Here’s a cool job if you can get it. Flying a helicopter right up next to a transmission tower and hovering there, a foot or two from the structure, while a crew of technicians transfer from the aircraft onto the top of the tower. Or, in some cases, do the work while on the step itself.
“You have to be in control,” says Slave Lake Helicopters pilot Danny Ragan, in something of an understatement.
Meanwhile, Ragan’s colleague Aaron Roos is employed slinging equipment from the ground to the guys who have safely transferred from Ragan’s machine to the structure. Back and forth he goes – whatever they need to get the job done.
The job in this case was for Atco Electric. It involved the installation of fibre optic cable along existing wires stretching across the mighty Peace River by Fox Lake. This is a remote community on the south side of the Peace, about 150 kilometres east of High Level. The purpose is to provide residents of that community with high-speed internet service.
“It’s remote,” says Vic Barr of ATCO. “You have to use helicopters.”
In other circumstances, the cable might have been bored under the obstacle. But the Peace is very wide, and the transmission lines already cross it, so that was the method chosen. It was just a matter of finding a helicopter company with the right kind of expertise and equipment. As it happens, SL Heli has a device it calls the ‘A Step.’ Company owner George Kelham describes it as a platform mounted on the side of the helicopter, “for transferring workers from a helicopter to a structure, and vice versa.”
Kelham explains that he engaged an aeronautical engineer to design the A Step. It got Transport Canada approval, he says, and something called a ‘Supplementary Type Certificate’ (STC) that amounts to a patent. SL Heli was using the A Step on the big powerline project that passed near Slave Lake a couple of years ago. It was brand new then and it is gaining a bit of a reputation. Kelham says he’s gotten calls from as far away as Brazil and Sweden, asking him to sell the rights to the technology. But he isn’t interested.
Meanwhile, the jobs are coming in. This latest one happened in late August. It involved some tricky maneuvering, as both the pilots attest.
“It is unusual,” says Roos, who did all the slinging of equipment. “It’s pretty rare in Canada.”