Agricultural support company expands to become a leader in aerial firefighting and heavy-lift helicopter services.

In the early 1980s, the agriculture and ranching industries were booming in Montana. Brothers Gary and Al Blain saw a business opportunity to support this growing industry with aviation. They acquired a Cessna 188 Ag Truck in 1983 and founded Billings Flying Service (BFS).

The Cessna 188 provided a foundation for the brothers to expand their company through experimentation with different types of aircraft. In the early years, they pivoted to various platforms to meet demand for various services, including spraying crops and finding lost cattle. BFS established an early reputation as a reliable company with skilled pilots. Before long, the company partnered with the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office search-and-rescue program and remote ranches to deliver supplies. The operator even began an annual tradition of towing Santa Claus and his team across the skies during the Christmas holiday season, an event that continues to this day.

Billings Flying Service provides aerial firefighting and heavy-lift helicopter services.

In the years following the early days, the company developed rotorcraft programs centered around the Bell UH-1H Iroquois (Huey) and fixed-wing programs focused on Cessna aircraft, while also expanding into utility and firefighting operations. BFS has continued to expand its rotorcraft program, which now includes the CH-47D Chinook, Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk, and Bell 206.

Aerial Firefighting and Heavy Lift
While the second and third generations of the Blain family now run the company, today BFS specializes in aerial firefighting and heavy-lift services. The company operates seven CH-47Ds, one UH-60A, and two Bell 206Ls, all of which are capable of fighting wildfires with either buckets or onboard tanks. The company sends its helicopters to battle fires around the world, including a recent 90-day firefighting contract for five CH-47s in South Korea.

Helicopters from the Billings Flying Service fleet sit on the tarmac at Billings Logan International Airport (KBIL) in Montana.

In 2023, BFS continued to expand its specialization in the Chinook with the addition of six CH-47Ds to its fleet from the Netherlands Ministry of Defence. In addition, the company received the first-ever FAA exemption for surplus ex-foreign military CH-47 Chinooks.

“Though seemingly small, approval of our FAA exemption to certify ex-Netherlands aircraft is a major milestone for BFS,” says President Bridger Blain. “This is the first approval of its kind for CH-47s and has only been granted rarely in other circumstances. This exemption allows BFS to grow the fleet and better support foreign and domestic governments with heavy firefighting assets.”

CH-47 Repairs and Maintenance
Billings Flying Service operates an FAA Part 145, AS9110, and Boeing-certified maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) center for the CH-47 Chinook. Established in 2019, the MRO facility supports the company’s Chinook fleet, third-party commercial CH-47 operators, and US and international military operators. The facility offers a particular focus on the CH-47’s drivetrain, dynamics, hydraulics, actuation system, and flight controls.

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Jen Boyer

Jen Boyer

Jen Boyer is the principal of her own firm, Flying Penguin Communications. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and holds commercial, instrument, flight instructor, and instrument instructor ratings in helicopters and a private rating in airplanes. She has worked as a professional journalist and marketing communicator in the aviation industry since the early 1990s.