A unique use for a helicopter. Helicopters are used by hospitals for medivac, newstations for traffic reports, the wealthy for transportation around big city traffic (e.g. Kobe Bryant) and the military for search and rescue. But this was a use I had never considered.
An Unexpected Visitor
I received a knock at my door on Wednesday. It was a man from the power company. He informed me that they had a helicopter working in the local area and ask if they could land the bird on the property.
What is a helicopter doing working for a power company? Trimming trees along the huge electrical tower lines was the response.
Within an hour the bird settled down. It was a Hughes 369D. There was a primary pilot, a pilot in training, a pilot from the main office overseeing the operation and a man working the ground crew.
The crew was happy to give me a tour and explanation. Apparently, the helicopter was originally built for use in Vietnam. Hughes won the bid for the contract over Bell and Hiller. The OH-6A Cayuse (as the military version was known) proved to be very popular with the flight crews. It was both durable and nimble.
The helicopter was modified in subsequent models. The V tail was replaced with a T tail. A fifth rotor was added to the original array of four on top.
The concept of trimming trees via helicopter was first envisioned by a crop duster in 1985. The idea was to have a helicopter lower a chain saw below the copter. The whirlybird could then fly along the tree line around the power lines. The crop duster demonstrated the idea to a local power company. The power company signed on.
The chain saw was lengthened through the ensuring months and the saw was able to cut lower and lower on the trees. Afraid that someone would steal the idea, the crop duster disassembled the chain saw each night and put it in his hotel room for safekeeping and secrecy. When a patent arrived for the invention, the duster was spared from disassembling and assembling each night and day.
The crop duster formed a company called Aerial Solutions Incorporated. They do work for more than 20 power companies and other agencies as of this writing. Through this blog you see photos of the cockpit, the 100’ aluminum cable or “rope” and the ten bladed chain saw. A separate motor, made by Kohler, powers the ten blades. A safety release can drop the saw and “rope” in case it gets hung up in vegetation.
The Bottom Line
The operation is expensive to operate per hour. However, its ability to handle rough/steep terrain (versus a ground crew) allows the helicopter to cut in one day what it takes 30 days for a ground crew to do (according to the crew).
The variety of uses for the helicopter are explored in Session 15 of Doctor Aviation. The helicopter tree trimming operation is just another example of how aviation has changed industry. Its unique abilities save time and is much safer than ground operations. All the while helping to maintain the flow of electricity to American homes and businesses.