An Article by Karl Hayes

Dear Editor,

It is an honour and a privilege for me to be an associate member of the Army Otter-Caribou Association (AOCA). As a civilian living in
Ireland, my only bond with other members is a shared interest in that wonderful old aircraft, the Otter (although I am also a great fan of the Caribou, I should quickly add). What I am trying to achieve is a History which will fully record the achievements of the Otter, and it has been a pleasure to communicate with some AOCA members on the project. I must again warmly thank all who assisted in the research by giving details of the aircraft they flew and maintained, units they served with and so forth. The "big picture" is far from complete, but we are slowly getting there.

The history of the Caribou is much better recorded than that of the Otter. If you look back through previous issues of LOGBOOK, despite some excellent and notable Otter articles, by far the majority are on the Caribou. There are a few books on the Caribou and Wayne Buser has his excellent website which lists every Caribou built and its history. In comparison, the poor old humble Otter fares very badly, and nowhere is there a list of Army Otters, which units they served, what became of them.

190 Otters flew with the Army and would it not be very worthwhile to have a record of the U-1A's Army service which AOCA members and all others interested in the Otter could refer to, and which would be a tribute to the Otter for posterity? Bear in mind that many Otters which flew with the Army are still flying, now in civilian hands, and serving the northern Canadian bush and remote regions of Alaska. It appears that no official records of this nature remain, so the only hope is to obtain this information from Army personnel who flew and worked with the U-1A. Could I therefore, before memories fade, ask for the help of AOCA and its members with this project. If members would send in (1) the units they served with, when and where (2) any tail numbers of Otters they flew, maintained etc they can recall (old photographs can be a great help here) (3) any aircraft lost in crashes etc (which thus records the fate of that particular Otter) and (4) any good old 'war stories' about the Otter they may have, this will be a huge help in completing the task. I hope members will agree that it is a task worth undertaking and that the end result will be a pleasure and useful reference source for all. Contributions could be sent to the Association's Editor, or I would be grateful to receive any, and working with the editor, the project could be successfully completed, and a List of Army Otters prepared for the Association.

My mailing address is:
Karl Hayes, Crakaig,
Killiney Hill Road, Killiney, County Dublin,

As it would be unfair to ask others to help with the project without doing something about it myself, perhaps members will be interested in what follows. I hope so.


Not many Otters have visited
Ireland, alas.  The first visit to Ireland occurred on 15 September 1961 when 53312 arrived at Dublin's Collinstown Airport from Mannheim, Germany. Operating unit unknown, but the Otter had been with the 3rd Aviation Company at Illesheim until that unit disbanded in 1960 and the aircraft was then assigned to Coleman Barracks. It brought in a skydiving team for a local airshow, but they were prevented from performing by violent westerly gales of wind! Hopefully however and Otter's crew and the skydivers enjoyed something of Dublin's hospitality.

In June 1963 there were two Otter visits in connection with President Kennedy's historical first Irish visit by a
US President. The visit was supported by a large number of Army aircraft, including 8 CH-34A Choctaw helicopters. On 19 June Otter 53278 of the 2nd Aviation Company arrived in Dublin from its base at Orleans, France and it remained until 21 June. On 26 June Otter 53277 also of the 2nd Aviation Company flew in from Verdun. Involved in the mopping up operation after the Presidential visit was 53294 which flew into Dublin from Gatwick on 1st July, leaving on the 3rd. One of these Otters to visit Dublin was flown by AOCA member Major Donald E. Atkinson who, all these years later, still recalls some of the detail:

"In June 1963 when President Kennedy visited
Ireland, our unit, the 2nd Aviation Company, was tasked to provide a guard detail, providing security for the President's fuel supply at Dublin. Our mission required two Otters, one of which I was assigned as a pilot. We flew up from Orleans, dropped our passengers, spent the night and about noon the next day filed IFR back to Orleans. It was a bitch of a day, rain coming down in sheets, wind out of the west, required about 45 degrees of crab to maintain track. We were cleared to 5000 feet, which we finally reached about the time we crossed the radio facility we had been cleared to in the south of Ireland. Turning east for Gatwick, we were running on automatic rough across the Irish Sea but that old Otter logged two hundred and five knots for that leg. Spent a couple of hours at Gatwick in the storm, crew chief changed plugs but we pressed home, still on automatic rough across the English Channel. The next morning we found the busted jug that had provided us the feeling that things were not just quite right with the airplane".

There was to be only one other Army Otter to visit Dublin, when 53279 flew in from Alconbury, England on 12 August 1963 on a navigation training flight, departing three days later, no doubt after some R&R. This Otter was flown by the 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, Sembach, Germany and had been visiting Alconbury in connection with the unit's photo-recce role. Having a few days to spare, the Otter crew sought diplomatic clearance for the flight, and spent a few pleasant days in Dublin before returning home via Alconbury. It was to be the last US Army Otter to visit Dublin. In fact, history will probably record it to be the last Otter ever to visit the Irish capital, as none has appeared in Dublin since!

I did not see any of these Otters, as I was away when they visited, but was told about them by friends. In
Europe, there are many "aviation enthusiasts" who look out for aircraft. My mother comes from Belgium, where I used to spend the summer holidays, and it was here that I saw my first Otter. It was Saturday, 5 August 1967, and I was staying in a small village in the heart of the Belgian countryside, which had one major attraction from an aviation enthusiast's point of view. It was right under one of Euope's most famous airways, the GREEN ONE, which started in Shannon, went across Ireland and England, over London and then down through Belgium and Germany and deep into Europe. It was a sunny afternoon, and I was indulging my interest in aviation, listening to my VHF radio and looking at the fascinating selection of aircraft flying overhead along the airway. In the early afternoon, on the Brussels Control frequency of 131.10 MhZ, a microphone switch was depressed and amidst the thunderous background roar of engine, the "ARMY 53279" announced it was passing over DOVER, level at flight level nine zero, and gave its estimate for the FIR with checkpoint WULPEN on the Belgian coast next. The Brussels controller cleared the flight to its destination on airway Green One, to maintain level nine zero. After passing WULPEN, the next checkpoint on the airway was at MACKEL, where I was waiting. What seemed like hours after the aircraft had first called on the frequency, the drone of the R-1340 engine could be heard, faintly at first, then quite a blare, resounding around the otherwise tranquil Belgian countryside as the Otter passed overhead. A U-1A at nine thousand feet altitude, seen from the ground, is not very large, but eventually I could see it, ambling slowly overhead in the hazy sunshine. The thought did occur to me that it was amazing something so small could make such a noise! It was however an unforgettable experience to see the Otter in flight, which remains vivid in the recollection all these years later.

At the time, nothing was known of this Otter, but amazingly more than 30 years later, the pilot of the Otter on that day was traced, and AOCA member Thomas J. Fetsch explained the background to the flight. 53279 was then still attached to the 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, Aerial Delivery Platoon, the same unit it was with four years previous when it visited Dublin. On 1st August the Otter had flown from its base at Sembach to Alconbury in
England. On 3rd August the Otter had positioned across to the USAF base at Upper Heyford and on 5th August it was flying from Upper Heyford back to Sembach, a flight of three and a half hours, when it was seen over Belgium. Such flights were usually flown on the airways, genuine IFR, as distinct from the "I Follow Roads" type of IFR used by Otter bush pilots!

After passing over checkpoint MACKEL, the Otter continued down the Green One, over points DENDER, GATTA, OLNO, crossing over the border into German airspace to SPANGDAHLEM and then turning south off the airway to track direct towards its base at Sembach. Otter 53279 did not stay in
Europe much longer. It was transferred to Vietnam, where it was based at Can Tho. It was one of the Otters passed on to Cambodia in 1971. One wonders where it is today?

My next sighting of an Army Otter came five years later, in March 1972. Word came to
Dublin that Otters had arrived at Shannon Airport, on Ireland's Atlantic coast, so I drove to see them. There were two, with civilian N numbers but still in Army olive drab colours, and their tail numbers could still be made out, 53287 and 53292. They had been withdrawn from Army service a few months previous and parked out in the open at Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany and looked somewhat the worse for wear after being under the elements for so long. At Shannon, ferry tanks were fitted for the long ocean crossing and they set off together, via Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland for their new careers as civilian aircraft in Canada. Over the next two months, six more ex-Army Otters followed. It was the ending of an era, the final Army Otter withdrawal from Europe.


This story shows what some research can reveal, on a topic that has been mentioned in LOGBOOK from time to time. The tail number of the Otter in question is believed to be 52974, but confirmation would be welcome. This Otter was delivered to the Army on
28 February 1955 and assigned to the 521st Engineer Company for survey work in Alaska. It then continued its topographical role with the 572nd Engineer Platoon, part of the 329th Engineer Detachment, based at Wheelus Air Base, Tripoli, Libya. On 4 January 1960, the Otter was flying from Wheelus Air Base to Bengazi with two en-route stops, returning surveyors to field locations. The Otter disappeared over the Gulf of Sirte and was never found. Standing orders for flights on this route were to follow the shoreline, even though it made the trip twenty minutes longer, as there were several wartime landing fields along the coast in case of emergency. A direct routing required a flight over 400 miles of the Mediterranean Sea and for part of the trip the aircraft would be 100 miles from the shore.

Giffen A. Marr was with the unit, and he now takes up the story:  "The three assigned Otters of the Platoon departed Wheelus early in the morning, to return our field crews to their mapping mission after the Christmas shutdown. The first Otter stopped at Misurata to drop off an Air Force sergeant at the Misurata NDB, maintained by the USAF. The other two Otters proceeded to the US Coast Guard station at Marble Arch where they dropped off mail and personnel. The first Otter passed them and elected to proceed direct (cut the corner over the
Gulf of Sidra) to Benghazi (Berka II), where we had a base camp. When the second and third aircraft reached Berka II they found the first Otter had not arrived. We deployed from Wheelus to Berka II and assisted the USAF in their Air Sea rescue mission. The following morning I was assigned to fly a Beaver to do a low level search of the coastline between Berka and Marble Arch. The next day I was assigned an H-23 at a search camp at Marsha Brega. I landed on the beach and we looked at some honeycomb aluminium. One piece was part of a USAF tow target and another was part of the cabin floor from the Otter. Also, lying on the sand there was the armrest from the "Lady Be Good".

Our maintenance officer had been to the Lady Be Good, the B-24 bomber which had crashed in the desert years before, and had removed one of the armrests from the aircraft to use as a model to add armrests to the Otters. Most of our flights were 5 to 6 hours and it would be a lot less fatiguing if there were armrests for the flights. He had built enough armrests along with the one from the Lady Be Good to fit all of our Otters. Do you believe in fate, or possibly a jinx?" This incident is mentioned in the "Lady Be Good" exhibit in the USAF museum at Wright-Patterson AFB,
Dayton, Ohio. The caption reads: "A seat armrest from the Lady Be Good was installed on a US Army Otter which crashed in the Gulf of Sirte with ten men aboard. No trace was ever found of any of them. One of the few pieces washed ashore was the armrest".

This in fact is the worst Otter crash ever recorded. In no other loss of an Otter has there been such heavy loss of life. The following is an extract from the history of the USAF's 58th Air Rescue Squadron, then based at Wheelus: "On
4th January 1960 at 1440 hours, the 58th ARS received a call from Army Operations that a US Army U-1A Otter, with one pilot and nine passengers was overdue at its destination Benghazi. The aircraft had departed Wheelus with en-route stops at Mizurata and Marble Arch and was last seen over the water heading towards Benghazi. At 1502 hours the first of two SA-16 Albatross and two SC-54 Skymasters from the 58th was airborne to begin a search for the U-1A. The first day of the search proved fruitless, as the rough seas, rainstorms and darkness hampered the search effort".

"On 5 January, the two SA-16s and three SC-54s of the 58th were joined by two Royal Air Force Shackletons, one C-47 and four Army aircraft to begin search at first light. An intensive search was made of the water area between Marble Arch and
Benghazi. the results of the second day of the search were again fruitless. On 6 January the two SA-16s and three SC-54s were joined in the search by twenty two aircraft, consisting of four SA-16s, two Shackletons, five C-47s, two B-57s, one L-23A and one L-19. These aircraft conducted an intensive search of an area twenty five miles off the coast to seventy miles inland, with the Army helicopters and light aircraft patrolling the coastline at an altitude of fifty feet".

"At 1656 hours debris was spotted on the coast and positive recognition of some locally manufactured parts as those installed on the missing aircraft. The mission was suspended 8 January at 2030 hours in view of the negative possibility of survival in the water under the existing conditions for more than 24 hours. The U-1A Otter carried no water survival gear other than the flotation seat cushions".


Perhaps the best way of categorising the Army units which operated the U-1A is as follows:


521st Engineer Company, Alaska
572nd Engineer Platoon, Libya (part of 64th Engineer Battalion)
329nd Engineer Detachment, Iran (part of 64th Engineer Battalion)
US Mapping Mission to Ethiopia
937th Engineer Company (IAGS), Panama


1st  Aviation Company, Fort Benning (formed initially as the 14th)
2nd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, moved to Germany, then France
3rd Aviation Company, Fort Riley, moved to Germany
12th Aviation Company, Fort Sill, moved to Alaska
17th Aviation Company, Fort Ord
18th Aviation Company, Fort Riley, moved to Vietnam
54th Aviation Company, Fort Ord, moved to Vietnam
57th Aviation Company, Fort Sill
110th Aviation Company/202nd Aviation Company, Italy (both part of SETAF)
146th Aviation Company, Vietnam (operated the RU-1A)
1063rd Aviation Company, Fort Riley.


Polar Research & Development Center, Fort Belvoir
Otter Transition School, Fort Ord
Army Aviation Test Board, Fort Rucker
Arctic Test Center, Fort Greely
White Sands Missile Range, Holloman AFB, New Mexico
Army Electronics Command, Fort Monmouth
Golden Knights Parachute Team
US Mission to Colombia, Bogota
Army Missile Command, Redstone Arsenal
52nd Aviation Detachment, Panama
72nd Electronic Warfare Company, Fort Huachuca
TATSA, Fort Rucker
Aviation Command, Special Warfare Centre, Fort Bragg 2nd Missile Command, Fort Hood (later moved to Fort Carson)
Transportation Research & Environmental Operation Group (TREOG) Fort Eustis
Alaska National Guard, Bethel, Nome and Anchorage
19th Aviation Battalion/222 Combat Aviation Battalion, Fort Richardson
Maintenance Depots (Stockton and Fresno, California and Fort Lewis, Washington)
HQ and HQ Detachment, 2nd Signal Group, Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam
7 Corps Flight Detachment, Stuttgart, Germany
503rd Supply & Transportation Battalion, Friedberg, Germany
504th Supply & Transportation Battalion, Furth, Germany
54th Transportation Battalion, Hanau, Germany
10th Special Forces Group, Bad-Tolz, Germany
2nd Military Intelligence Battalion, Sembach, Germany
591st Transportation Company, Illesheim, Germany
56th Aviation Detachment, Mannheim, Germany
US Logistics Group (TUSLOG), Sinop, Turkey

There may be many more. I am hoping members will be able to complete the picture.