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In the world of heavy-lift helicopters, Columbia’s Model 234 is in a class by itself.
It may look like a typical Chinook, but this Chinook was certified to civilian transport category standards, not military ones. That means the Columbia Model 234 is not subject to the same restrictions as military surplus aircraft like the Boeing CH-47 helicopter family, which aviation authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibit from carrying passengers for hire. Neither is the base configuration of the Model 234 subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) — the Columbia Model 234 can operate around the world as readily as any other commercial helicopter.
That makes the Columbia Model 234 a true multi-mission aircraft — the first and only such Western helicopter in its weight class. It can transport passengers safely and reliably: up to 19 in Columbia’s side-facing crashworthy seat configuration, or as many as 44 in its airline configuration. It can carry cargo using Columbia’s exclusive 463L pallet loading roller floor system, similar to the systems found on military transports. It can also be equipped as an exceptionally capable medevac and casevac platform, with multiple stackable stretchers for mass casualty events, and a rear loading rescue hoist for patient extractions.
All of that, and it can still perform the external load missions for which Columbia is famous, which include but are not limited to firefighting and infrastructure work.
“It’s a real multi-mission helicopter,” said Santiago Crespo, Columbia’s vice president of growth and strategy. “A customer whose responsibility is to protect the life and property of their community or population might use this aircraft for firefighting during the fire season — and within that firefighting capability the transportation of supplies, the external load operations, the transportation of firefighters to their location, as well as the firefighting itself.
“Then if there’s a disaster, the aircraft can be used to rescue people using the side or rear-loading rescue hoists; it can be used to transport relief aid through external load operations or internal pallets to remote austere locations where roads have been broken by the disaster,” he continued. “If you think about all of these missions, the customer can use the same platform for all of them.”
Of course, many commercial helicopter models boast this same versatility. What sets the 234 apart is its sheer performance and capability.
With a maximum gross weight of 51,000 pounds (23,130 kilograms), the Columbia Model 234 has a 2,800-gallon (10,600-liter) capacity including 140 gal (530 L) of firefighting suppressant in an internal tank — nearly three times the capacity of a Black Hawk or a commercial medium helicopter like the Airbus H225. Its cargo hook can support an external load of up to 25,000 lb. (11,339 kg).
The Columbia Model 234 is also fast, with a cruise speed of 120 knots and a maximum speed of 150 knots. And it goes the distance: up to 550 nautical miles (1,035 kilometers) in its standard configuration, or 850 nm (1,575 km) with two extended range tanks.
Having acquired the type certificate from Boeing and been issued a production certificate from the FAA, Columbia is the Model 234’s original equipment manufacturer as well as its flagship operator. Over the company’s 60 years of operation, the company has invested heavily in developing its manufacturing and maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities for the model, enabling it to continue supporting the Columbia Model 234 and its custom mission equipment long into the future.
Columbia is now actively seeking to make the capabilities of this multi-mission aircraft available to even more customers, including government agencies.
As Crespo pointed out, Columbia is uniquely positioned to introduce new customers to the Model 234 as it has extensive operational experience with the type, much of that in remote and austere environments. That includes not only decades of oil exploration, logging and firefighting work, but also nearly 10 years as an FAA Part 135 operator serving the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan. The company even has a 24-hour operations and safety control center to support its work in every time zone.
“We understand that operating an aircraft of this size and complexity requires a lot of expertise. And one of the things that Columbia has done really well is to work with partners all over the world,” Crespo said.
“We’re not new to empowering and educating and building capabilities for parties around training, supporting and sustainment of the aircraft. So we would expect that we would be part of that journey, and help them build those capabilities through our training, both on the pilot side as well as the maintainer side.”
As natural disasters like fires and flooding increase in number and intensity, public agencies everywhere are looking for solutions that deliver both capability and value. This aircraft truly is a single platform solution for the customers’ multi-mission needs. With its unrivaled combination of performance and versatility, the Columbia Model 234 could be just the aircraft they need.
Learn more about the Model 234’s multi-mission capabilities here.