CHESTER, Maine — They called them turns, and by the end of the day, pilot Jay Blythman and the needle-nosed Kaman K-MAX helicopter were doing them in six minutes.
The helicopter spent the day Friday flying 150 utility poles from a lot off River Road to the site where a 115-kilovolt industrial electrical line will be installed to help ship electricity from the Rollins Mountain industrial wind site to the New England power grid, among other things.
Its 300-odd trips across a portion of the Lincoln Lakes region skyline drew a lot of attention from motorists and other passersby on River Road, with several stopping to take pictures or just gawk at the medium-lift helicopter.
Its intermeshing rotor system, with which two rotors placed a few feet apart spin at angles to each other without colliding, probably drew the most attention, with the helicopter’s pinched, insect-like nose also getting noticed.
“The question we always get,” flight engineer Shawn Clarke said, “is ‘How come the blades don’t hit each other?’ And the airframe is unusual. Not many aircraft have an airframe like that.”
Yet such a machine is handy, said John Bluemer, a rigging foreman with Hawkeye LLC, a Long Island-based construction company that was helping to install the power lines.
“It speeds up things. You are not causing traffic issues or anything like that,” Bluemer said. “They can go into wetland areas without disturbing things.”
The chopper can haul as much as 6,000 pounds, a neat fit with the poles, which weigh 5,800, Clarke said.
The operation looked clean and simple. Hawkeye workers set rigging onto each pole and attached the rigging to a 100-foot hauling line hanging from the helicopter. Blythman approached from the east the large, empty lot in which the workers had set the poles from what looked to be about 200 to 300 feet.
He hovered the helicopter over a pole until a single Hawkeye worker — everyone else kept well back, as a safety precaution — attached the line to the rigging and away the poles went.
“We were doing the turns in 8 minutes at the start of the day,” said Clarke, who kept time on the turns more for sport than any concrete purpose. Aside from refuels, lunch and bathroom breaks, Blythman stayed in the air for more than seven hours, just zipping between placement sites.
Helicopters had been employed on the site before, Bluemer said, but this was the first time HeliQwest International, the company Blythman and Clarke worked for, had been on-site. Most of their work is done on the West Coast, Clarke said.
No return date has been scheduled, Clarke said.