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Above: A Columbia Helicopters Chinook Model 234 lands in Pecos, New Mexico. Columbia is the only civilian operator flying the Chinook helicopter. Columbia Chinooks average about 1,000 flight hours per year.

Opposite: A Columbia Helicopters Chinook Model 234 is shown logging in Malaysia. Columbia operates three configurations of Chinooks (utility, long range and combination versions). The maximum certificated lifting ability for these aircraft is 28,000 pounds.

Photos: Courtesy of Cloumbia Helicopters, Inc.

the idea of heli-logging. Construction jobs continued to become more and more of a staple of Columbia’s busi- ness. Columbia purchased a Bell 204-B capable of lifting 3,000 pounds and then a Sikorsky S-58 capable of lifting 4,000 pounds. With these additions to its fleet, lifting heavier and more complex loads became possible. Under Wes Lematta’s guidance, Columbia quickly put itself at the front of the helicopter construc- tion and heavy lift industry.

The year 1966 was especially bad

for forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. Wes and his brother Jim were discussing how another helicop- ter operator was using belly pans on the bottom of its helicopters to drop


water. The process was slow due to the fact that the helicopters had to repeat- edly land and get water pumped into the pans. They quickly realized that by using their 200 gallon concrete buck- et on an external line they could dunk the bucket in a pond or stream and fill it up quicker than a belly pan. They rigged the concrete bucket’s clam shells doors to a hydraulic line to allow the pilot to control the doors, con- nected the bucket to the S-58 and began fighting fires, a job that Columbia still does to this day. In 1967 Columbia purchased a brand new Sikorsky S-61 at a cost of over $500,000. Wes Lematta went out on a limb financially with this purchase but he was sure that there would be a


market for the lifting capability of this aircraft. The S-61 was the most pow- erful helicopter available at the time and had two 1,500 horsepower tur- bine engines capable of lifting 8,000 pounds at sea level or 4,000 pounds at 12,000 feet. Jim Lematta quickly put the S-61 to work on construction line jobs high in the Rocky Mountains. The increased payload of the S-61 allowed Columbia helicopters to develop a 900 gallon fire bucket. The acquisition of the S-61 was already proving to be a good investment when in 1971 it opened the eyes of an entire industry to the utility of the helicop- ter. That year Wes partnered with another future helicopter pioneer named Jack Erickson. Wes and

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