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Hillcrest Aircraft Company was formed by Jerry Wilson in 1956 and has been providing specialty aviation services to its customers for more than 60 years. At its beginning, Hillcrest owned and operated four Stearman bi-wing aircraft for crop dusting. In the late 50s, Hillcrest 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 became a Cessna dealer and an FAA Repair Station. Hillcrest sold Cessna airplanes and used them for charter and flight instruction. In addition, Hillcrest also started an outside maintenance facility for light fixed-wing aircraft. In 1961, the company sold the most single engine Cessna aircraft in the entire U.S.—“Top Gun in 61.” Hillcrest purchased its first Bell helicopter, which was used to spray farm fields and perform firefighting operations, that same year. By the end of the 1960s, the company owned 10 Bell model 47s.
Jerry Wilson’s son, Gale, shared his father’s passion for flying. Gale soloed on his 16th birthday, obtained his Private Pilot Certificate on his 17th birthday, and received his Commercial Pilot License on his 18th birthday; each certificate attained on the first day of eligibility. Gale graduated from the University of Idaho in 1974 with a degree in Business and Finance and began to work full time for the company. In 1978 he persuaded his father to sell all their fixed-wing aircraft and operate exclusively with helicopters.
Gale served as Vice President of Hillcrest under his father, Jerry, from 1980 to 1991, when he became President. Gale’s son, Keith, also a pilot as well as a licensed A&P mechanic, became a Hillcrest employee in 1995 and now serves as Vice President.
Hillcrest’s corporate headquarters are located in Lewiston, Idaho, at the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport, with a satellite base in Orofino, Idaho. Hillcrest has five buildings at the Lewiston location. The main hangar has a total of 28,000 square feet and consists of managerial offices, a maintenance hangar, an overhaul shop, and storage for the company aircraft. Hillcrest owns three additional buildings which provide more than 36,000 square feet of rental space for customer aircraft.
Since 1968, Hillcrest Aircraft Company has been an approved FAA Part 145 Repair Station has been a Bell Authorized Customer Service Center. It is also a full service Bell Helicopter Customer Service Center, allowing it to provide maintenance for Bell 205, 206, 212, 407 and 430 model helicopters. The company’s maintenance personnel are highly trained and qualified through Bell Helicopter Factory training and over 80 combined years of helicopter maintenance experience.
Hillcrest has provided support for many companies that offer forest management services to private and commercial land owners. Hillcrest has also provided helicopter services for a wide spectrum of aerial photography missions, including still and video photography for local commercials; movies such as Pale Rider, Meet the Deedles, Armageddon, and Wild Wild West; and numerous Idaho Public Television productions.
Hillcrest provides helicopter service throughout the contiguous 48 states and Alaska for numerous government entities. Missions have ranged from contracting with the U.S. Geological Survey during the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980, to fighting numerous large wild land fires. In addition to firefighting, Hillcrest’s other services include air tax service, airport-to-airport or to remove locations, meeting forest management needs, forest silviculture projects, timber and animal surveys, aerial ignition, crew transport, powerline construction and patrol, setting poles, cross arms, building construction (services for vertical lift operations for HVAC, setting trusses and building supplies) and emergency search and rescue operations. Hillcrest has also been involved in a number of unusual and interesting projects, such as when it was selected by the Department of the Interior to provide 10 helicopters as security aircraft for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.