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Contributing to history in the making is an awesome privilege.
Over the past 20 months, FDH’s broadcast division, Stainless, has mobilized topnotch field crews to tackle tower modifications for the hundreds of television stations switching to new channels as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) broadcast repack initiative.
Perhaps the most challenging and dangerous work involves the removal and installation of top-mounted antennas, which rest on towers rising as high as 2,000 feet in the air. To give you a sense of this staggering height, the Empire State Building is a mere 1,454 feet at its tip, as pointed out by Melton Bell, project manager for Stainless.
Undaunted by such challenges, Stainless crews have worked tirelessly to respond to the needs of television tower owners across the country, often braving extreme weather, compressed construction schedules, and now, a global pandemic.
To Bell and colleague Jerry Folk, director of broadcast operations, it became clear early on that the traditional means of using gin pole rigging to hoist antennas and other equipment 2,000 feet in the air would be completely impractical given the 36-month construction schedule established for the repack.
The idea of collaborating with helicopter lift services quickly became reality in January 2019 when Stainless teamed up with Erickson, Inc. to perform a total of nine helicopter lifts, or picks as they are called, for a major tower owner. For that job, Stainless and Erickson removed three antennas and three lattice sections and installed one lattice section and two new antennas – all in one day.
In addition to Erickson, Stainless has also worked with HTS (Helicopter Transport Services) and CHI (Construction Helicopter, Inc.) to complete repack-related work.
The time savings is remarkable. A helicopter has the capacity to lift 30,000 pounds of equipment in 30 minutes, compared to 3 weeks for a crew to perform the same work with a gin pole.
According to Folk, who is responsible for issuing the bid requests for helicopter lifts and arranging the schedules, by far “the greatest value to the customer is the speed of the process. By using helicopter lifts, tower crews can install the main antennas, as opposed to interim, lower power antennas, putting a station at full power. For the station, that means reaching more viewers and more advertising dollars faster.”
For Stainless, letting helicopters do the heavy lifting means the company can dedicate its crews to the entire scope of work while enhancing crew safety.
“Putting a gin pole on a tower is one of the most dangerous tasks in our industry,” says Folk. “It requires extensive training and experience and is extremely dependent on weather conditions. The helicopter lifts allow us to push the work forward as quickly and safely as humanly possible given the amount of time allotted for the repack.”
Picks may be safer than gin poles for tall tower work, but you can never let your guard down. Crew leader Richard Overby, who is responsible for the tower crew’s training and safety during the entire lift operation, stresses “we must be extra careful and double check all elements involved, even if they seem irrelevant. We have to be on top to ensure all goes as planned and be ready with the alternatives if something goes off plan.”
Bell, who acts as a liaison between the tower crew and helicopter pilot, understands firsthand the precision and coordination required for successful helicopter lifts. The work never fails to inspire him.
“I believe Stainless has set a precedent in the industry for how to execute helicopter lifts,” says Bell. “Twenty to thirty years from now, when the next repack is mandated, and we have all retired, I hope companies will look back at Stainless’ history to understand how to do the job right. The bar has been set high – literally 2,000 feet high!”
Folk agrees and adds that Stainless truly is the gold standard in the industry. From business development to engineering to field crews to collaboration with helicopter lift services and other tall tower partners, exceptional teamwork has made the repack project an especially rewarding experience for all concerned.
Special Thanks to Our Awesome Tall Tower Crews!