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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

40 Years Retrospective: Much Done, Much Remains

Julie Stone

THE 1960S PROVED TO BE A PIVOTAL DECADE FOR THE helicopter industry. As the Vietnam War escalated, the versatility of the helicopter was demonstrated time and time again. With new technology came new applications and the helicopter was used for everything from troop transport to airborne attack. Medevac usage was also a critical mission, and paved the way for the future growth of civilian emergency medical services (EMS).

On the commercial front, offshore oil support and gas exploration was the fastest growing helicopter market segment. Operators in both the United States and the North Sea also took advantage of new advances — especially the availability of turbine power. At the 1967 Helicopter Assn. of America annual meeting, no less than three new turbine helicopter models were introduced.

Helicopter manufacturers in 1967 included Aerospatiale, Bell Helicopter, Boeing Vertol, Brantly Helicopter, Enstrom Helicopter, Fairchild-Hiller, Hughes Tool Aircraft Div., Kaman, Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm (MBB), Sikorsky Aircraft, and Westland Helicopters. Companies such as Lockheed, Gates-Learjet, and Cessna were also taking a serious look at the potential of the helicopter industry.

Among commercial operators in 1967, the largest operators were Petroleum Helicopters (PHI), Bristow Helicopters, and Okanagan Helicopters. Other large operators at the time included Air America, Panhandle Aviation, Columbia Helicopters, Era Helicopters of Alaska, Orlando Helicopters Airways, and World Wide Helicopters.

Since 1967, many of the names of both the operators and the manufacturers have changed as the industry saw first growth then consolidation. At the same time, as operators found new uses for the helicopter, the manufacturers continued to develop new and better products to serve these markets. In taking a look at the last 40 years, Rotor & Wing has highlighted just some of the manufacturers’ and operators’ milestones. While it is impossible to portray the last 40 years with the depth it deserves, we hope these brief overviews capture some of the many changes the industry has seen.

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