James “Jim” Russell Downing, inventor, entrepreneur, innovator in lighting systems, and a pioneer in the heliport industry. Up until the time of his death at the age of 98, Mr. Downing was fully engaged in his business, developing new products and exploring new markets.
Mr. Downing was born June 27, 1908 in Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada. He was raised in a one-bedroom house in Hillyard, a railroad town and suburb of Spokane, Washington. In 1948, he founded Neo-Flasher, a barricade light business to replace unreliable and dangerous kerosene lanterns and smudge pots. He became know as the “Father of the Barricade Light.”
Hard work and a dedicated spirit led him to enter the heliport industry in his retirement “for something to do.”His previous experience with the U.S. Army, supplying heliport and helicopter-related items during the Vietnam War, through another company he owned, motivated him to extend that knowledge into another market.
Mr. Downing set out to change the way helicopters fly at night by developing and manufacturing a new type of heliport floodlight. Jim took his idea for the civil helicopter industry and began to develop what is now the Downing Heliport Lighting Systems. At its inception, the Downing Heliport Lighting System was developed for the pilot. Jim went to the industry authorities and the pilots to ask the question, "What would be needed for a safe landing at night?"
By the time he was in his mid-80s, needing to expand the business, he introduced a prefabricated heliport for rooftops and other elevated landing areas. In his 90s, he developed an airport security lighting system that he had started to introduce to the Department of Homeland Security just before he died.
In his 30+ years in the heliport industry, Jim developed several support systems, such as the portable heliport Helimat, the prefabricated heliport, the self-leveling gimbal, and steel interlocking safety net. Jim Downing had been a member of HAI since 1979. He attended HELI-EXPO from the time it began in a conference room of a hotel with just a few vendors.
Many in the helicopter industry will miss James Downing. His company, Downing Heliport Systems, Inc., will continue operations under the leadership of his son, J. Philip Downing and stepdaughter Laurie Burton, both of who have worked with Jim in the business.