Repairing high tension power lines: Flying through the air with the greatest of ease

Image: WTVC

Repairing high-tension power lines like the one you see here, so that electricity can make it to your home is not a job for the squeamish. Instead of climbing up those tall towers, we'll show you with our NewsChannel 9 SkyCam how they literally fly in, fix the problem.. and fly right back out again.

As he adjusts his tool belt and harness, it's apparent that not everybody can do the job Dennis McCrosky does. "You've got to be a little right of the crazy center," he laughs.

McCrosky and his colleagues are TVA linemen. Their jobs take them high into the air, literally, to repair high tension power lines. Using a helicopter to make repairs on high tension power lines might seem a little extreme, but just imagine if you had to hike all the way to the tower, up and down hills and ravines, then climb to the top of the tower to make the repairs.

Getting to the site by helicopter, keeps them from being too tired to do the work, once they climb to the top.

Line construction manager Ken Matthews does not like to use the word "dangerous." "It's very 'hazardous work,' he says.

Once a year, the linemen practice the 'hazardous' technique of what to do when they helicopter to the top of any tower's repair site. After getting harnessed, the lineman takes a seat on the 'power bench' and buckles the seat belt. Although they practice with the power bench on the end of a fork lift, after the exercise, the same power bench will be attached to the helicopter.

The largest hook on the harness is your lifeline.. if you fall out, it keeps you from dropping down to the ground. When you lift off, it's fastened to the helicopter. The lift truck raises and lowers the worker into place, who then attachs what's called the 'bond lead' to the tower. "It's just to bleed off the static electricity that's built up on the helicopter," Matthews says.

The lineman then attaches the lifeline hook to the tower. When everything is secure, the linemen step off, does whatever work's needed, and then hops back on the power bench.. The 'lifeline hook' is removed from the tower and hooked back onto the helicopter. At that point, your work is done and the helicopter takes you back to the launch-landing site.

Watching them soar through the air to get to their job site, it's apparent that a layman could never be prepared for the job of a lineman. "You've got the heights, the voltage, even the potential voltage if the power is already off," says Matthews.

Enroute to the site and once there, the anticipation is relentless. "Butterflies," McCrosky says. "A little bit scared, a little bit excited."

But once the repair is done, "a whole lot of job," McCrosky says.

A helicopter SEEMS expensive but TVA says, building a road to it is even more expensive. "We can fly directly to the structure and have the repairs done," says Matthews, "usually before we can even design a road to it."

It is fearless work.. and one big adrenaline rush. "Bring your guts with you, though" laughs McCrosky. "Leave your common sense at home." Matthews says, these linemen maintain about 17-thousand miles of transmission line in the seven states of the T-V-A service area.

He says, right now, their success rate is 100 per cent, and nobody has ever been injured, repairing any of T-V-A's high-tension transmission lines.

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