A Brief History of the PT6A-135A Powered Vazar Dash 3, AKA, the DHC-3T Otter

History courtesy of Karl E Hayes from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005)

Otter number 22 was delivered to the RCAF on 15th December 1953 with serial 3668. It was allocated to the Central Experimental & Proving Establishment (CEPE) Climatic Detachment that month, based at Namao Air Base, Edmonton, Alberta. The Detachment specialized in cold-weather testing. It was in an all silver scheme with a polar bear crest under the cockpit door and carried the unit’s PX code. The Otter remained at Namao until July 1956 when it transferred to the CEPE main base at Rockcliffe, Ontario but only for a brief period.

From Vazar.com

Its next posting was to 403 Squadron at Calgary, Alberta. This was one of Air Defence Command’s squadrons, flying the Mustang and T-33, which in July ’56 was notified of a change of role to light transport, and re-designation as an auxiliary squadron, becoming 403 “City of Calgary” Squadron with Beech Expeditors as its initial equipment. On 1st November 1956 Otter 3668 arrived at Calgary, the first of four Otters for the unit. It had been flown in from Rockcliffe by a ferry crew from 129 Acceptance & Ferry Flight. Its period of duty with 403 Squadron was relatively brief, as in June 1957 it was re-assigned to 121 Communications & Rescue Flight, based at Sea Island, Vancouver, BC, which was adjacent to the Vancouver International Airport.

Its operation by 121 Communications & Rescue Flight only lasted five months. It is mentioned in the unit’s diary on 2nd August ’57 routing from Carmanah Point on the west coast of Vancouver Island to Duncan escorting 121 C&R’s H-21A helicopter serial 9611. In October 1957 it was put into storage at the Lincoln Park, Alberta depot as a reserve aircraft. This depot was located at what was then the downtown Calgary Airport (from where the Otter had previously flown with 403 Squadron) and was run by Canadian Pacific Airlines, into whose care the Otter was entrusted. It remained there until March 1964 when the Lincoln Park depot was closed, and it was roaded to Saskatoon and stored there pending disposal. It was sold in May 1965 to Western Aero Renters Ltd of Edmonton, Alberta to whom it was registered as CF-OVN on 16th July 1965. With its new owners it served in the Northwest Territories.

The Otter was sold to Gateway Aviation Ltd, Edmonton to whom it was registered on 16th December 1969, although the aircraft was based at Yellowknife and continued to support the mining and exploration industries in the Northwest Territories. The registration was changed to C-FOVN on 10th April 1972. In 1979 Gateway Aviation were taken over by Northward Airlines, at which stage its Yellowknife base and Otter C-FOVN were sold to Turn Air Ltd, to whom the Otter was registered on 11th June 1980. For the next five years, OVN continued to operate from Yellowknife, until Turn Air encountered financial difficulties.

Picture from @DeonMitton on Instagram

Turn Air Ltd had mortgaged its aircraft to the Federal Business Development Bank, who took court proceedings to recover money due. The case went to the Supreme Court, as a result of which title to the Otter and a Cessna 185 C-FYNM was transferred to the bank. The Otter was advertised for sale in May 1985 by Mike Hackman Aircraft Sales of Edmonton, with 10,800 hours on the airframe. By Bill of Sale dated 1st November 1985 the Otter was sold to Aero Aviation Centre (1981) Ltd of Edmonton, to whom the aircraft was registered on 15th November ’85. The Otter was then sold to North American Gold Center Inc of Las Vegas, Nevada by Bill of Sale dated 18th August 1986. The Otter was registered to its new owners as N9707B.

Quite what part the unusually named North American Gold Center played in the scheme of things is unknown, presumably a financing arrangement of some sort, but the Otter’s registration to this company was part of its conversion as the prototype Vazar turbine Otter. Around the same time as the Cox Turbo Otter (number 421) crashed, thus effectively ending that particular turbine conversion, Vazar Aerospace of Bellingham, Washington started work on a turbine Otter conversion, utilizing the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-135 engine. N9707B was selected as the prototype, and the conversion work was undertaken by Serv Aero Engineering at Salinas, California during 1987. This particular conversion was a much simpler and more effective one than the Cox conversion and was to prove a winner. Rigorous flight testing was conducted throughout 1988 and in August of that yearN9707B flew from Bellingham to Ketchikan and Wrangell, Alaska for the demonstration to local operators. US certification of the conversion was achieved in November 1988, after which Vazar Aerospace proceeded to market the “Dash 3 Turbine Otter”, with considerable success.

N9707B continued flight testing for Canadian certification, in the course of which one incident was recorded. On 11th January 1989 at Beach Corner, Alberta while conducting a test flight, the aircraft’s control column began oscillating fore and aft, and the pilot made a precautionary landing. The test flying continued for a few more months, Canadian certification for the Vazar Dash 3 being granted in June 1989. In the meantime, its test work complete, Otter 22 was sold back to Canada, being acquired by Central Mountain Air Ltd of Smithers, BC to whom it was registered as C-GCMY on 12th May 1989. It served the communities of northern BC for nearly three years, until sold to Wolverine Air (1988) Ltd of Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories in June 1992. Central Mountain Air titles were removed from the aircraft at Vancouver on 20th June ’92 and Wolverine Air titles had been added by 25th June. As well as flying for Wolverine Air from Fort Simpson, it also flew for a time for Air Tindi out of Yellowknife until sold in March 1993 to Harbour Air Ltd. It was noted in the Harbour Air hangar at Vancouver International Airport in October 1994, completely stripped to bare metal in readiness for a re-spray. Repainted in their yellow and white colour scheme, the Otter then flew out of Harbour Air’s Prince Rupert seaplane base at Seal Cove, on the company’s scheduled and charter services.

The Otter is mentioned in an incident report on 10th April 1995. It was en route from Seal Cove to Port Simpson when it encountered rain, strong winds and turbulence. A piece of plywood sheeting which had not been securely tied down, moved and struck a passenger’s seat back. After landing, the passenger went to a local clinic as a precaution. The report noted that “the company has instructed its cargo handlers to be more diligent in securing awkward shaped loads”. C-GCMY met its end on 18th August 1996, eighteen miles south of Alliford Bay, Queen Charlotte Islands, BC. As the accident report summary states: “The pilot of the float-equipped turbo Otter departed Alliford Bay, six nautical miles south-west of Sandspit, on a chartered 26 mile flight south to Tasu, BC. The pilot picked up two passengers as Tasu and departed on the return flight to Alliford Bay. A search was initiated when the aircraft failed to arrive at its destination. The Otter was located the following day in steep terrain at 1,700 feet ASL eighteen miles south of Alliford Bay”. Buffalo aircraft and Labrador helicopters of the Canadian Armed Forces’ 442 Squadron from CFB Comox were heavily involved on the search.

“The evidence indicates that the pilot encountered low ceilings and visibility in moderate rain. He had flown up a valley which ends with the terrain rising steeply to 3,350 feet ASL. This valley is deceptively similar to another valley which forms an established VFR route and which, if followed, would have allowed the pilot to stay at a low altitude and below the cloud”. The pilot’s planned route was to leave Tasu heading toward the north end of Newcombe Inlet, cross some low terrain for two miles and then turn eastwards through a valley to Sewell Inlet en route to Alliford Bay. Just north of the turn-off to Sewell Inlet there is a valley leading northward into a box canyon where the terrain rises abruptly to 3,350 feet. The two valleys are similar in appearance and both have a creek and road following the valley floor. The Otter flew past the valley leading to Sewell Inlet and continued north into the valley leading to the box canyon and subsequently struck the side of the valley at 1,700 feet.

“The aircraft struck terrain in controlled flight in a climb configuration with the wings level. It was substantially damaged and the pilot and two passengers were killed”. In fact, the aircraft was completely wrecked, and the only part which was salvageable was the rear fuselage, which was later noted at the Viking Air facility at Victoria, BC, acquired for its frames and stringers.

History courtesy of Karl E Hayes from DHC-3 Otter: A History (2005)

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