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ROTORCRAFT PIONEERS


WES


LEMATTA FOUNDER OF COLUMBIA HELICOPTERS


BY BRAD MCNALLY


In 1957, Columbia Helicopters started with one helicopter flying prima- rily in Oregon. That first year the com- pany grossed $20,000. Forty years later the company grossed $100 million (Bernstein, 2009). Today Columbia Helicopters employs 700 people and has over 20 helicopters operating around the world. The story of how Columbia Helicopters grew to be one of the pre- mier heavy lift and heli-logging compa- nies, operating the world’s only com- mercial tandem rotor helicopter fleet starts with its founder Wes Lematta. Glenn Wesley “Wes” Lematta was born in Ellendale, ND in 1926. His grandfather had immigrated to the


United States from Finland settling in North Dakota where the family started a farm. When Lematta was eight years old the economic hardships caused by the Great Depression coupled with the decline in farming associated with the Dust Bowl forced his family to move west. The Lematta family ended up in a small town called Brush Prairie near Vancouver, Washington. From an early age Wes Lematta displayed an enterpris- ing spirit and a sense of determination that would later become trademarks for his company. One of Lematta’s first jobs was picking fruit in local orchards.


By


the time Wes was fourteen he had left school, only finishing the eighth grade,


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