43- C-GQDU

Serial Number






Year of Manufacture





 Lac Sebastien, Quebec




 Air Saguenay (1980) Inc


 2730, Rue Lasalle, Jonquiere, Quebec G7S 2A7

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This aircraft was the first US Army Otter, designated U-1A and registered as 52973. Delivery took place on 28th February 1955.
Formerly registered as N94472

Otter 43 was one of a batch of six Otters ordered by the United States Army, an “off-the-shelf” purchase as these aircraft were urgently required to assist in a topographical survey of Alaska. It had originally been intended to designate the Otter in Army service as the C-137, and these six Otters actually carried the C-137 designation on their Technical Data Blocks when delivered, the only Army Otters to do so. They were in fact designated YU-1-DH and allocated serials 55-2973/78 (painted on the aircraft as tail numbers 52973/52978). All six were painted in an all-white colour scheme with arctic red tails and wing-tips. Otter 43 was allocated tail number 52973.

The last of the batch of six, 52978, was handed over to the Army first, at a ceremony at Downsview on 25th January 1955 and training of Army personnel on the new type commenced at Downsview. Four more were handed over on 28th February '55 (52973, '974, '976 and '977) and the last one (52975) on 14th March 1955. On that day, there was an official ceremony of acceptance of the six aircraft at Downsview, after which all six set off together on their delivery flight to their unit, the 521st Engineer Company, part of the 30th Engineer Group. The six Otters flew across the country to their new base at Crissy Army Airfield, San Francisco which was located at the water's edge near the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

After a further period of training and familiarisation at Crissy AAF, the six Otters were flown to Alaska in two flights of three, in April 1955, routing first to Idaho Falls, then Great Falls, Montana-Edmonton, Alberta-Whitehorse, Yukon Territory to Ladd Field, Fairbanks, Alaska. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1955, these six Otters operated on floats north of the Brooks Mountain Range in northern Alaska, supporting the survey work. Main base was at Umiat with a secondary base at Kotzebue. As well as mapping and photographic work, the Otters were used to re-supply the field parties who were working with their helicopters out in the bush. At the end of September 1955, the Otters made the long return flight back to Crissy AAF, San Francisco. The following month, the 521st Engineer Company and its aircraft relocated to the Sharpe General Depot at Stockton, California.

That winter, the six Otters took part in various evaluation exercises, and during 1956 were used for survey work in the deserts of Arizona, California and Nevada. The operations of the 521st Engineer Company were scaled down during 1957, as its tasks were completed, and the unit was formally inactivated on 24th June 1958. Most of its Otters were transferred to other topographic units. It is not known to which unit 52973 was assigned immediately after the 521st Engineer Company, butby July 1961 it had joined the 12th Aviation Company when that unit arrived in Alaska, based at Fort Wainright, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Being one of the first six YU-1-DHs, 52973 had some minor differences from the standard Army U-1A Otter, which were noticeable when it sat on the ramp at Fort Wainright alongside the rest of the Company's aircraft, which were all U-1As. It had a Hartzell counterweight propeller, to be contrasted with the Hamilton Standard Hydramatic propeller of the U-1A. It had an angular pitot tube on the left wing, compared with the flowing curves of the pitot tube on the U-1A. 52973 continued to serve the 12th Aviation Company until August 1972, when it was transferred to the 568th Transportation Company, also based at Fort Wainright, with whom it was named “Ramblin' Rose”. The Otter flew for the 568th until September 1973, when it was passed on to the Fort Wainright Flying Club and registered N94472. As such, it continued to be available to aviators at Fort Wainright for the next three years, until it was transferred to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in November 1976. It was at Boeing Field, Seattle during April 1977, still painted in the Army's white/red colour scheme, being prepared for service with the CAP. It retained the registration N94472 and was assigned to the Rocky Mountain Region of the CAP in August 1977, based at Denver, Colorado. It served at Denver for more than a year, before being put up for sale.

The purchaser of the Otter was Sioux Narrows Airways of Winnipeg, to whom a provisional Certificate of Registration as C-GQDU and Flight Permit were issued on 28th February 1979. The ferry flight was from Denver, where the Otter had been based, to Calgary where the aircraft was refurbished. It was sold to Buffalo Airways Ltd and was rolled out of the hangar at Calgary after painting in Buffalo's green and white colours on 25th May 1979. It was formally registered to Buffalo Airways on 1st June and delivered out of Calgary two days later to the Buffalo Airways base at Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. That well-known bush aviator Buffalo Joe' McBryan and the other pilots of Buffalo Airways flew QDU until an incident on 16th February 1981, when the Otter force landed on an un-named lake in the Northwest Territories, after an engine fire and smoke in the cockpit.

After the damage was repaired, C-GQDU went to Sabourin Lake Airways (Sab-Air) of Cochenour, Ontario on lease who flew the Otter during the summer of 1981. It was then sold to Parsons Airways Northern Ltd of Flin Flon, Manitoba who operated QDU until the end of 1985. It then went to Aero-North Aviation Services (Athabasca Industries Ltd DBA) of Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan until June 1988 when it was registered to its new owners, Air Saguenay (1980) Inc of Chicoutimi-Lac St.Sebastien, Quebec. It was painted in their attractive red and white colour scheme and converted with the Polish PZL 1000 hp engine. C-GQDU is one of two Air Saguenay Otters converted with the PZL engine, the other being C-GLFL (329). The company found that although take-off distance and climb rate performance were dramatically increased, the maximum payload remained the same. Accordingly, the company's re-engining programme was limited to these two Otters. With Air Saguenay, QDU serves the Quebec bush country as part of its large Otter fleet.

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