Viking Air sends Twin Otter to Canada north to mark anniversary

Iconic Twin Otter, now being built by North Saanich's Viking Air, has been in the air since 1965.

It was 1965 and the first official Canadian flag was flown over the houses of Parliament. That same year saw the maiden flight of yet another Canadian icon — the Twin Otter.

The aircraft mirrors the toughness and resolve of the country where it is made, as well as its knack for survival (but more on that later).

That’s why Viking Air will be honouring the shared anniversary of the Canadian Flag and the Twin Otter aircraft by recognizing the aircraft’s unique Canadian heritage through a special 50th anniversary celebration tour. It will see Twin Otters travelling to communities in Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon. The tour, starting July 1 as part of the City of Victoria’s Canada Day celebrations, will see a fleet of Viking aircraft fly over the traditional “living flag” on the lawn of the British Columbia legislature.

The aircraft will then depart for a two-and-a-half week flying tour of Canada’s North. Viking pilots and dignitaries, along with a documentary film crew, will leave Victoria and head to Yellowknife in two planes, including a Series 400 Twin Otter demonstrator affectionately known as “Viki.”

The team will stop at 13 different northern communities and locations, including Canadian Forces bases in Eureka and Alert.

Sherry Brydson, chairman of the board of Westerkirk Capital, and her partner Rob McDonald, will also take part in the 17-day northern tour.

“The 50th Anniversary Celebration Tour is a way for us to pay tribute to the Canadian north and thank the valued pilots, passengers, owners, operators, mechanics and engineers who have contributed to the Twin Otter’s success,” Brydson said. “We hope to hear and document some of the unique and historic stories of residents who have been served by the Twin Otter since its first flight in 1965, and we’re really looking forward to meeting people across the north with Twin Otter tales to share.”

At 11 of the scheduled tour locations, a small celebration ceremony will be held at the local airport to recognize both the plane and the Canadian flag. In each of these communities, residents will be invited to view the Twin Otter Series 400 aircraft, share Twin Otter stories, and sign a wing rib for the 100th Viking production aircraft, scheduled to be built in 2016.

“We welcome all Twin Otter enthusiasts to join us at one of the scheduled celebrations and become part of the ongoing legacy of this remarkable aircraft, said David Curtis, Viking president & CEO.”

The Twin Otter is, by all accounts, a remarkable aircraft. It flies the most daunting routes in the world, from ice covered polar regions, to scorching deserts and soaring mountain ranges. In 2001 it was a twin otter and a Canadian crew that made history by flying a rescue mission to the South Pole, landing in darkness in response to a medical emergency.

Viking has sold Series 400 Twin Otter aircraft into 27 countries. Viking manufactures the aircraft at their North Saanich and Calgary facilities.

But in some ways, it’s the very survival of this tough little plane that deserves a celebration. The aircraft nearly met its demise in 1988 when De Havilland, who had created the plane, manufactured its last one. It wasn’t until Viking stepped up in 2008 to revive the Twin Otter that manufacturing resumed. It required Viking to track down de Havilland retirees for information and to scan surviving Twin Otters so that parts could be exactly reproduced. In October of 2010 the first Series 400 Twin Otter took flight.

While much of the aircraft, including the wings, is constructed at the 7,800-square-meter plant at the Victoria International Airport, parts are sourced from suppliers in Kansas, Arizona, Lethbridge and Fort Erie.

— by Tim Collins, News contributor