Columbia Helicopters

Columbia Helicopters, Incorporated (CHI) is an aircraft manufacturing and operator company based in Aurora, Oregon, United States. It is known for operating tandem rotor helicopters; in present times, exclusively the Boeing Vertol 107 and Boeing Vertol 234. These helicopters are used in stream restoration and forestry including heli-logging, aerial firefighting, oil exploration, construction, government support, film production, disaster response and many other activities. In addition the company operates a large FAA repair station supporting customers around the world.

Columbia Helicopters, Inc
Founded1957, Portland, OR
HeadquartersAurora, Oregon, U.S.
Key people
Wes Lematta, founder
Stan Wilson, Chairman of the Board
Steve Bandy, President & CEO[1]
ProductsCommercial helicopters
Columbia Helicopters, New Zealand, LTD
Columbia Helicopters, Inc. Boeing 234 N245CH (left) and Boeing Vertol 107 C-FHFW (right) rest on the company pad in Aurora, Oregon.


Founding and early daysEdit

Columbia Helicopters was founded on April 24, 1957 by Wes Lematta with a single Hiller 12B helicopter. With help from his brothers, he supported his young company with many odd jobs ranging from carrying Santa Claus to trapeze acts. He performed most of his flying on the weekends while still working as a truck driver during the week.

Lematta gained great notoriety on September 15, 1957 by rescuing 15 sailors from a sinking dredge near Coos Bay, Oregon. For his heroic actions the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded him the Army Air Medal.[2][3]

Direct Visual Observational ControlEdit

After purchasing the more powerful Hiller 12E, Lematta began to operate more lift jobs. One of these large jobs was working on the John Day Dam on his company's namesake, the Columbia River. Here Lematta began performing precision lift jobs by using a longer than average cable. The concept was that the pilot could lean out the side of the aircraft and see directly where the load would be placed. A few years later, Wes' brother Jim was flying a Sikorsky S-61 in the Colorado Rockies. He was so cold he was forced to land. To fill the need for an enclosed cockpit, Columbia developed the first pilot bubble window.[2][3]

"First in Heli-Logging"Edit

Jack Erickson, of Erickson Air-Crane fame, and Lematta were able to demonstrate the first financially successful run of helicopter logging, or "heli-logging", in 1971. This was done with Lematta's Sikorsky S-61, registration number N318Y, on a U.S. Forest Service log sale near Taylorsville, California in the Plumas National Forest. The following year the 107s were used.[4] Since the project used Lematta's helicopter and Erickson had purchased the timber, both Columbia Helicopters and Erikson Air-Crane claim to be the first successful "heli-loggers".

Another unusual feat was pulling a hoverbarge on snow, ice and water in 1982.[2][5]

Type certificatesEdit

As of December 15, 2006 Columbia Helicopters had purchased the type certificate of the Model 107[6] and Model 234[7] from Boeing. Currently[when?] the company is seeking FAA issuance of a production certificate (PC) to produce parts, with eventual issuance of a PC to produce both aircraft.

In popular mediaEdit

Columbia Helicopters' Kawasaki Vertol KV-107 II, painted in a special grey paint scheme, at Fox Field

Columbia Helicopters aircraft have appeared in several motion pictures:


Columbia currently operates eight Boeing-Vertol Model 234s and 14 Boeing-Vertol 107-IIs tandem rotor helicopters. Many of the latter were obtained from New York Airways. In addition to the flying fleet, in 2005 CHI purchased eight surplus Canadian Forces CH-113 Labrador helicopters for fleet expansion.[9] For fleet support CHI operates a Beechcraft 200C Super King Air.[10] When the 234s operate internationally, five containers are used for support tasks.[11]

Columbia's past fleet includes the Hiller 12B, Bell 47-G2, Hiller 12E, MD 500, Sikorsky S-58, Sikorsky S-61 and Sikorsky CH-54.[12]

In October 1991 Columbia Helicopters bought four Boeing Vertol 107II-14s from the Swedish Government, all formerly operated by the Swedish Air Force as the HKP 4A.

In December 2012 Columbia bought four Boeing Vertol 107II-14s (originally Swedish Air Force HKP 4As, modified from 1988 to 1991 to Swedish Navy standards as HKP 4Ds), two Boeing Vertol 107II-15s (HKP 4Bs) and four Kawasaki KV-107IIA-16s (HKP 4Cs) from the Swedish Government, all ten formerly operated by the Swedish Navy.

In 2014, Columbia bought five US Army Chinooks for utility service, as they are not allowed to carry passengers.[13]

Wes Lematta Field at Aurora State AirportEdit

On May 26, 2009, the Oregon State Legislature passed a resolution identifying Columbia's home airport as Wes Lematta Field at Aurora State Airport.[14][15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Aviation industry exec to lead Columbia Helicopters". Portland Business Journal. November 11, 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Happy birthday to Columbia Helicopters! Oregon-based company celebrates its 50th anniversary" Vertical (magazine), 18 April 2007. Retrieved: 24 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Columbia Helicopters Celebrates its 50th Anniversary". 2007-04-17. Archived from the original on October 8, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-02. Retrieved 2011-06-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "The hover barge" Archived February 13, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Columbia Helicopters. Retrieved: 24 August 2012.
  6. ^ "Type Certificate Data Sheet No. 1H16" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. 2007-01-17. Archived from the original (.pdf) on 2020-02-19. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  7. ^ "Type Certificate Data Sheet No. H9EA" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. 2007-01-17. Archived from the original (.pdf) on 2007-06-14. Retrieved 2007-02-08.
  8. ^ Straight Up: Helicopters in Action
  9. ^ "Columbia Helicopters Acquires eight CH-113 Labrador helicopters from Canadian military". RotorHub. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2010.
  10. ^ N111NS on
  11. ^ Huber, Mark. "Erickson and Columbia: Keeping The Big Blades Flying" AINonline, 5 October 2014. Accessed: 18 October 2014.
  12. ^ Columbia Helicopters Website: Company History Archived 2009-01-23 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2008-12-12.
  13. ^ "Columbia Helicopters Adding Army Surplus Heavy Lift Helicopters" Aero-News, March 30, 2014. Accessed: April 18, 2014.
  14. ^ Oregon Legislature Renames Aurora State Airport in Honor of Wes Lematta Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Senate Joint Resolution 8 Archived 2011-06-11 at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit