Columbia Helicopters Relies on Self-Sufficiency

As the only commercial operators of the Columbia 234 (formerly the Boeing 234) and the Columbia 107 (formerly the Boeing 107), Columbia Helicopters, Aurora, OR has a history of pioneering lifting techniques and revolutionizing helicopter features. From the company’s beginning in 1957 when founder Wes Lematta began with a single helicopter performing precision lifting using longer than average cables, the company today is a world leader in commercial heavy-lift helicopter operations.  With global customers for their tandem rotor aircraft in oil exploration, heli-logging, fire suppression and construction has come the need to maintain the equipment in remote areas. Once again, the company has applied their innovation to lifting, but this time with mini-cranes to perform maintenance on their own and customer’s helicopters.
“Because of the nature of our specialized service and the need to maintain our equipment wherever we are working, we have developed a self-sufficiency,” according to Rick Carroll, Columbia support equipment manager. Oil and gas companies have been regular customers of Columbia in far-off locations such as the Amazon basin and Papua, New Guinea. The company has also worked extensively in Alaska and Afghanistan supporting various operations. Maintenance of their workhorse helicopters goes on wherever business takes them.

In an ironic twist for a company that provides the largest aerial lifting devices in the world, the Columbia team needed a compact lifting device to perform maintenance in the field. “We needed a precision device to lift vertical shafts that have to be removed and maintained along with transmissions accessible from the top of the helicopter,” explains Carroll. Four years ago the company discovered mini-cranes as a solution to their lifting needs. “They help us on two fronts,” according to Carroll, “They are easily transportable because of their small size, and they offer the smooth precision load placement we need that larger cranes don’t have.” The company researched the market and chose Maeda mini-cranes, manufactured in Japan, and sold in North and South America through a Houston, Texas based crane supplier, Maeda USA.

“The quality, safety features and the ability to operate them by remote control made them a natural choice,” states Carroll. The company now owns four of the Maeda MC285Cs with lifting capacity to 6,210 pounds and lift height to 28.5-feet. These amazing machines fold up into 30-inch wide self-propelled packages that offer easy portability. On-board diesel engines provide the hydraulic power for hoisting, operating the boom and outriggers. Electric powered units are available for indoor operations. “In our maintenance facility in Oregon, there are some advantages to using the mini-cranes instead of our overhead cranes, again because of the precise winch control capability of the Maeda, setting the loads with smooth controlled accuracy,” according to Carroll.

Built-in safety features prevent maneuvering the boom in unstable positions and alarms warn of overloading.  Heavy duty rubber tracks and high ground clearance provide propulsion over rough terrain, and an overall weight of 4,322 pounds means the mini-crane is easily transported by road or air, even in Columbia’s helicopters if necessary. “Sometimes we have to move fast for our customers,” explains Carroll, “And the Maeda’s move right along with us.”

The experience Columbia has gained maintaining their own fleet enables them to provide customers with knowledgeable service based on years of global operational experience. In that regard, the company is proud to provide extensive maintenance services to all branches of the U.S. Military as well as a members of allied military operations assisted by their fleet of Maeda mini-cranes.