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Connecting Skies Bridging Continents

COLUMBIA AND PIASECKI PARTNER ON UPGRADE FOR 107-II AND CH-46E HELICOPTERS

Columbia Helicopters and Piasecki Aircraft Corporation (PiAC) have announced a strategic collaboration to update the type certificate for the Model 107-II tandem rotor helicopter to create a new, more capable variant: the 107-III.

The partners officially launched the upgrade program July 2 at PiAC’s Heliplex facility in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. As the holder of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) type certificate for the 107-II, Columbia will pursue a phased series of supplemental type certificates (STCs) to update the model with more powerful engines, modern avionics and other improvements.

 

PiAC will perform modifications and testing of 107-III aircraft at its 219,000-square-foot Heliplex facility, which was previously the site of Lockheed Martin Sikorsky’s S-76 and S-92 production lines. Sikorsky closed the plant in 2022 and PiAC acquired it in 2023.

 

In addition to upgrading existing commercial 107-II helicopters, Columbia and PiAC plan to remanufacture surplus CH-46E Sea Knights — a military variant of the Model 107 — into the “Dash 3” configuration. The result in either case will be a standard category aircraft that can transport persons or property for hire and operate internationally without the limitations that typically apply to restricted-category, surplus military aircraft.

 

Columbia has held the 107-II type certificate since 2006. It has operated the model extensively for missions including firefighting, construction, and logistics support in Afghanistan.

“We want to go with the standard category from the get-go — that’s exactly what our customers are asking for,” Columbia CEO David Balevic told Vertical. “They’ve made it clear to me that they need [the 107-III] and they need it sooner rather than later.”

 

PiAC and Columbia have a history that stretches back decades. The original Piasecki Helicopter Corporation, later renamed Vertol, was a pioneering manufacturer of tandem rotor helicopters. The company developed the Model 107 as well as a larger variant, the Model 114, that evolved into the military CH-47 Chinook and commercial Model 234 after Vertol was sold to Boeing in 1960.

 

In 1957, the same year Vertol commenced construction of its first 107 prototype, Wes Lematta founded Columbia Helicopters in Oregon. Columbia went on to establish an international reputation as the premier civil utility operator of Model 107 and 234 helicopters, ultimately acquiring the type certificates for both models from Boeing in 2006.

 

“The founder of Piasecki Aircraft, my father Frank Piasecki, and Wes Lematta, the founder of Columbia, were good friends,” said PiAC CEO John Piasecki in an interview with Vertical. “We have been in discussions with Columbia I would say for the past decade, looking for opportunities to collaborate . . . because of our shared legacy with tandem helicopters.”

 

A catalyst arrived as a result of the war in Ukraine. For decades, many international helicopter operators have relied on rugged, cost-effective Mil Mi-8/17 helicopters to support clients such as the United Nations in remote and austere operating environments around the world. However, as Western sanctions have made these Russian-built helicopters more difficult to maintain, many of these operators have started looking for alternatives.

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