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Pilot Brad Fritzler from NOAA takes you on a tour of a de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter.

Among other things, you’ll discover:

  • How NOAA pilots fly whale surveys.
  • What sort of photographic equipment they have on board and how it compensates for the speed of the aircraft.
  • How the Twin Otter’s internal 1250 lb. auxiliary fuel tank extends the aircraft’s endurance to about nine hours.
  • What NOAA pilots mean when they say they’re “mowing the lawn” on a survey.
  • How the NOAA Twin Otter’s “bubble windows” provide observers with an unobstructed view of almost 180 degrees around the aircraft, and how this lets them establish and maintain visual contact with whales—even directly under the aircraft.
  • How observers use marks on the bubble windows along with a GPS to determine a whale’s exact position.
  • What sort of survival gear is worn and carried on board the NOAA Twin Otter (including what equipment is in each life jacket).
  • How the flight crew uses two toy otters as a memory aid for fuel transfers.
  • The avionics NOAA pilots have at their fingertips (2 Garmin 530s, a Garmin MFD, a satellite phone built into the intercom, a Wulfsberg  UHF/VHF/Marine-band radio, and an HF radio).
  • How the fuel system works.
  • Why the NOAA Twin Otter’s PT-6 engines are flat-rated to 620 hp, even though they can technically produce 680 hp.
  • How the Twin Otter’s unique ceiling-mounted throttles and flap lever works.
  • The Twin Otter’s typical operating speeds, as well as its performance characteristics at slow survey speeds.
  • Why flying the Twin Otter feels like flying “a big Cessna.”

To learn more about what it’s like to fly for NOAA and how to get a job, check out our interview with Brad and Rob.

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7 Responses to “Aircraft Walkthrough: NOAA Twin Otter”

  1. D says:

    Great video.
    But there we go again: “It’s easy to fly”
    If it’s so easy to fly, they should lower the time requirements for pilots

    Obviously they’re looking for more experience (decision making, etc), but i’m just sayin’

    • Aidan Loehr says:

      The Twin Otter is a relativity simple plane to fly and forgiving of mistakes. I’ve noticed that flight time requirements tend to reflect availability of pilots as much as the the need for skill. Most pilots, low time included, can be taught to fly any plane. After all fighter pilots in WWII went into combat with less flight time then a Part 135 Air Taxi pilot needs to fly a C-207! The straight up control manipulation is not the main issue. As you mentioned, judgement is the main concern, and bunches of accident-free flight time is a good indication of at least some judgement.

      Insurance companies also dictate many of the minimums that airlines look for. Some, like Era in AK, work around with these issues by having low time pilots fly in the right seat of a Caravan. The apprentice builds time for the insurance companies, and the company gets to evaluate their judgment at the same time.


  2. Sandra says:

    aw man, just got furloughed from flying the “twatter” in the Caribbean. Memories, memories…

    Was my first airline gig out of flight instructing, island hopping in the Otter. Now I’ve been spoiled and am reluctant to go the traditional route (regional), which is why I am so glad to have run across your website!



  3. Eugene says:

    Hi Aidan! Thanks to talented Lane Wallace article I’ve got a link to the Oddball Pilots’ . It is real enjoy to follow you through stories,videos and comments. Very talented and very true! I am old(66) Russian test-pilot,retired at the moment. My background includes flying AN-12 cargo in Angola in far 1994 and 1996,where I met a friendly crew of C-130 Hercules,Emergency Response. They were great folk like me retired from Air Force and forced to earn money in far from peaceful country. We still keep in touch with Troy. I spent a part of earned money for study at Galvin’s for commercial ticket and instrument rating and even had lucky chance to fly C-185 radial float plane from Kenmore airbase. In 1993 I was flying IL-18 flying laboratory in Arctic for various missions including whale survey and measuring ice thikness for tourist ship release from ice trap So, your stories are very close to my heart.
    In spite of limited language practice I understand you and pilots talk rather well. Thank you again. Two years ago, I visited my old friends in Seattle area and resumed my ticket currency thanks to my old friend instructor Joe Bennett(over 80)help and generosity. I’ve flown his C-182 Garmin1000-from the left seat! to San Juan Island. Just before my departure I made true my old dream to fly Long Eze. If I be lucky dog to arrange my visit again this summer.it is very possible to fly with Joe to Alaska and see its wildness in personal
    Kindest regards and good luck
    Evgeny(Eugene) Maximov,EAA 794520

    • Mike Singer says:

      Hi Eugene. Thanks for the kind words!

      When Aidan and I were both working at Kenmore pumping gas in the early 1990s there was a blue radial engine Cessna 195 floatplane there. It was the first high-wing aircraft I had seen that didn’t have wing struts! I think that’s the one you mean (not a 185). A very nice-looking aircraft.

      Anyway, great to hear from you and hope you keep enjoying our site!


  4. Eugene says:

    Hi Mike,
    I am very glad to hear from you. The matter is that flying MS FSX broadens my aircraft range greatly and gives me chance to fly everywhere around the World. It seems,I belong to fraternity of folks hooked forever on love to flying .I know you was one of the fathers of the MS FS family. I’ve just opened a photo album to check up the Cessna floatplane in question. It’s appeared you are quite right: it is not radial. It is high-wing strut supported, fore seats,white with double red line along frame. I also had a look into my logbook and found out that there is no trace of that flight. Joe(my flight instructor) took me to the Kenmore one Sunday where his old friend has had his floatplane. When we arrived, he was float taxing to moorage after his flight with family to San Juan islands. It was all of sudden to me,when Joe showed me to the left seat. To be brief, we took off among the lot of motoboats and yachts(it was Sunday!) We even haven’t got our headsets. We headed to the Port Gamble’s isolated bay where did 4 approaches and water landing:three of them I did myself! The landing at Kenmore was challenging as well! The lake was full of water vessels. Where to land, Joe? He said me to hang on some feet above surface on the around the stall speed and wait! When the minor vacant place was beneath, we pull the throttle back to idle and literally dropped down! We had the right of way now.! When I went out from the office after a cup of coffee , I reveald the bird displayed on the apron with the tag on prop;”For sale” It was 1998. If I have had 150 tons!
    The same way, I was flying Cub at Boeing Field and Cessna-421 from Paine to BFI for repair and maintenance and then back in a week. It was VFR and I landed even haven’t knowing the approach speeds range.
    My friend Gold Instructor Joe(82) is in process of studying Beechcraft B-67 Dutchess now and says he’ll take me to Alaska someday! During 19 years my love and passion were the family of experimental aircushion based airplanes. They needn’t have any paved airfield. Their designer passed away 3 years ago along with the project.
    Kindest regards

  5. Remlap says:

    After 10+K Hrs operating these species around the Pacific, Asia, Africa, from sealed runways to 380mtr strips, from below freezing to +64 degs C:

    Yes they are easy to fly:

    This is not the issue, to put it where it is required consistently with finesse, and in inhospitable environments and extreme conditions is a different ball game:

    These machines where made for such conditions, they are robust, and are being made, because there is nothing else to replace them with, but themselves:

    The big mistake viking have made is to use the electronic flight displays, as this has reduced its remote repair ability, and its reliability:

    They are a slow low performance machine, with good handling qualities, they are a high performance machine in the right hands,(not talking about speed here)

    The Twin Otter is the best flying I have ever done, presently I am trying to get away from the King Air Super 200, while a good machine, goes high and fast, handles great, but working in the thing is always a fight with its shitty cockpit ergonomics:

    For PILOTS that love to fly, and enjoy flying and manipulation skills, you wont get past a Twin Otter on a multi sector, strip, mix of IFR/VFR procedures day:

    DHC-6, Best damn Aeroplane made, period.

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