The Korean Forest Service has ordered a Columbia Model 234 Multi-Mission Chinook for roles including firefighting, cargo lift, transportation, and disaster response. The aircraft will be among the first new-build examples of the heavy-lift model manufactured by Columbia Helicopters and includes new features such as a glass cockpit, engine monitoring, and night vision goggle compatibility to help pilots deal with degraded visual environments.
Under the contract announced at the Heli-Expo show on Tuesday, Oregon-based Columbia (Booth 6427) will train Korean pilots and mechanics. It will also supply parts, special tools, and ground support equipment.
According to the company, the Model 234 is the world’s largest standard transport category, multi-mission, super heavy-lift helicopter. It can lift loads of up to 25,000 pounds, with internal and external cargo lift options and seating capacity for between 19 and 44 passengers.
“We are pleased with the Columbia 234 Multi-Mission Chinook’s lifting and firefighting capabilities as well as how it can be rapidly reconfigured between missions,” said Ko Ki-Yeon, general manager of the Korean Forest Service. “It is an added benefit that Columbia can supply this helicopter as a brand-new aircraft with ongoing support.”
The latest contract results from Columbia’s renewed emphasis on its manufacturing and MRO activities for the 234 and Vertol 107-II rotorcraft, which are the commercial versions of Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook and CH-46 Sea Knight military rotorcraft. The 65-year-old company also operates a mix of those types, including the 234 VT and LR models under contracts covering activities such as firefighting and logging.
In 2022, Columbia achieved its first direct aircraft sales with contracts covering a pair of CH-47D models. Since the start of this year, it has closed deals for Vertol 107-IIs with HeliSwiss International and Korea’s Daejin Air.
Michael Tremlett, who in December was promoted from executive vice president to president, has led the strategic reboot of the company. He reorganized the group into three divisions: Aircraft Solutions (manufacturing), MRO Services, and Aerial Operations.
Columbia holds type and production certificates for the 234 and Vertol 107-II models. In sustaining those long-serving fleets it has developed processes to keep high-time aircraft in service by substantially rebuilding them, and in the case of one 80,000-hour airframe, three times from tip-to-tail.
The fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the civil heavy-lift helicopter market as European regulator EASA suspended type certificates for Russian-made rotorcraft and the United Nations curtailed operating contracts involving the aircraft. “This has created a great opportunity to put our aircraft into that void, and we are seeing new interest also from foreign militaries in countries such as Colombia, where they are getting away from using [Russian] Mi-8s and Mi-17s,” Tremlett told AIN.
Now Columbia is working on an upgrade for the Vertol 107 that will improve its performance at high altitudes and temperatures using a new version of the General Electric T58 turboshaft engine. Columbia expects the modification, which it will develop in-house, to reach the market within 12 to 18 months. The company is also considering a similar upgrade for the Chinooks.
On the MRO side of its business, Columbia stands as a key support provider for the U.S. Army’s CH-47F aircraft, working in tandem with Boeing as the prime contractor. It also continues to pursue operating contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Transcom unit, for which it conducted heavy-lift operations in Afghanistan.