Human Cargo: WAPA's Use of Helicopters for Line Work

Dec. 5, 2017
Linemen become "human cargo" and are lifted into the air by helicopters in some of Western Area Power Administration's jobs.

Climbing poles (or riding in bucket trucks) is not the only way linemen do their jobs. Some lines require a more innovative, daring approach to accomplishing projects. Linemen become "human cargo" and are lifted into the air by helicopters in some of Western Area Power Administration's jobs.

WAPA’s Aviation program reached a new milestone in the spring, certifying its first federal pilot in human external cargo. Helicopter Pilot Rory Kirkendall completed his HEC certification on May 11 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

With WAPA’s first in-house pilot certified in HEC, crews completed their first job with Kirkendall on Aug. 7.

The job involved installing around 50 miles of fiber optic cable outside of Casper, Wyoming, connecting WAPA substations for instant communication. This task was the result of two full years of planning and more than 50 linemen participated in the work in total.

The sloped terrain and long distance meant that using a helicopter would allow crews to complete the work more quickly and easily than traditional methods.

“On this HEC job, our longest day saw the helicopter in the air for about seven hours total, and we were able to install the fiber optic cable on around 80 structures in that time,” said Hunt. “The same amount of work without the helicopter would have required eight to 10 bucket trucks, and it would have easily been a 12-hour day.”

During this job, Kirkendall would pick up a lineman and drop him off on the first structure, pick up the next and drop him on the second, continuing on for a total of four structures.

“We hooked the 60-foot longline onto the helicopter and attached the lineman with a swivel and an A-frame,” said Kirkendall. “He rides on that as I fly him to the structure.”

Once the first lineman finished his work, Kirkendall would pick him up and bring him to the fifth structure, continuing the process with each subsequent lineman. Performing the work in this way allowed crews to complete the installation without having to waste time climbing up, descending from and driving to each structure.

See "WAPA Helicopters: Saving Time and Money" featured in the November issue of T&D World.

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