A discussion of logging today would not be complete without vist to a helicopter logging site. Helicopter logging is being used increasingly in federal timber as a response to the growing environmental controversy relating to traditional logging methods. On a helicopter site, the timber is fallen in the conventional manner, but instead of being transported to the landing with a log skidder or a yarder, the logs are hooked to a skyhook hanging beneath a helicopter and flown to the landing. This minimizes ground disturbance.
The drawback of such a logging method is simply the cost. The operating cost of a bird such as the Erickson Skycrane shown here is $5,000 per hour. Obviously with this sort of an hourly cost all other operations are designed to maximize production during the flying time. Chokers are preset to create turns that will provide a load for the helicopter, but not overload it. When multiple logs are needed to make up the weight, they are strung end to end This way the bird can lift them off the ground one at a time. In the operation shown here which took place in southern Oregon, the Skycrane was equipped with an on board scales on the drop line and a quick release hook. The rigging was dropped in the event of an overload. Lifting capacity for this job was set at 15,000lbs. Pilots would fly for a 1 hour shift, making turns ranging from 20 seconds to 1 minute. They would then land, refuel, and change pilots.
A small helicopter is usually mated with the skycrane for support purposes. For example the small chopper was used on this job to fly the chokers back into the woods. The operation cost was just too much to use the skycrane to fly a bunch of chokers around.
To keep things moving a substantial ground crew is needs. Shown here are 3 chasers working in the landing retrieving the chokers and rigging. It is a real challenge chasing in a helicopter logging site. With turns coming in rapidly, the landing area can turn into a pile of logs and chokers very quickly, and time is money when the operating costs are nearly a $100 a minute.
In many areas cable logging can be accomplished while providing any necessary suspension, and in other instances some logging operators have added a balloon to the carriage. This is particularly suitable for downhill logging and areas where getting lift is a engineering challenge. Hopefully, situations requiring helicopter logging will remain the minority, but clearly it has its place.
While we are on the topic of aviation we probably should provide a few aviation links as well.
A special thanks to Jim for has photography work near Medford, Oregon