It would be fair to say that Bob Ambrose can be called “Mr. Otter the Twins.”
But first, a little history.
Almost immediately after de Havilland Canada flew the new DHC-6 twin turboprop for the first time in May 1965, it was clear the company had a winner in its hands. The DHC-6 Twin Otter is a high-end movement of the vintage DHC-3 Otter single-engine 1950s DHC-3, which is an evolution of the slightly older DHC-2 Beaver.
The next 55 years have proven the wisdom of its design. Hundreds of Twin Otters inheritance still fly around the world, and that type has been given a new lease on life by Victoria, Viking Air Ltd. based in BC, which recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first flight of the next generation Series. 400 Twin Otter.
Viking launched the Series 400 program in 2007 after obtaining type certificates for the entire de Havilland line of Canada, from the respected Chipmunk DHC-1 trainer to DHC-7, better known as the Dash 7 commuter platform.
While the Series 400 continues to sell to the global market, there is no shortage of demand for the legacy version. This is a market that is very well known to Ambrose, having recorded more than 10,000 hours on Twin Otters out of a total career of 28,000 hours. As a pilot ranked flight transportation and president of Planes & Parts Ltd., based in Strathmore, Alta., His relationship with Twin Otters began shortly after de Havilland’s maiden flight.
“I flew No. 2 for about 1,500 hours.”
After obtaining his personal pilot license through Air Cadets in 1963 at the Calgary Flying Club, Ambrose was hired by Great Northern Airways (GNA), which is now out of operation in 1966, spending much of the Yukon winter as a “racer” on Douglas DC-3 Commercial licenses and drift vehicle support saw him fly in a forestry patrol from Whitehorse at Piper PA-18 Super Cub.
The twin engine and instrument ratings direct Ambrose to the Cessna 180 Skywagons, Beavers and Piper PA-23 Apache cockpit for the Airwest out of Vancouver, before the GNA leases it back to the North again.
“I jumped,” he said Sky in an interview from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he now spends most of his winter while still managing Planes & Parts remotely. “Flying on the beach is not for boys from the savannah!”
By early 1969, he had progressed from Otter to Otter and then had his first flight on the Twin Otter that May. “Within a few days, I was on my way to the Arctic Islands and was released upon arrival.”
Today, Planes & Parts – found online at www.worldwideferry.com – specialize in global Twin Otter shipments, including new Viking, and Beech turboprops. The high-duration ambrose contract pilot also has extensive experience in twin-piston engines as well as the Pilatus PC-6 single-engine Porter and Cessna 208 Caravan turboprop.
Ambrose said that he founded the company – which took root in 1986 – when he bought it around 1993. He had just completed an assignment as chief pilot with Kenn Borek Air based in Calgary, where his work included ferry flights to the Maldives, an increasingly tourist destination popular in the Indian Ocean. That was the days before the Internet and its flights involved many documents and fax messages. “You will send someone and rely on them to call once in a while about their location. Now, everyone wants to know every half hour.”
That experience sowed the seeds for Planes & Parts, where Twin Otter represented 80 to 90 percent of its business. The company’s website shows that all shipments are carried out at a “reasonable fee.” Asked how this was determined, because there must have been additions that appeared during the shipment, Ambrose said “everything is up front” so there were no problems. “We provide an all-in price that includes everything except aircraft damage, which is then at the expense of the customer.”
The company’s trusted reputation is due to the fact that it is not the least for recruiting the Ambrose crew. Dev Salkeld is a typical example. He is a former chief pilot and operations manager for Coulson Flying Tankers, where he also captains Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules and Martin Mars.
More than 27,000 hours of logging – including “Twin Otter time from way back when,” as Ambrose said – Salkeld can clearly fly almost anything, including vintage Stinson 10 Voyager and Chinese Nanchang CJ-6 and various Boeing and Airbus models, to mention just a few.
Last November, Salkeld was involved in shipping two new Viking Series 400s to Avmax Group Inc. based in Calgary to Chad in north-central Africa. Ambrose suggested Salkeld would be a good source of DHC-6 anecdotes, but, unfortunately, the 67-year-old Saskatchewan died later that day after a brief battle with cancer. He is “a very nice man,” Ambrose said.
Asked what characteristics are suitable for pilots for ferry work, Ambrose said they tend to “seek adventure” and he usually has no trouble finding people he trusts. Retired is the choice of choice.
“Sometimes a customer will tell us to be ready on a certain day and then we will know it won’t be ready then, so I should adapt to it. I have a few airlines that might have free time and they will call me. If they order a break and it doesn’t happen on the date specified, they can’t leave. “
In one case he related, a start-up carrier in the Maldives received delivery of seven aircraft purchased from several Canadian companies. But the new airline is having difficulty getting its operation certificate.
“The Maldives won’t even let them carry airplanes,” all of which are painted in their new style. In the end, Ambrose succeeded in combining everything and completing the shipment.
“It only comes in lumps, so there’s no point in trying to have a crew,” he said. “I’m good enough to always come with friends.” Having a full-time crew on your own cannot be done, given the sometimes cyclical nature of business. There was a “real break” last year when, starting in March and except for some small work, “we did not put [ferry] tanks on the plane until September. “
Twin Otter with a full ferry tank containing 1,000 additional US gallons can fly for 18 hours. Ambrose remembers flying about 2,100 nautical miles by co-pilot to Lima, Peru, from Easter Island in the remote East Pacific. Another time, he and a flight engineer flew to St. Maarten in the Caribbean from Cape Verde, about 2,300 nautical miles away from the coast of West Africa.
He admitted sadly that even though he had had a few small “crashes” a few years ago, including the landing at Havilland DHC-4 Caribou, “I never put ding on Twin Otter and never hurt anyone.” And even though he had never had a “real personal emergency,” he recalled that he had to get out of Hawaii for five hours on DHC-6 on his way to the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific when fuel control problems required returning to Honolulu.
One of his more challenging personal shipments involves getting North Cariboo Air’s DHC-6 at B.C. from Minnesota to Peru, where he will support oil exploration work. It was a “straight buoy” plane (eg no wheels), but despite doubts about not being able to land on a runway, Ambrose agreed to do so in about six hours running through Louisiana, Belize and Panama.
The first two legs went smoothly but the base in Belize did not have jet fuel, only diesel, which Ambrose knew from his Arctic experience burned well in Pratt & Whitney Canada turbines.
But on the approach to Panama, air traffic control clears them into the port city of Balboa. There, local sea police accused them of landing in a restricted area – the canal cruise line – even though there were no ships in sight.
The next morning, Ambrose was told not only that he was about to enter prison for landing there, but also that he should not refuel from drums transported by boat. It was finally resolved and after further “negotiations” with the port authority, he left for Iquitos, crossing the Andes near Cali, Colombia.
“Apart from a small problem in Panama, this trip turned out to be much easier than I expected,” Ambrose wrote in a log he shared with Sky. “But I don’t know if I’ll get permission to land in Panama again.”
Two days later he went to Kenya, one of the countless shipments that made business & part in business.
One of Ambrose’s many fans is Andy Cook, business development manager at Rocky Mountain Aircraft (RMA), based at Calgary Springbank Airport. Founded in 1982, the family-owned RMA owns between 20 and 25 of its Twin Otters that are leased at certain times for operations ranging from the tropics to the Arctic.
“In the past, we will try to do or arrange the ferries ourselves,” Cook said Sky, explaining that this often involves the use of RMA ferry tanks themselves. “Then we have a problem – do they end up in the wrong place or we can’t get it back. It becomes very expensive. “
He also recalled a “nightmare trip” with pilots who were basically foreigners. “We made several interesting phone calls at three in the morning. . . This is one of the advantages of dealing with Bob; the pilot kept us informed of developments in progress and if there were certain difficulties, they would ask for help. But they tend to be very independent about what they do. “
A ferry recently involved Twin Otters who were repatriated from Nigeria via Algeria, Majorca, Wales, Iceland and Iqaluit. The critical blood hot air mixing valve is not functioning, possibly due to the fact that the aircraft has been idle for some time, and Cook’s personal contacts cannot provide a replacement.
Ambrose has a contact in Switzerland that has one, but before it can be sent, “Bob’s men found an improvement and so we were not held back. Having a pilot who can think on the run really helps and that is Bob’s specialty.”
So are Ambrose and the pilots “people who like” RMA?
“I think you will find that they are the people most visited,” Cook answered. “When we deal with new customers, we will always recommend them.”
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