx 03-Jun-1996 on export. to USA..

• N87AW Alaska West Air Service Inc., Kenai, AK. Regd Jan-1996.

• N87AW Summit Leasing LLC., Kenai, AK. Regd 04-Nov-2004.

• N87AW Lease continued to Alaska West Air Service Inc., Kenai, AK.



Otter 52 was delivered to the RCAF on 16th November 1954 with serial 3686. After delivery it was initially retained by No.6 Repair Depot, Trenton as a reserve aircraft and it returned to DHC at Downsview in January 1956 for incorporation of All Up Weight modifications. On completion of this work in August 1956 it was allocated to 121 Communications & Rescue Unit, and crossed the country to join the unit at its Sea Island, Vancouver, BC base. It was to spend the entire of its military career with the 121st, flying alongside the unit's other Otter 3680.

With this busy unit, 3686 was heavily tasked on marine searches and rescues along the Pacific coast, as well as on medevacs. On 1st May '59 it escorted the Flight's H-21 Vertol helicopter 9611 to the Norwegian cargo vessel 'Ferngulf' which was on fire after an explosion. The helicopter could not winch down a doctor as its rotors fanned the flames, so the Otter landed alongside the vessel and transferred the doctor to the ship. On 29th August 1959 3686 was en route to a search for a missing fisherman when it heard Beech Bonanza N371B reporting difficulty with its undercarriage. The Otter formated on the Bonanza for a visual check and escorted N371B to Kamloops, where it made a successful landing. On 12th November 1959 3686 was deployed to Comox on Vancouver Island to search the Oyster River area for a missing hunter.

3686 was also involved in a number of aircraft rescues, on 16th January 1960 searching for a Piper PA22 missing over the Strait of Juan de Fuca; on 5th June 1960 investigating the forced landing of Tri-Pacer CF-HMF at Nanaimo and a week later searching for crashed Sea Bee CF-EJN. On 24th June 1960 it escorted Vertol 9614 to a small boat in difficulty and on 12th June 1961 it was the turn of Vertol 9611 to be escorted by 3686, searching for a missing boat. The Otter was one of a number of aircraft in the search and rescue effort for Martin Mars CF-LYJ which crashed near Parksville on 23rd June '61 while fighting a forest fire, other aircraft involved being Albatross 9305, Vertol 9611, Dakota 692 and Canso 11015, all of 121 C&R Flight and 407 Squadron Neptune 24119 from Comox.

On 12th July 1961, during a maximum performance take-off and climb in the course of a proficiency flight, the check pilot retarded the throttle at 100 feet to simulate engine failure. At that point, the Otter was in a maximum climb attitude, with take-off flaps and an indicated airspeed of 56 knots. A steep dive was established, resulting in the airspeed rising to 62 knots. On roundout, the aircraft fell through and landed hard. The lower fuselage skin, ribs and stringers were buckled. The Otter was taken to the Canadian Pacific Airlines repair depot at the Lincoln Park, Calgary RCAF base and fixed, returning to its unit at Sea Island that same month.

On 20th September 1961 3686 was involved in the rescue of a vessel which broke up at sea, as were Canso 11015, Dakota 485 and Albatross 9306. On 13th February 1962 the Otter flew to Hanson's Lagoon to pick up an injured hiker, but became grounded on a sandbar by a receding tide.

It was refloated the next day and returned to base. On 21st February 1962 it transported a mine disposal team to deal with a mine and on 24th June 1962 was engaged in the search for Cessna 180 CF-FWF of Trans Provincial Airlines, which had crashed near Terrace. On 25th August 1962 it escorted Vertol 9614 to rescue an injured climber who had fallen into a canyon. The Otter continued to fly with 121 Communications & Rescue Unit until October 1962 when Otter operations by the Unit came to an end. It returned to the Canadian Pacific Airlines depot at Calgary, as did the Unit's other Otter 3680, and was placed into storage as a reserve aircraft. The amphibious floats which 3686 had used were removed and transported back to Sea Island for use by the Otters of 443 Squadron. In February 1964 the Otter was ferried from Calgary to Saskatoon and put into storage there, pending disposal.

The Otter was transferred to the RCMP, to whom it was registered as CF-MPO in October 1964. At that stage, it had 1,691 hours on the airframe. For the first ten years of its police service it was based at The Pas, Manitoba. On 30th October 1972 it suffered an accident at Kawinaw Lake, Manitoba, summarised as: “Engine failure; fatigue fracture; substantial damage”. It was repaired and then based at Thompson, Manitoba from 1974 to 1976, and then at Ottawa from 1976 to 1978. It arrived at its new base at the RCMP's hangar at the Edmonton Municipal Airport, Alberta in 1978 where it would be based for the next 14 years, although it was deployed to Inuvik from time to time.

While based at Edmonton as C-FMPO the Otter suffered a number of minor incidents. On 15th March 1985 at St.Paul, Alberta while taxying after landing the tail wheel assembly failed. On 24th April 1985 at High Prairie, Alberta the propeller tip touched the runway on take-off. At Edmonton Municipal Airport, its base, on 13th November 1987 the pilot lost control on take-off from runway 16 and the Otter skidded across the grass onto the apron. Finally, on 13th February 1990 at Steen Tower airstrip, Alberta during a touch-and-go on a snow-covered runway, the engine hesitated and during the initial climb the Otter struck some trees. Damage was not great and the Otter was repaired and continued in service until September 1992.

After nearly 30 years of service with the RCMP, the last Otter in police service in Canada, MPO was flown from Edmonton, Alberta, to Yellowknife, NWT where it arrived on 1st October 1992, on delivery to 825 Elks Air Cadet Squadron, by which stage it had some 18,000 hours on the airframe. The Otter was acquired to provide enhanced training to the cadets and for use by Yellowknife schools and community organisations. According to a local report at the time: “When the Otter is finally retired, it will be donated along with its logs to the Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, where it will be permanently displayed”. This proposal somewhat overlooked the value of an aircraft such as the Otter, and having sat at Yellowknife for three years, during which time it was little used, C-FMPO was sold. It was registered to its new owners, Alaska West Air Service Inc of Kenai, Alaska in January 1996 as N87AW. They purchased it from Direct North Airways, Yellowknife, who had somehow managed to acquire title to the aircraft. With Alaska West Air Service it replaced Otter N8510T (307) which they had flown up to then.

The Otter was flown from Yellowknife to Vancouver, arriving 16th January 1996, where it was converted to a Vazar DHC-3T turbine Otter by Aeroflite Industries. It was rolled out of their hangar as a turbine on 5th March 1996 and delivered to its new base at Kenai - Island Lake from where it operates on floats. Alaska West Air Service is the aircraft operating part of Alaska West Guides & Outfitters and as well as the turbo Otter flies two Beavers, a turbo Beaver and two Piper Super Cubs. The aircraft are used on a variety of fly-out fishing and bear viewing packages as well as flight-seeing trips over the Kenai Peninsula and Lake Clark National Park. The Otter is used for the larger groups as it seats ten passengers. The company is active during the summer months only, with N87AW going into storage during the winter.

The company's web-site offers a variety of trips, mostly day trips from Kenai for example, to the Illiamna Region, flight time 1 hour 45 minutes each way with the pilot and a guide staying with the group for the entire day: “Depart Kenai - Island Lake heading southwest. The flight will take you through the heart of the volcanic Alaska Range. This area has the largest run of sockeye salmon in the State. Fishing is done from the bank where you will be casting to large schools of fish in clear water”. The cost for 7 to 10 persons for the day with the turbine Otter is $3,600. On 4th November 2004 the Otter was registered to Summit Leasing LLC., Kenai, Alaska but leased to and operated by Alaska West Air Service, as before.

At that stage the company was also flying N49AW (310) a PZL-engined Otter, which over the winter of 2005 / 2006 was converted to a Texas Turbine with the Garrett engine and re-entered service with Alaska West Air, painted in an eye-catching blue and yellow colour scheme. That meant that the company was flying two turbine Otters in different colour schemes, one as a Vazar turbine and one as a Texas Turbine. The Beaver, Turbo Beaver and Super Cubs also remained part of the fleet

Having two turbine Otters in the fleet allowed Alaska West Air to expand its operations, to include flying outside of the summer season in support of mining and exploration activities. It was in the course of such an operation that N87AW came to grief on 28 May 2011. The Otter had been deployed to northern Alaska in support of mining operations. On 28 May the Otter took off from Coldfoot, a small hamlet on the Dalton Highway (which routes from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay) at 1500 hours. Its destination was a private mine airstrip 80 miles north-west of Bettles, where it landed at 16:40 hours. Unfortunately the Otter ran off the end of the runway into a fuel tank farm. The right wing and aileron were damaged when the Otter struck a fuel tank. The aircraft ended up on its nose, breaking the right gear drag brace and bending the right wing. There was also some damage to a bulkhead. The pilot and his sole passenger were not injured.

Given the structural damage, the Otter was no longer flyable. Over the weeks that followed, the engine and landing gear were removed and the Otter was slung out of the accident site by UH-1H Huey N703NP of Northern Pioneer Helicopters to a strip on the Dalton Highway known as Prospect Creek Strip. From there it was dis-assembled and trucked south to Palmer, where it was assessed by the insurers. On 21 September 2011 the Otter arrived at Lake Hood, Anchorage from Palmer on a truck and was put into a hangar where its rebuilding commenced and continued over the winter of 2011 / 2012. In April 2012 the Otter was trucked back to Palmer for re-painting by Graham Aero Services and was painted into the same blue and yellow colour scheme as the company’s other turbine Otter N49AW. By the end of May it had been trucked back to Lake Hood, Anchorage for the completion of its rebuild. It was still there in June 2012.

In early August 2012 N87AW was advertised for sale through Island Aero Sales of Victoria, BC. It was described as a “good, working airplane”, on EDO 7170 floats with Gross Weight Increase, utility interior with ten seats, new paint scheme, updated panel with GPS and with zero-time PT-6 engine. It had an asking price of $1,500,000. It was then parked at Anchorage. In October 2012 it was again advertised for sale, quoting total time of 24,000 hours. That month it left Anchorage and returned to its base at Kenai.  It did not sell, and re-entered service with Alaska West Air. As of summer 2018 it was still in service with Alaska West 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.