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Her name was Gypsy Rose. I’ll be honest: the first time I saw her, I was struck by her odd appearance (odd like when you see a man or woman and can’t decide if you find them attractive or simply fucking strange looking) and more than a little intimidated.
Coming from Skydive Las Vegas, where I had made all of my skydives up ‘til then out of a stripped down Cessna 206, Gypsy seemed huge, ungainly and, oddly enough, claustrophobic. It was my 27th skydive, and I was crammed somewhere in the middle of Miss Rose, not able to see outside with the exception of a glimpse or two over the shoulders of jumpers sitting next to the windows. I felt cramped, I felt trapped and leaning sideways for the whole ride up was killing my ass! I didn’t like it at all and I was thrilled to get out of her!
Truth be told, it took quite a while for me to warm up to the Twin Otter. Gypsy Rose in Perris had taken my virginity and done so in what I considered a pretty brutal way. It was consensual yes, but consensual in the same way that a six-shots-deep college girl agrees to try anal; once it’s in, it doesn’t seem like such a great idea. Within the first 3 jumps out of her I had my first malfunction, a broken leg and a landing on said broken leg on the next load. Like I said, anal. Shark Air, my second Twotter wasn’t quite as … intimidating, but it still made me nervous in a way I can’t quite explain.
The third Otter I jumped out of was the Skydive Las Vegas Otter, which only flew on the weekends. By the time I finally had a weekend to go jump it, I had almost 100 jumps, and the Otter was—if not growing on me—at least not freaking me out. By the time I left Skydive Las Vegas for a full-time turbine DZ, I had, like most jumpers in Vegas, enjoyed the Otter jumps but was still more comfortable in the good ol’ 206.
It took Cross Keys’ fleet of red and white checkered Otters (and Skyvan) to make me fall in love with the Twotter. Out there, the only time you found yourself in the 206 was early on a Tuesday morning if you were part of “Swoop Club,” and the Otter, being the most efficient and capable aircraft they had, was by far the preferred jump ship. It really was the only aircraft out there capable of making sure you could crank out 25 tandems a day before the sun went down—filling your bank account while beating your body to shit! Hanging under a tandem canopy watching the Otter in the loading area, knowing you had to be on it but still had 1,000 feet to go, was fucking BRTUAL! But hey, it did the job amazingly. I was starting to become, dare I say it, an Otter fan …
Then I fucked up. I mean I really fucked up. I became a pilot.
Then I fucked up even worse, and became a jump pilot, almost guaranteeing I would be viewed maybe a half step above a barnstormer in most aviation circles. But it was back to the Cessnas for a long time, and then even longer in my first true turbine love, the PAC 750XL … It was the 2,000 hours I managed to put into that particular type of aircraft that got me my first shot at flying an Otter, and damn …
“So the contract would be from the beginning of December until the beginning of our season back here in Chicago if you decide you want to go.” My answer was pretty flat and honest. “Look, let’s make sure I can actually fly an Otter first, before we decide if I’m gonna fly yours to Mexico and stay for the winter!” Three minutes into my first ever solo flight (with jumpers of course) in an Otter and I had radioed down to the boss saying, “Yep, I’ll go to Mexico!”
I flew almost 4,000 hours in her, my first Otter, and I loved her dearly. I washed and waxed her every week, worked with the mechanic regularly, crossed the U.S. many times with her, slept in her, got laid in her, flew other people around in her while they got laid, etc … But it wasn’t until I left the sport and went to Seaborne Airlines in the Virgin Islands before I got real, solid proper training in Otter systems, and simulator flight training. It was a real fucking eye opener, and it’s when I truly fell in love with the aircraft. Oh man, what these birds can do!
“Development of the Twin Otter began in 1964, with the first flight on May 20, 1965. A twin-engine replacement for the single-engine DHC-3 Otter retaining DHC’s renowned STOL qualities, its design features included double-slotted trailing-edge flaps and ailerons that work in unison with the flaps to boost STOL performance. To bush operators, the improved reliability of turboprop power and the improved performance of a twin-engine configuration made it immediately popular. In 1968, Series 200 production began with serial number 116. In 1969, the Series 300 was introduced, beginning with serial number 231. Both aircraft performance and payload were improved by fitting more powerful PT6A-27 engines. PT6A-34’s would soon become available as well … ”
As a pilot I’ve never been in an aircraft that performs all-around as well as an Otter, or one designed around the pilot and ease of operation better than the Twotter. To put it in more “Fuckin’ Pilot” type language, flying from the left seat of a Twin Otter is simply a joy. It’s like when you have some solid spare time to yourself, the computer screen is faced just the way you like so there’s no glare, the lotion (or preferred lube, perhaps coconut oil) is easily within reach of the hand to do the job, the mouse (or track pad) is easily usable without being intrusive, and the tissue (goo glove) is right where you need it, so no matter how fast or slow, it’s right there when things get messy.
In the Otter, everything is easily within reach, usually without ever having to look, allowing maximum concentration on the job at hand, which in this case is flying a 12,500-pound aircraft full of your friends and co-workers. It is, in my humble opinion, the greatest aircraft in our sport, and I cannot even begin to imagine one that will surpass it in ease of flight, or capability in its work. I went from fearful and intimidated to respectful to full of enjoyment and then head over heels in love, and can happily say that the Twin Otter is my girl. She’s got my heart for life!
So, if you can, go get you some Twotter lovin’! I know I will!
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