Copter on the Crew

APRIL 10, 2017—Looking at the rocky, rugged ridges that surround the Ocoee #3 Dam in Polk County, Tenn., Chad Suttles—TVA Transmission service manager—is glad that his crews from Cleveland, Tenn., and Murphy, N.C., have extra support this morning: a helicopter.

Today’s mission for Suttles’ team? They’re replacing damaged polymer insulators with more durable glass insulators on 161-kilovolt 100+ foot transmission structures that tower over the Ocoee River and Highway 64.

helicopter and insulators

Suttles explains that TVA installed polymer insulators on some transmission lines in the late 1990’s. As the polymer insulators wear out, TVA is replacing them with more durable glass insulators.

Without the helicopter, the eight man crew would have to carry more than 1,000 pounds of new insulators and equipment to their work site—about 500 feet up a near vertical ridge.

“The helicopter is a huge safety factor,” says Suttles. “Without it [the helicopter] the line crew would spend days hauling gear up the mountain before we could even start the work.”

It took the line crew about an hour to climb to the job site.

Within a matter of minutes, TVA helicopter pilot Brian Lacks was ferrying ladders, ropes, climbing gear and tools from the make-shift landing zone at the Whitewater Rafting Center’s parking area on Highway 64 to the transmission structures on the ridge.

In addition to safety, using the helicopter saves time and money. “We take a 3- to 4-day job and complete it in one day,” says Suttles. “Our top-notch pilot and lineman make this work look easy, but we spend a considerable amount of time planning and coordinating to make sure the job is completed safely and smoothly.”

The electrician crews were ready at the substations to switch the two lines in and out of service as needed. With the efficiency of the line crew and pilot, the helicopter’s flight time on this job only totaled two hours.

After a hard day on the job, you can see the satisfaction the line crew takes in maintaining TVA’s equipment.

“It is hard work, sometimes in inclement weather,” Suttles concludes. “But at the end of the day it is rewarding to see difficult jobs completed that will help keep the lights on for the people of the Tennessee Valley.”


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