Preparing for severe weather is a year-round operation for power companies and for some, that means taking some extreme measures to make sure the lights stay on.
Workers dangling from a helicopter while fixing a power line is not something you see often in Manassas Park.
“You just fly through the air hanging from a line,” says Ron Van Diver, Haverfield’s director of operations.
It’s just another day at the office for Van Diver and his crew. He’s done work like this for the past six years and he says with their equipment on it’s very safe.
“Falling, you don’t even think about it,” he says.
We’re taking his word for it because it doesn’t look easy. A view from the chopper shows how the pilot carefully maneuvers the workers and equipment into just the right spot on the pole while flying along power lines. Then the brave linemen make the repairs.
“It’s really a seat-of-your-pants type of flying. It really requires a lot of experience and skill,” says Joe Stambaugh, the pilot and director of safety and training.
On Monday the group replaced insulators, which hold the high voltage line to the power tower on transmission lines that carry 230,000 volts of electricity. If they fail and the lines go out, hundreds of thousands of customers could be affected.
The utility also uses the choppers and infrared cameras to inspect the lines for wear and storm damage, hoping to spot problems when they are small.
“If we have a storm that comes through the system and doesn’t cause a power outage, it still weathers our system,” says Le-Ha Anderson, Dominion Virginia Power spokeswoman.
Dominion says in situations where the terrain is hard to access from the ground it’s really much more efficient to go in from the air. From the air, the crew could finish in 45 minutes, whereas on the ground it would take hours.
“You can see different things from the air that you can’t see from the ground. Lightning strike damage, things that may only be seen from above,” says Stambaugh.
The impressive sight from above or below is just another day on the lines for the workers.