Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
In the past several weeks, helicopters have been spotted hovering over various
areas in Western North Carolina. While speculations about their purpose range from rescue to fire control, the helicopters belong to Aerial Solutions, Tabor City, N.C., and are actually contracted by Duke Energy to trim trees and branches away from power lines.
Ted McAllister, general manager of the 40-year-old Aerial Solutions, explained that affixed to a long cable hanging from the helicopters are 10, 25-inch-diameter blades. When the saw gets close to the intended target, the pilot engages the blades, trims any part a tree encroaching on power lines, and then disengages the saw blades while en route to a different location. Each helicopter includes only the pilot, and he or she flies from a designated base location (sometimes the Macon County Airport) and then returns to the base for fuel and safety checks.
“Basically, because of this method of sawing from helicopters, we can accomplish in an hour or a few minutes what it might take a week to do if people were doing it from the ground … just because some of the Western North Carolina areas can be so difficult to get in and out of with ground crews.”
McAllister explained that Aerial Solutions designs, engineers, and fabricates their air saws and other associated equipment at its North Carolina operations facility, and it is a multi-helicopter operation that provides services throughout the Eastern, Southeastern, and Mid-Western United States.
“We have a very extensive training operation for our helicopter pilots,” he said. “They have to already have 1,000 hours flight time completed, and then we provide a couple years of intensive training before they move into the power line environment.”
He added, “I’ve been involved for 30 years, but it’s still fascinating to me.”