A look at an HAI member up close and personal.
Hillcrest Aircraft Co. of Lewiston, Idaho, is one of those rare companies that began in the golden years of aviation and has transformed with the times to continue to serve the aviation community today. Jerry Wilson founded the company in 1956 with four Stearman biplanes, which he put to work dusting crops in the local area.
Today, run by Jerry’s son Gale and grandson Keith, Hillcrest operates as a full-service helicopter operator, FBO, FAA Part 145 repair station, and full-service Bell helicopter customer service center for Bell Models 205, 206, 212, 407, and 430.
Beyond Crop Dusting
Not long after Hillcrest began, the company expanded its operations to include firefighting, using World War II aircraft that included six B-25s, five B-26s, six Grumman TBMs, and one B-24.
In 1960, Hillcrest grew again, becoming a Cessna dealer and an FAA repair station, selling Cessna airplanes and using them for charter and flight instruction while also starting an outside maintenance facility for light fixed-wing aircraft. The next year, the company purchased its first Bell helicopter, which it used to spray farm fields and perform firefighting operations. By the end of the 1960s, the company owned 10 Bell Model 47s.
A Bell Specialist
Today, Hillcrest operates Bell 206B-3, 206L-3, 206L-4, 407, and 205A-1++ helicopters from its corporate headquarters at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport (KLWS) and a satellite base in Orofino, Idaho. Hillcrest’s Lewiston location features multiple buildings, including a 28,000-sq.-ft. main hangar comprising managerial offices, a maintenance hangar, an overhaul shop, and storage for the company aircraft. Additional buildings provide more than 36,000 sq. ft. of rental space for customer aircraft.
As an FAA Part 145 repair station, Hillcrest requires its maintenance personnel to maintain a high level of training and qualifications, including Bell factory training. The maintenance team offers customers more than 80 combined years of helicopter maintenance experience.
Breadth of Operations
The company’s operations today include forest management services for private and commercial landowners and a wide spectrum of aerial photography missions, including still and video photography for local commercials, Idaho Public Television productions, and movies, including Pale Rider, Meet the Deedles, Armageddon, and Wild Wild West.
In addition to forest management, the company supports forest silviculture projects, timber and animal surveys, aerial ignition, crew transport, power-line construction and patrol, building construction, emergency search-and-rescue operations, and air tax services.
Hillcrest provides helicopter services throughout the contiguous 48 US states and Alaska for numerous government entities. Its missions have ranged from contracting with the US Geological Survey during the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 to fighting numerous large wildland fires across the Western United States annually.
During its history, Hillcrest has been involved in a number of unique and interesting projects, such as being selected by the US Department of the Interior to provide 10 helicopters as security aircraft for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.