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COLUMBIA VERTOLS, A TWIST OF FATE


Columbia Helicopters’ fleet began humbly when its first helicopter, a used Hiller 12-B was purchased in New Mexico. After only two years in business, Lematta made good on his earlier intent to have more than one helicopter by purchasing a new Bell 47 G2 for $40,000 in 1959, and a Hiller 12-E shortly thereafter. Several years later, the demand for more lifting capacity surfaced, which caused the company to add more capable workhorses to the fleet like the venerable Sikorsky S58 and S61.


Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the company’s history, which would forever change Columbia Helicopters’ trajectory, came with the introduction of Vertol tandem-rotor helicopters to the fleet. This pivotal moment however, was less about planning and more about an amazing opportunity that was born out of a combination of chance and tragedy.


A brief look back on history reminds us that from December 1965 to February 1968, New York Airways (NYA) operated Boeing Vertol 107-II (BV-107) tandem-rotor helicopters from the Pan Am rooftop helipad to Pan Am’s terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Unfortunately for NYA, one of the helicopters crashed on the Pan Am building, which was the impetus for the company going out of business.


Shortly thereafter, several of the NYA BV-107s were put up for sale. Fortunately for Lematta, and the future of Columbia Helicopters, a very persuasive Sikorsky salesman convinced Wes that the BV- 107 would be perfect for his business. Subsequently, a deal was struck to purchase three of the helicopters that would become the backbone of Columbia’s fleet and propel it to become a global leader in heavy-lift operations.


54


Mar/Apr 2017


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