If you’re an aviation buff, or even if you have been watching the news, you may have noticed one of the more impressive aircraft rescues of recent times unfold this past week in the world’s southernmost continent. A pilot team flew to the Scott Antarctic base, to airlift out a pair of scientists who had taken ill over the course of the past month. Flying in the extreme cold and darkness of the endless night in the southern winter, such flights are typically not undertaken unless an emergency beckons.
The pair of aircraft chosen to perform this mission are extreme weather specialists, but they are not new to the scene. They were a pair of Twin Otters, a Canadian De Havilland design that dates back nearly fifty years. First flown in 1965, they proved themselves so adaptable to tough conditions and assignments that they were adopted all over the world.
Airlifts for Perth, and throughout Western Australia, are often dependent upon landing and taking from airstrips that are little longer than a cricket oval. They require powerful STOL aircraft (short takeoff and landing) that can fly in all weather conditions, and the Twin Otter suited these goals perfectly. A fleet of several dozen Twin Otters, under a variety of operators, made use of this aircraft for a wide variety of purposes, including airlift rescue and remote access, in WA and throughout the outback.
They are still in production today, although not by de Havilland – their production line was restarted under Viking Air, in 2006. Their place in Australian Search and Rescue has been mostly replaced by able helicopters, while their search-and-rescue capability has also been replaced, by German Dormier aircraft. However, they have found new life on these shores under private licensees, who make use of their payload and power capabilities to employ them for skydiving ventures. The Twin Otter retains its title as one of the toughest aircraft involved in airlift rescue and bush flying scenes around Perth, and looks unlikely to relinquish that crown any time soon.