Pilot Kyle Fortune stands beside his helicopter in a North Carolina field ready to do something most pilots don’t – trim trees along a power line right of way with a 33-foot lidar guided aerial saw hanging from his helicopter. Just another day at the office – crazy. See the video below.
His work is part of Duke Energy’s vegetation management efforts to trim trees near power lines within federal regulations and minimize the likelihood of power outages. Helicopter work is a more efficient way to maintain areas that aren’t accessible with traditional methods like climbing trees or driving heavy machinery. Aerial saws are used often in the mountains or after storms when crews can’t access the area because of flooding or debris.
Today, Fortune, who works for contractor Signature Flight Support, is going to fly his royal blue MD 500 over a high-voltage right of way that is inaccessible because of a blanket of kudzu that’s too thick to walk or see through. What would probably take a few days on foot carrying dozens of pounds of equipment, Fortune and his ground support crew can complete in a few hours.
The work requires a focus on safety, and Fortune, like most pilots who do this work, have thousands of hours of experience and extensive training. As he prepares the MD 500 for flight and gives a safety briefing, he explains that the helicopter is small – standing only 8 feet tall – but it’s powerful enough to carry fuel, the pilot and the 850-pound saw while maintaining its maneuverability. It’s exactly what he needs for the job.
“It’s like a little sports car,” Fortune said. “Any way you point it, it’ll go.”
This year, Duke Energy crews started using data to identify and focus on areas that need the most attention. The data comes from a LiDAR sensor, which scans the right of way with a laser and detects trees that could cause outages. LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, can also alert crews to hazards like ravines that might be hidden by overgrown vegetation in rights of way like the one above.
LiDAR data is combined with GIS data to create a map the pilot can use to navigate to the trees or groups of trees that need trimming rather than cutting the entire right of way. Here, the pilot is removing a dead tree that would have been likely to fall into the right of way, but he will leave the stump, which can be a home for wildlife.
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