An airplane that can go virtually anywhere, do anything, and operate in the most extreme weather—and that could sell for twice what you paid for it after 30 years—might sound like a fantasy. But the iconic DHC-6 Twin Otter, which de Havilland Canada produced, fits that description. It helped launch the commuter and regional airline industry in North America, remains the backbone of maritime coastal patrols for many navies, and serves the mining and oil industries worldwide. It lands on wheels, big tundra tires, straight floats, amphibious floats, and skis. Runways are optional. Nice flat surfaces of any kind are kid stuff. When it’s 60 below in Antarctica and some scientist needs to be medevaced, this is the airplane they send.
Of the 844 of these rugged twin turboprops that were built between 1965 and 1988, when production ended, 430 are still flying. The basic unrestored airframe is good for 66,000 hours or 132,000 cycles (one takeoff and one landing). The Twin Otter will basically live as long as you do—maybe longer.
In 2005, Viking Air of British Columbia purchased the assets of Bombardier’s Commercial Service Center, including the product-support and spare-parts business for the Twin Otter, allowing Viking to work directly with operators. In 2006 it acquired the aircraft type certificate from Bombardier; and it restarted production in 2010, rechristening the Twin Otter the “Viking 400” and incorporating more than 800 changes and improvements.
Some 115 Viking 400s have been delivered to date. They include more powerful 750 shaft horsepower Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 engines, robust Honeywell Primus Apex glass-panel avionics, and a modernized electrical system; air-conditioning and full de-icing systems are options. The base airplane is $7 million, but this is just the start.
“We look at this aircraft almost like an RV because we can go to so many environments—snow, water, sand, gravel, desert, or paved runways—and we can actually fit the interior to those environments,” says Rob Mauracher, Viking’s vice president. The 400 can pop off a runway and clear a 50-foot obstacle in less than 1,500 feet, and with auxiliary fuel tanks can stay in the air for nine hours; maximum cruise speed is 182 knots at 10,000 feet.
The cabin isn’t pressurized, but the airplane will climb to 25,000 feet, and supplemental oxygen is available for passengers and crew. The main cabin entry measures 50 by 56 inches, and the cabin dimensions are generous: more than 18 feet long, nearly five feet high, and more than five feet wide. (A Beechcraft King Air 350 cabin is nine inches longer but two inches shorter and 15 inches narrower.)
Standard utility seating in the 400 is for 19, but the wide cabin gives Viking and its completion-center partners enormous flexibility in fashioning solutions to meet customer requirements, including modular plug and play, mix and match, and quick-change interiors. For example, you can combine executive seats in the forward cabin with utility seats in the rear cabin or convert the rear cabin to haul cargo or motorcycles or serve as a medevac suite. Several seat styles are available with either rounded or squared backs and you can generally order the same furniture and fixtures you can buy for business jets, including sidewall tables and side-facing divans.
You can outfit the 400 with an airline-style forward or aft electrically flushing lav with an option for external service. A generously sized galley can be installed with microwave, hot jugs, hot and cold food stowage, and ample cabinetry. You can choose from two styles of air conditioning: the traditional type, which blows from overhead gaspers; or, for extreme climates, a system that cools the cabin more rapidly. Optional four-blade propellers can be combined with sound-dampening blankets to further quiet the cabin.
The standard cabin windows are tinted but shades can be optioned with VIP interiors. Because the 400 is a high-wing aircraft, however, shades are a relatively minor issue. Larger bubble windows can be ordered. LED lighting is standard throughout the cabin.
The Honeywell glass-panel avionics are virtually identical to what you’d find in a heavy business jet and are extremely capable. Mauracher explains that, given the 400’s long life expectancy, Viking wanted a supplier that would support and upgrade the system for 20 years and beyond. The avionics can be enhanced with XM weather, synthetic vision, a second radar altimeter, a high-frequency radio (suitable for long-distance communications), and a satellite communications/tracking system. For water operations, a float-mounted depth sounder with integrated cockpit display and a VHF-FM marine radio is available.
Beginning this year, Viking is offering a $5.995 million model 400S on straight floats (no wheels) with Honeywell VFR avionics, less-powerful PT6A-27 engines (620 shaft horsepower each), and a 17-place interior. The 400S will have special maritime use anti-corrosion features, including drains, seals, and protective coatings. Amphibious floats are available on the 400 and add slightly more than $500,000 to its base price.
Mauracher says the 400 has been extremely reliable, with a dispatch rate of 99.4 to 99.8 percent. Pratt & Whitney Canada supports the engines with a maintenance program that costs $91 per engine operated hour while Viking will cover brakes, tires, hydraulics, propellers, and just about anything else on the airframe for $300 to $400 per hour.
“This airplane basically is a truck,” Mauracher says. He’s right, but the 400 is so much more. It will take you to those rugged places few other airplanes can with a level of comfort and safety they are unlikely to match.