Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America


James S. Ricklefs, founder of Ricks Helicopters, passed away on Nov. 11, 2015; he was 101.  Ricklefs was born on March 9, 1914, in Monticello, Iowa. He learned to fly in airplanes in 1933 at Stanford University, and then attended West Coast University, where he earned a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering. He held several engineering positions before becoming the Vice President of Landgraf Helicopters in 1944. In 1947, he soloed in a helicopter. The following year, he bought two Bell 47s and founded Ricks Helicopters (and later Alaska Helicopters). Ricklefs joined AHS in 1947 and was an Emeritus Member.

As a pioneer in an emerging industry, Ricklefs’ companies established many standards for utilizing the helicopter’s advantage of vertical flight: piloting protocols, maintenance procedures for cold weather, sling load technology, and flight safety routines. By the 1950s, Ricklefs owned the largest civilian helicopter operator in the world: his collection of 40 helicopters was larger than the US Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force fleets, surpassed only by the Army.

Ricklefs and 11 other helicopter operators in California founded the California Helicopter Association in 1948, with Ricklefs as its first president, which soon became the Helicopter Association of America, and since 1981, Helicopter Association International (HAI).

AHS Update: Vertiflite May/June 2016