The introduction and use of helicopters in Canada only began after the conclusion of the Second World War. First used by the American military during this conflict, helicopters represented a novel application due to their ability to take off and land vertically and hover in one place. In 1946, the Bell Aircraft Corporation became the first company in the western world to receive a license for civilian use of helicopters. Its highly successful Model 47 became a mainstay of the helicopter industry – over 5600 were produced.
The Bell 47 first came to Canada in 1948 and quickly gained recognition as a workhorse in aerial spraying, oil exploration and the transport of bulky items in remote areas. Bell Aircraft Corp. approached Associated Airways of Edmonton in 1950 to start a helicopter business. Tommy Fox, President of Associated Airways, was impressed by the potential of the helicopter and started Associated Helicopters Ltd., a subsidiary of Associated Airways, in 1950 – the first helicopter company formed in Alberta.
Associated Helicopters Ltd., located in Hangar 10 at Blatchford Field, started small with only one helicopter, a Bell 47-D1 but eventually expanded to 26 helicopters. It was sold to Neonex International in 1969 then Okanagan Helicopters in 1977 but continued to operate independently under the Associated Helicopters name. It was only upon the sale of Okanagan Helicopters to Newfoundland businessman Craig Dobbin in 1987 that the Associated Helicopters name finally disappeared. It is still remembered fondly, however, as one of the leaders in Canada’s helicopter industry.
The Bell 47D on display was assembled from parts and surplus components under the direction of museum volunteer and retired helicopter mechanic Pat Sauriol.