Twin Otter – the supreme bush aircraft

Twin Otter – the supreme bush aircraft

Michael Duncalfe has been flying Twin Otters since 1998, clocking up over 6,500 hours in the process. MAF Partnership Manager – and resident aviation enthusiast – Olly Nunn asks him to share with our supporters why this aircraft is so special

Firstly, the Twin Otter aircraft is very good for high volume flying and high-weight loads – like building materials or large volumes of medical supplies. Because it’s burning fuel for two engines, it’s most efficient over relatively short distances.

Flights of anything more than 45 minutes are more economical with a Cessna Caravan. However, the Otter can carry a heavier load of up to 1,700kg or 20 passengers.

I enjoy flying the Otter immensely because it’s very stable and easy to fly – it cruises nicely at 180mph. And, when you need to transport 16-foot timber beams to the places we fly, there is not another aircraft on the planet that can do so. To me, it’s unsurpassed as a bush aircraft.

Secondly, the Otter is exceptionally good for short take-off and landing (STOL). This is vital when carrying out mission work and community development projects in remote areas where airstrips are very basic.

The shortest airstrip into which we fly the Otter is only 350 yards long. It does have a 14% slope though, which helps greatly with stopping.

When landing at the vast majority of our airstrips, setting the propellers to a kind of ‘neutral thrust’ – thus creating a lot of drag – is all that’s needed to slow the aircraft down. If you find that you’ve got more tail wind than expected, a little reverse thrust is sometimes needed. I can only think of one situation like that where I’ve had to use full reverse thrust in all the time I’ve been flying – that’s a lot of landings!

Because it can carry more than 14 passengers, the Otter is a two-crew aircraft – the Captain and First Officer need to work as an integrated team. Having two pilots helps with workload management and better situational awareness in busy environments.

The First Officer assists with monitoring the instruments, problem-solving and decision-making. In the unique flying environment of Papua New Guinea, all these things take a long time to master.

Finally – as its name suggests – the Twin Otter has the additional benefit of possessing two engines. This is very useful on the extremely rare occasions that one engine decides to stop!