History of the Industry
The first report of helicopter logging was tested in Scotland in 1956. They used a small Bell 47G that only has a lift capability of 600 pounds. Other tests were made in Canada and Russia in the 1950s. Due to the limited load capacity of these aircraft, the tests were proved to be economically inefficient. The first logging operation that successfully used a helicopter was on the Plumas National Forst in California back in April 1971. During this operation, an S-61A helicopter was used to partially cut 520 acres of steep and rocky terrain. Since then, several operations have been approved for helicopter yarding in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. All of these operations are designed to harvest timber that is not viable for typical logging equipment. Helicopters have to be tailored to better complete logging tasks.
The Current Helicopter Logging Procedure
A typical crew for a helicopter logging operation includes four pilots, and at least four maintenance personnel. The roles that are required include a chaser, skidder operator, a log leader operator at the landing, two sets of each spotter, two choker setters, one hooker in the work area, and several timber fallers. Then, there is usually one person that supervises the whole operation to make sure it goes smoothly. The yarding process is significantly faster with helicopters than any other logging system. Each cycle takes approximately 1.5 to 3 minutes. It starts by flying out from the landing to the hooker at a pickup point. Then the operator has to hover while the choker is attached to the hook at the end of the tagline. From there, flying the load back to the landing while hovering for the load to be electrically released. At the landing, the chokers are removed and additional limbing is done when required and the logs are loaded onto trucks to be hauled to processing yards. To ensure that workers do not get fatigued, personnel rotations take place three to four times a day. During these times, the helicopters are inspected to make sure that no maintenance needs to be done. This ensures the safety of all and keeps operations running smoothly and on time.
About the Helicopters
Most of the helicopters that are used in logging operations have a payload capacity of at least 5,000 pounds. There are several aircraft that qualify for these operations including the 107-11, S-61 and the S-58T. However, the S-64E and S-64S have the greatest capabilities at 25,000 maximum pounds. These capabilities are meant for sea level operations at standard temperature conditions. The main focuses from a safety standpoint include disk loading and pilot visibility.