Glenn “Wes” Lematta, 83, the founder of Columbia Helicopters, died December 24. Lematta and his brothers started Columbia in 1957 with a single used Hiller UH-12B in which they offered rides at county fairs. The company grew into a global heavy-lift helicopter operator that today employs 600 and operates a fleet of 30 Vertol 107 II and Boeing 234 Chinook tandem-rotor helicopters.
Lematta was the recipient of various awards and honors, including the Helicopter Association International’s Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, Lawrence D. Bell Memorial Award for Leadership, and Operators Safety Award (multiple times); the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Air Medal; and the American Helicopter Society’s William J. Kossler U.S. Coast Guard Award. Last year, the Oregon State Legislature renamed the Aurora State Airport, the site of Columbia’s headquarters, Wes Lematta Field.