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Carson Services Inc - Flying High

Benefits of Helicopter Logging Spur Greater Acceptance of Harvest Method

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 9/1/1999


JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — In 1970, the U.S. Forest Service conducted a salvage timber sale on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in central Washington. There had been a forest fire the previous year. The sale was for 32 million board feet, about half of which was to be removed by helicopter.

The high-flying logging was conducted by the helicopter logging division of Carson Services Inc., one of the earliest entrants into aviation-assisted timber harvesting. The Cascade Mountains 1970 salvage sale was one of its first experiments, recalled Mark Lindamood, the division’s vice president. The sale and successful use of the helicopter paved the way for future timber harvesting operations that would get an assist from aviation.

"The Forest Service got a good look at what a helicopter can actually do," recalled Mark. "It’s interesting that the conventional side slid into the river and wiped out a town while the helicopter side grew right back into timber and was the only area that did not burn in the recent Tyee fire just a couple of years ago."

The first known use of helicopters for logging was in 1956 in Scotland. Further trials took place throughout the world in the ensuing decades. Helicopter logging came to the U. S. in the early 1970s with early trials taking place in Washington, California and Oregon.

Today helicopter logging is one of the fastest growing harvesting methods, and, according to Mark, it is destined to be a primary method in the future of the forest products industry.

Helicopter logging, as practiced by companies like Carson Services, is growing on an almost daily basis, according to Mark, as landowners attempt to preserve their ability to harvest trees in areas impacted by environmental concerns. "I think that in the future you will see helicopters used to harvest a very large part of the total timber supply," he said. "You’re seeing more and more of it every year" because helicopters greatly reduce — even eliminate — ground disturbance. "Think about it. In 1970 there was only one helicopter logging sale. In 1999 I’m doing more than 100 million board feet of harvest, and I’m only one of many operations.

"There are so many areas to log that have been unreachable over the years," Mark continued. "Helicopters can reach them. We can do steep slopes, areas of land-locked ownership, environmentally sensitive areas, and other previously inaccessible areas, and we can do them in a way that doesn’t leave a mark on the land. As much growth as you’ve seen, I think that is only the very beginning for our industry."

Carson Services started on a farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania in 1958. It began as a helicopter lift business. "I believe we were the first in the country," said Mark. "We lifted ski lift and transmission line towers in the mountain areas of the East." The company evolved to include construction projects where cranes were too expensive or too cumbersome to use; it has provided lift services on construction work involving steel erection, air-conditioning and heating systems, and others.

Carson Services now has the only airborne gravity survey system in the world, according to Mark. Gravity survey is used for oil exploration. "It is a technology we have developed for measuring the pull of the earth’s gravitational field in which we not only gather data but process it as well," said Mark. "The information is sold to oil companies and governments all over the world."

Carson Services is owned by Frank Carson, an early innovator in the industry. Frank eats, drinks, and lives helicopters, according to Mark. "Frank has one of the most extensive collections of books on aviation anywhere," he said.

Frank is dedicated to the industry and to learning how to do things better, and devotes virtually all of the company’s profits to research and development, according to Mark. "We will soon be introducing a new rotor blade technology that will revolutionize the industry by allowing for considerably more lift in each turn," he said.

The Carson Services helicopter logging division is based in the southern Oregon town of Jacksonville and has more than 185 employees. It operates 11 Sikorsky Super 61 helicopters, about four to five of them used strictly for logging. Company personnel redesigned and rebuilt the aircraft in order to make them more efficient for logging and other lifting. "Logging is the biggest part of our business," said Mark. Each helicopter harvests about 25 to 30 million board feet annually. The company conducts helicopter logging throughout the U.S.

In its operation, the company’s management delegates as much responsibility to employees in the field, according to Mark. "We try to encourage people to make all of the decisions at the level where they have to be implemented. The scheduling of the logging operations is done out in the field by the logging manager. Fuel handling is done by the maintenance crews. The trucks are arranged for by the logging manager. My motto is, ‘Tell me what to do; I’m the boss.’ In our company, the job of the bosses is to facilitate the efforts of the field crews. We are, in practical terms, here to assist them."

Robert Brock is one of Carson’s logging managers. He is responsible, on the ground, for all decisions involved in removing timber from a site. "In our company the logging manager’s job begins when the forester has looked the site over and determined what needs to be done to log the parcel to the owner’s specifications," said Bob, who was working recently on a job in Easton, Washington, in the central portion of the state. "We coordinate with the forester, then bring the crews in and coordinate between the pilots, the landing crews, the woods crews, and the truckers. We have to make sure everything works smoothly on the entire job."

Bob came into helicopter logging after several years in conventional timber harvesting. "I saw a helicopter operation working and thought it looked interesting," he said. "I was asked to go to work, and I’ve done this ever since. It’s a fascinating technology. Some people don’t like it, but I like it better than conventional logging. It requires more coordination because you have guys up in the woods with no roads into them working with the helicopters that are bringing material out to a landing they never touch down in. You’ve also got ground crews for the helicopters at some distance from the logging operation itself." The crews have to work in close coordination, especially in order to maximize production, and at times the pace can be hectic.

"We’re taking logs out of the woods, and people need that, but, at the same time, we’re doing it in a way that doesn’t leave any marks on the land other than the stumps," Bob added. "We can thin a stand and leave it looking like an old-growth forest. We’ve taken something out that everyone needs and actually left the land in better shape than it was before."

In order to log a parcel, Bob said, a forester examines it, marking the trees that sawyers need to fell, limb, and cut to length. Once the harvesting starts, but before the other operations get  underway, "hookers" go into the woods and begin placing chokers on logs. Attaching the chokers to logs is much more complicated than setting chokers on a conventional logging site, according to Bob. "On a helicopter operation, the hookers have to estimate how much each log weighs. They have a target weight to make, and they have to guess pretty accurately. If they are low, we are not being efficient. If they are high, the helicopter cannot safely lift the load and has to abort the lift. That’s even less efficient. We’ve got to have some good people out there."

The task is more complicated, Bob said, by the fact that the target weight is constantly changing. As a helicopter’s fuel tank is gradually depleted, it can lift heavier loads, so the target weight the hookers aim for changes throughout the day.

Once the hookers have decided on the proper number of logs for a lift, the helicopter flies over, dangling a 200-foot cable with a hooking unit on the end. The chokers on the logs are linked to the hooking unit, which is attached to a scale under the helicopter. The pilot then begins the lift, keeping a careful eye on the readout from the scale. If the load is the proper weight, the logs are flown to the landing.

At the landing, the helicopter flies to the drop point. The logs are lowered gently to the ground. Then, with the push of a button, the pilot releases the load, and the aircraft flies off to get another load. Meanwhile, the landing crew removes the chokers, coils them for air-lift back into the woods, trims up any branches or bumps on the logs, and prepares for the next load. A shovel is used to stack the logs and then to sort them. On the Easton landing, 13 sorts were being made for species, size, and quality — all factors determining where a particular log would be sent. Log trucks are loaded at the landing, and the wood is taken to the appropriate mill.

About 5 million board feet are being logged on the Easton job. "They’re all in smaller units scattered here and there," said Bob. "And they couldn’t be logged conventionally. They’re too steep to log efficiently with conventional methods. There aren’t any roads, and it would be very expensive to build them if you decided to go that route.

"We’re taking out about a million board feet from this unit, and the logs are scattered because we’re thinning. We’ll spend about two weeks doing it. A conventional operation would have to use up that much time just building the roads. When we leave, no one will be able to tell we were here, and we’ll be gone in a fraction of the time a conventional operation would be here."

On a helicopter logging operation, extraordinary attention is paid to maintaining the aircraft properly. The helicopters fly about 2,000 productive hours a year, according to Mark, so they must be thoroughly maintained. The maintenance crew is an integral part of the operations. "Nothing happens without them," said Mark. "They have absolute say in shutting the entire operation down if they are not comfortable with the operation of the aircraft."

Levi Phillips and Mike Anderson are two of the four maintenance crew chiefs assigned to the helicopter utilized in the Easton operation. "Each helicopter has four pilots and four maintenance people," Mike pointed out. "One pilot and one maintenance person is changed each week, so we all work two weeks on and then two weeks off."

A typical day for the maintenance crew begins at 5:30 a.m. and lasts until 9 p.m., so the men get plenty of time in despite working only two weeks at a time. "The crews are exchanged to make sure we’re all as fresh and on top of everything as possible," said Mike. "One person goes off and one comes on each week, so that there is always someone familiar with the way the aircraft is flying. No one comes in cold. That way you don’t forget to pass on vital information or miss out on catching something new developing."

The helicopters undergo maintenance before and after logging and also throughout the day, said Levi. "Everything in the aircraft is on a maintenance schedule," he said. "There are time lives on some items, so they are replaced whether they seem to need replacement or not. Transmissions, for instance, are overhauled every 1,100 hours...We also pay close attention...and look at things before they are scheduled if we have any reason to believe they ought to be checked out. We carefully check the machine out before it flies, each time it lands for fuel during the day, and extensively each night."

The entire crew is involved in the safety of the aircraft, Levi added. "The guys on the landings and out in the woods are in constant communication with us and with the pilots. If anyone hears or sees anything out of the ordinary, we communicate and do something about it. Every single person on this job has a stake in the safety of the aircraft, so everyone is constantly paying attention to what is going on."

On the day that TimberLine visited their logging job, a ground crew member noticed an unusual noise from the helicopter. He radioed the information to the pilots, who also had noticed irregularities. The helicopter was flown immediately to the landing and was checked out. A damaged rotor was found, and operations ceased for the day. "That’s an example of the concern all of us have for one another on the job," said Bob.

While helicopters are not required for every job, Mark believes the advantages that helicopter logging bring to a harvest operation will make them increasingly attractive on jobs where they now may be perceived as a novelty. "We have an unbeatable combination to offer our customers," he said. "The benefits of helicopter logging include a very small environmental footprint. As a matter of fact, the only footprint is that of a man walking. We also offer speed. We can harvest over 100,000 board feet per day. Helicopters are also very safe. Because we are extremely safety conscious, accidents are rare. On top of all that, we have unsurpassed mobility. We can reach places no one else can reach, and harvest in ways no one else can harvest."

Based on the extremely rapid growth that Carson Services has seen since helicopter logging became an accepted technology, Mark’s views about the future of this method of timber harvesting would seem to be well founded. 




 






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