The de Havilland Twin Otter

Most people don’t associate planes with Canadian history, but one line of aircraft, the de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, has gained international repute. Besides opening the harsh Canadian North to frequent travel, the Twin Otter has been indispensable in remote rescue operations worldwide.


It is no surprise then, that a retired Twin Otter will soon find its permanent home in Calgary’s Aero Space Museum.


"The Twin Otter we have was the number two Twin Otter made in Canada," said the Aero Space Museum’s Michael Stephensen. "It has been to the North Pole more times than any other aircraft in the world."


The number two Twin Otter was the second plane produced by de Havilland’s Downsview plant in Toronto. The first airplane was never used and is currently on display at the National Aerospace Museum in Ottawa.


After its maiden flight on June 7, 1966, the aircraft was acquired by Air Commuter to serve as the first short take-off and landing aircraft in the United States. Two years later, it was acquired by PanArctic Oil Limited in Canada, and ten years after that it was purchased by Kenn Borek Air which flew it to both poles on numerous missions. In April 2001, they used a pair of Twin Otters to evacuate Dr. Ronald Shemenski from the U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, a feat that made international headlines.


"The Twin Otter is historic to Canada. The big thing about the de Havilland Twin Otter is that it is a modern Canadian version of the bush plane," said Stephensen. "It was designed for the Canadian bush and they are very good in flying in very bad weather and conditions."


de Havilland Twin Otters, which can be equipped with floats or skis in addition to wheels, have been used all over the world since the 1970s. In the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both use Twin Otters as research platforms. Last month, a Twin Otter was used to rescue British polar explorer Pen Hadow from an ice floe near the North Pole.


The heavy duty cycle experienced by number two Twin Otter in 37 years of service has worn out its air frame–making it unsuitable to fly.


In recognition of the unique history of the number two Twin Otter, it has been designated a piece of Canadian Cultural Property, owned by all Canadians.


Don Matthews, Chair of the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, is enthused about receiving the number two Twin Otter.


"This is indeed a unique acquisition for the Aero Space Museum," Matthews said. "The Twin Otter has played a key role in the exploration and development of Western Canada and the north. We are thrilled the Borek family has chosen to contribute this aircraft to our museum, it adds a wonderful new element to our collection of Western Canadian aviation history."


During Aviation Days on June 14, Mrs. Rosella Borek will formally make the donation to the Aero Space Museum, something the late Kenn Borek could not witness due to his tragic death along with his daughter in a car accident last year.


According to Stephensen, this is the first donation of an aircraft to the museum by the Boreks, who have helped the museum with a long history of support.


"The Borek family has been a real patron of this museum," Stephensen said. "They felt the importance of a museum dealing with Western Canadian aviation and have helped us repeatedly over the years. They’ve taken us under their wing."


Despite the Boreks’ generous contribution and the attention it is receiving, Stephensen says that more needs to be done to engage youth in Canadian air history.


"I kind of liken it to the situation with the [Royal] Canadian Legions. Many of them are failing because they haven’t got the young people to support it," said Stephensen. "We want people to know that the Aero Space Museum isn’t just an old boys club, or a resting place for derelict old air planes."


Stephensen notes that the Aero Space Museum seeks people of all ages, especially youth, who are willing to participate and contribute to the museum, and offers programs to do just that.

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