Editor's note: This story first appeared Sunday as an exclusive for our print readers.
They were new and noisy and most folks had never seen one up close and personal back in 1946. That was the year Edwin "Monte" Montgomery brought his helicopter to town, starting up what was later lauded as the nation's first commercial helicopter business.
On Saturday, Montgomery, along with two other aviation notables, will be inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame at the Pima Air and Space Museum.
Though his business was brief - shutting down four years later with the outbreak of the Korean War and its need for all things helicopter - Montgomery's Arizona Helicopter Service managed to:
• Fly Arizona Gov. Sidney P. Osborn and several other politicos to work at the statehouse.
• Deliver various Santas and their presents to Arizona towns.
• Airlift, piece by piece, a Quonset hut church from the rim of the Grand Canyon into its depths for use by the Havasupai Indians.
• Rescue stranded Colorado River rafters out of the Canyon.
• Fly gold prospectors into the Superstition Mountains.
• Ferry Montgomery's 7-year-old daughter, Dory, to school at St. Joseph's Academy, then on Tucson's far east side in the area of today's St. Joseph Hospital.
"We landed right in front of the nuns and all my friends," says Dory Parker, who now lives in South Carolina.
Her father, who died in 1990, was born in Tucson in 1912. By 1936, he had degrees in both mechanical engineering and education from the University of Arizona - along with a bride, Dorothy Ruth Scott, whom he met at the UA. Now 96, she plans to be at Saturday's ceremony, along with close to 20 other relatives and friends, most from out of state.
After a spine curvature resulted in an early discharge from the Army, Montgomery became an aeronautical engineer for the Douglas and Hughes aircraft companies in Southern California. There, he earned his private-pilot's license and lectured in helicopter design. In 1947, he earned a commercial pilot's rating in helicopters from Bell Aircraft Corp. in New York state.
The year before, Montgomery had relocated his family, including Dory; Ed Jr., born in 1937; and Mary Anna, born in 1944, back to Tucson, where he officially started up his helicopter service in November of 1946, with Chuck Marthens as its first pilot.
"This was his hometown, he had business contacts here," says son, Ed Montgomery, who lives in Colorado Springs. The elder Montgomery also started up a one-plane airline service that briefly ferried passengers to Phoenix, but that was soon supplanted by the whirlybird, in this case a Bell Model 47 that went for $18,000.
At its zenith, the company had three pilots and three choppers, offering everything from rides at county fairs to survey work stretching from the Arctic Circle to central Mexico.
Montgomery initially operated out of Gilpin Airport, on Tucson's north side, but moved his heliport to south Phoenix in 1947, commuting back and forth from Phoenix to Tucson, where the family still lived near the UA.
"I remember he landed the helicopter in a vacant lot right next to us and individually gave my brother and me a ride," says close family friend Ann Jackson, who still lives in Tucson. "Everybody came out to watch and we flew all over the neighborhood."
In June 1950, Montgomery relocated his family and his business to Tusayan, near the Grand Canyon, after securing a lease to land tourists at a privately owned mine at the bottom of the canyon.
"Tusayan was a rest stop and we took over the cabins," says Montgomery's daughter, Mary Anna Soifer, who lives in Los Angeles. Her mother ran the bar and grill, her brother operated the gas station, and she and her siblings helped patch the roof of the hay barn-turned-helicopter-hangar with chewing gum. "We must have chewed 100 sticks each."
All three kids attended a four-room schoolhouse at Grand Canyon Village. But before the school year was over, the Korean War forced their father to quit the business and return to work as an aeronautical engineer. "The closing was grim," says Soifer. "He had several helicopters and one by one he would cannibalize the parts to make it through."
After the school year was done, Montgomery's family joined him in Pennsylvania. By 1976, he and Dorothy had retired to Tucson, where he was honored that year for his pioneering work by what is now the Helicopter Association International. Five years (1981) later, Montgomery, by then living in Georgia, took his last helicopter ride - this time as passenger - at nearby Fort Benning, in a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.
Still, the family legacy continues. Among those attending Saturday's ceremonies will be the honoree's grandson, 2nd Lt. Benjamin David Soifer, currently undergoing helicopter flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Peter Hollingsworth Smith, principal investigator for the Mars Phoenix Lander, will also be inducted into the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, along with longtime pilot, test pilot and air show participant William Dillard "Billy" Walker.
The event is no longer available to the public but permanent displays honoring all three men will be on view after Saturday. For more information, call 574-0462 or log onto www.pimaair.org
The Pima Air Museum is at 6000 E. Valencia Road.
Bonnie Henry's column appears every other Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org