DHC-3 Otter provides Canadian content at the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum

By Gord McNulty

U.S. Navy de Havilland Canada NU 1B Otter at the National Naval Aviation Museum Pensacola Gord McNulty

U.S. Navy de Havilland Canada NU-1B Otter at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola (Gord McNulty)

A de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, designated the NU-1B in U.S. Navy service, held a distinctive place for me as the only Canadian-built aircraft on display on a recent visit to the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida. The beautifully restored Otter was among 13 examples that were bought by the U.S. Navy following the lead of the U.S. Army, which procured the Otter, designated the UC-1, in 1951 because of its ruggedness and ability to lift a large amount of cargo from makeshift fields.

The navy employed the Otter to support Operation Deep Freeze in the harsh environment of Antarctica. The Museum states that Otter 144672 (c/n 160) on display was one of three destined for transport in 1956 to the Weddell Sea area, bordering the northern coast of the Antarctic. During nine years of service with the Air Development Squadron (VX) 6, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Quonset Point, Rhode Island, Otter 144672 spent the majority of its time flying over the ice-covered landscape hauling cargo in support of scientific field parties. Some missions landed as long as 10 hours. Otter 144672 (c/n 160) and the two other Otters sent to the Weddell Sea were disassembled and packaged in crates. On 9 November 1956, the aircraft departed Davisville, Rhode Island, on board the attack transport Wyandot (AKA-92) for the long voyage south.

Entering the Antarctic Circle in mid-December, the ship plowed its way through 1,600 miles of ice-covered waters before finding a suitable site for a base on 27 January 1957. Once “ashore,” members of VX-6 went about the business of assembling their crated aircraft. A suitable landing field was marked by using barrels. Once assembled, the aircraft began flying over the ice, with one pilot likening the Otter to “a single-engine PBY.”

It proved to be a difficult winter for the aircraft. When flying weather returned, and the Otters were dug out of the snow, the personnel of VX-6 discovered two had been severely damaged. Luckily, 144672 needed only a replacement wing. One of its sister aircraft was a total strike. In October 1957, the Museum’s Otter was ready to support Operation Deep Freeze.

The Museum’s aircraft remained with VX-6 until 1965, when the navy changed the designation to NU-1B. After serving in various capacities at Naval Air Test Center (NATC) Patuxent River, Maryland; Naval Air Test Facility (NATF) Lakehurst, New Jersey; and the Pacific Missile Range (PMR) Point Mugu, California, the well-travelled Otter was donated to the Museum in 1975. When Hurricane Ivan hit the Pensacola area in 2004, this aircraft was tied down on outdoor display. It was the aircraft that was most heavily damaged by the hurricane’s high winds. Two years of extensive restoration work were completed in 2007, making the Otter another fine example of the outstanding collection on display at the Museum.