The Twin Otter Goes Back into Production!

My favorite bush plane is being manufactured by Viking Air Ltd., 22 years after the last 19 passenger, two engine workhorse rolled off the production line, according to The rebirth of a Canadian icon (May 15, The Globe and Mail).

Back in the early 80s I flew as a passenger in almost every type of small plane then available for charter in the Northwest Territories. Depending on the season, they were equipped with skis, floats, balloon (tundra) tires or regular tires. We landed on water and on strips made of ice, snow, gravel or (occasionally) pavement. Here is a photo of my younger self on a sand strip in Rae Lakes. Now that was a short landing.

Rae 1982

Then why is the Twin Otter my favorite small plane?

Because two engines and two pilots make it safer.

During a flight to Inuvik with two colleagues over lake-dotted tundra in a four-seater, the single engine suddenly sputtered and choked. Not a good thing. The pilot franticly flipped switches as the rest of us gripped the armrests and grimly contemplated the prospect of a forced landing. The plane had balloon tires, but there was an awful lot of water down there. An eternity later the engine roared back to life.

The pilot had fallen asleep, unaware of a fuel tank gauge inexorably dropping to Empty. After he switched to the full tank in the other wing, all was fine. Except our nerves. Inuvik has a bar, and we headed straight for it.

With two pilots you’d think the odds are better that at least one stays alert. One dull winter day on a scheduled Twin Otter flight we were flying over an endless blanket of white snow dotted with what I presumed were trees. Suddenly I was pushed back in my seat as the plane steeply gained altitude. Those weren’t trees, they were bushes! Neither pilot had been monitoring the altimeter.

The new Twin Otters will be equipped with modern avionics. I recommend that those state-of-the-art electronics be programmed to monitor cockpit activity. When things get too quiet, the headsets should blare: “Wake up, wake up.”

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