It all started during 1945 when Wilt Paulson founded Willamette Aircraft and Engine Company to convert military aircraft to civilian use in Beaverton, Oregon. Wilt was always looking to improve things or invent solutions to common problems. It was his ability to create new things that spawned a multitude of inventions, of which his greatest was the towbarless aircraft tug. The following are major points in LEKTRO’s history and merely capture the essence of Wilt’s creative genius and Eric’s business acumen.
Wilt Paulson starts the Willamette Aircraft & Engine Company in Beaverton, Oregon. The company converts military aircraft for civilian uses such as crop dusting. It also acts as an MRO operation.
Wilt Paulson moves his company to the former Navy hangars at the Astoria-Warrenton Regional Airport (KAST) to be closer to both his and his wife, Violet Paulson's, families. Shortly thereafter, Wilt also opened up a seaplane base in Astoria.
Logging was a huge industry in Oregon. The excess limbs and debris from logging left piles of "slash" which was burned after a logging operation completed. Unfortunately, NW Oregon has a very wet climate which made burning slash piles very difficult. Wilt used surplus aircraft engines to create the first ever portable wind machine, which enabled loggers to control their slash burning.
LEKTRO developed their first battery-driven vehicle: an electric cart to feed mink. This was developed in conjunction with Paul Autio, one of Wilt's friends who was a mink farmer. Before LEKTRO's electric mink feeder, mink were fed with loud, sooty diesel feeders. This would be harmful to the operator and the mink. Furthermore, when the mink were startled by the noise, they often would eat their younglings. The LEKTRO Mink Cart revolutionized mink feeding. The Mink Cart was such a success that Wilt Paulson and Autio worked together marketing the product. The Mink Cart was produced and sold until 1985.
LEKTRO produced one of the first commercial electric golf carts in the world. LEKTRO’s golf cart became known as the "Cadillac" in the industry, using rust-free aluminum as the frame and a fiberglass shell. LEKTRO pioneered the golf cart market, which was a difficult market since golfers weren't used to riding, and many golf courses did not allow golf carts on the course. After considerable effort, LEKTRO was able to convince the industry to use golf carts, paving the way for the success of (larger manufacturers like) Yamaha and Harley Davidson.
Wilt Paulson and the LEKTRO team constructed the antenna for the first cable TV transmission in the US.
Traditional sauna baths consisted of building a fire to heat rocks up, which would take hours, then pouring water over the rocks. This was time consuming and required a hole in the roof for venting smoke. With Finnish native Ed Lundholm, LEKTRO produced the first electric Sauna Bath in the United States. Wilt's wife, Violet Paulson is of Finnish descent, so saunas were a logical product. Mr. Lundholm and LEKTRO continued building and selling Sauna Baths until the mid 1970s.
With the success of the electric mink feeder, Wilt Paulson modified the basic concept and chassis and built a feeder for poultry farms. In later years, Wilt would make a host of other farming machinery including modifying the poultry feeder to feed hogs and cows, and making feed sackers.
Wilt Paulson's friend, Sy Young, owned an FBO called Flightcraft. Cy and Wilt noted that towbars often caused damage to nose gear and were overall problematic. Cy wondered if the nose gear could be lifted with a scoop to cradle the gear, eliminating the towbar. From this idea, Wilt produced a small electric aircraft tug by turning around the mink feeder chassis and attaching a hydraulic scoop and winch and towbarless towing was born.
Just like the solution to mink feeding, where size and emissions was an issue, LEKTRO built a forklift to meet the needs of small warehouses and industries that could not use large combustion engine forklifts. Some of these forklifts are still used in the LEKTRO factory today.
LEKTRO developed a lightweight paper clamp attachment that mounted on the front of its electric forklift for local newspaper, The Daily Astorian. This combination provided an excellent alternative for small town newspapers which did not have the room nor budget for large clamp trucks. LEKTRO became the leader in the clamp-truck industry into the 1980s.
The 1980s was a time of deep recession and with interest rates moving to double digits, foreign competitors swamped the US market. During this time, Wilt's health and the financial stability of LEKTRO began to deteriorate. Noticing this, his son Eric took a leave of absence as a sophomore at Willamette University to become the general manager while his father recuperated. He never went back. At age 19, Eric was negotiating with lawyers and banks, and took on the roles of general manager, parts manager, sales manager and purchasing agent. This cut personnel costs enough to stabilize LEKTRO.
One of the first things Eric Paulson did when he took the reigns of LEKTRO was successfully pursue a contract with General Motors to build custom warehouse vehicles. This vehicle incorporated many of LEKTRO's existing components, but utilized a totally new chassis design. This design proved to be so successful that GM eventually utilized these vehicles in all of their facilities. This product gave LEKTRO the working capital to develop a long-term product line to replace the forklift, as cheaper foreign forklifts began to flood the market.
Eric Paulson, Wilt and Vi's son, took over reins as president. At age 23, Eric was one of the youngest corporate presidents in the State of Oregon.
LEKTRO began providing assistance to the NBAA in setting up and handling static display aircraft. NBAA subsequently named LEKTRO as their Official Tow Vehicle, an honor it holds today
LEKTRO developed a special chassis for Disneyland and was Disney's main supplier for float chassis. In 1996, LEKTRO was selected by Disney to produce the next generation float chassis.
LEKTRO's Airporter was really starting to catch on. With significant demand from corporate flight departments and FBOs for a tug that had higher capacity, LEKTRO designed and produced a unit that was capable of towing corporate aircraft up to 50,000 lbs.
Gulfstream liked LEKTRO's towbarless tug, but the GV they were getting ready to unveil was too heavy for LEKTRO's line up at the time. Using feedback from Gulfstream, LEKTRO designed and produced what is now their most popular tug series--the AP8800 series.
The AP8300SD was introduced for individuals and corporations needing to handle light twins and smaller turboprop aircraft.
LEKTRO first produced customized pick vehicles for General Motors in 1983. By 1995, GM had concluded that the LEKTRO Pick Vehicle was the most efficient and cost effective vehicle of its kind. As a result, GM's headquarters issued a mandate requiring all warehouse facilities convert to LEKTRO Pick Vehicles. The first phase of this conversion began with a 160 vehicle order for 3 of their main facilities, this order was completed in 1996.
LEKTRO sales double, reaching $6 million. This was attributable to LEKTRO's aggressive marketing efforts, a $2 million GM contract, and a new contract from Disney to design a newer float chassis. OEMs like Cessna, Raytheon, Bombardier and Piper decided to buy LEKTROs. The Finnish, Malaysian, and British Air Forces--as well as the Montana Air National Guard--all became new LEKTRO users as well. Additionally, LEKTRO became the official tug for not only the National Business Aviation Association, but the Australian Air Show, FIDAE '96 (in Chile), Air Show Canada, and the Lima Air Show in Malaysia.
Learning from the successes and feedback from initial military and regional airline sales, LEKTRO introduced two new aircraft tug types; one tailored for U.S. military aircraft and one for the commercial airline industry. The airline model tugs opened up vast opportunities for LEKTRO, as towbarless towing was not a common towing method used by airlines yet. LEKTRO’s president Eric Paulson was named Oregon's Small Business Person of the year by the United States Small Business Administration and represented Oregon in Washington, D.C. during SBA week.
LEKTRO introduced the largest electric towbarless tug ever produced at that time, the AP8950SD. Capable of handling aircraft up to 180,000 lbs, it was built to meet the needs of airlines flying narrowbody jets and corporations that used large jets such as the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) or Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ).
LEKTRO became the preferred tow vehicle for nearly every regional airline in North America. Sales for LEKTRO's aircraft tugs increased nearly 50%. Additionally, LEKTRO was named Oregon's Exporter of the Year
General Motors orders nearly 250 of LEKTRO's custom warehouse vehicles, making it the single largest order of vehicles in LEKTRO's history. LEKTRO lands its first contract with the U.S. Navy for its towbarless aircraft tugs and American Eagle and ASA select LEKTRO as their preferred tow vehicle. Sales reach $10 million.
Once American Eagle had selected LEKTRO as their tow vehicle in 2000, their experience with LEKTRO's product and support was unsurpassed in responsiveness, reliability and customer service. As a result they awarded the first Preferred Vendor of the Year award to LEKTRO. Sales reach $12 million.
LEKTRO's 2,500th tug, an AP88 Series, is delivered to United Airlines.
Celebrating 60 years in business, LEKTRO's all electric towbarless aircraft tugs were in high demand--more than the current facility was capable of producing. As a result, LEKTRO added 15,000 sq. ft. of space to handle its painting and engineering departments, as well as open up roughly 10,000 sq. ft. of office space. The expansion was supported by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski who took part of the groundbreaking.
LEKTRO had moved into the expanded portions of its facility and offices in 2006 and had a dedication ceremony shortly thereafter with Governor Ted Kulongoski, the Oregon Military Department, State Senator Betsy Johnson, and local elected officials.
Developing a new tug from customer feedback from the previous AP8300SD and AP8350 models, LEKTRO introduces the brand new AP8360 model for the general aviation and owner/operator market.
Fueled by Boeing and Airbus's certifications of their newest tug, the AP8950SDB-AL-200, LEKTRO sales grow by 60%. Buoyed by an order from a major airline--the largest order in company history--LEKTRO doubles employment to keep up with demand.
LEKTRO is selected by three major airlines and celebrates its 70th anniversary.
LEKTRO responds to airliner industry demand for a higher speed tug to handle towing narrowbody airline aircraft to maintenance hangars with the new AP8925SDB-AL/HS-200
Airline demands prompt LEKTRO to engineer an all electric tug capable of handling all narrowbody aircraft, including the Boeing 757. LEKTRO responds with the all new AP8950SDB-AL-250.