It all started by selling helicopter rides at county fairs. Looking back over 40 years, it is interesting to realize that one of the world's largest heavy-lift helicopter companies had such a humble beginning.
Columbia Helicopters, Inc. was founded by Wes Lematta in April 1957. Following service in WW II, Wes used the GI Bill to complete flight training. With the assistance of his brother Eddie, Wes purchased a used Hiller 12B, and the fledgling company came to life. Today, Columbia Helicopters has expanded to include a world-wide fleet of over 30 aircraft and approximately 800 employees.
Columbia's fleet began to expand in 1959 with the purchase of a second helicopter, a new Bell 47-G2. The addition of a third aircraft, a new Hiller 12E, followed in 1960. During this year, the company received a contract to place wood poles for power lines. This job provided an opportunity for Wes to try out a new method of external load placement--using a long attachment line and leaning out of the left side of the helicopter to look directy at the load and placement site. This technique, the Direct Visual Operational Control (or DVOC) proved successful, and has become the accepted method of safe, precision cargo placement by operators world-wide. Columbia Helicopters continued to grow during the 1960's, buying larger helicopters such as the Sikorsky S-58 and S-61. However, the greatest change to the company came in 1969 with the purchase of three Boeing Vertol 107-II's from Pan Am. These aircraft immediately went to work on construction projects, and on oil exploration support in Alaska's North Slope oil fields.
The addition of these aircraft was the basis for Columbia's development of helicopter logging. Wes had proved helilogging was feasible using a Sikorsky S-61 in 1971, and when the Vertols became available in 1972, the company began to log with them. Columbia has since become the world leader in helilogging, annually yarding more timber than any other company