Heavy Lifting!

Last Saturday I went to shoot a video about a helicopter that was removing the old Deer Crest chairlift. This job is a necessary first step before receiving the slightly larger towers that are being built for the new Mountaineer Express chairlift on Little Baldy Mountain at Deer Valley. Before I even left home, I saw a strange helicopter flying by the Wasatch Mountains. A few moments later, I was picked up at Snow Park Lodge by Chuck English, Deer Valley Resort’s Director of Mountain Operations.

On the way up to the lift, Chuck explained that Dopplemayr, the company supplying lifts to Deer Valley, had orchestrated a complex and precise operation to remove the eighteen towers assemblies that constituted the Deer Crest chairlift and bring them down to the bottom of the lift in less than two hours. He further explained that the helicopter used for the operation was a very expensive piece of equipment, costing around $4,000 per hour of flight time. I knew a few things about choppers, but not much about the special machine that came that morning. That one was used for hauling timber, moving lift towers around or even fighting fires.

The aircraft in question was a 1998 K-1200 made by Kaman Aerospace Corporation, powered by a 1,500 hp engine and owned by Timberline Helicopters, Inc. of Sandpoint, Idaho. This company is specialized in ski lift, power lines and pipelines construction, as well as logging among other diversified activities. This model, also called K-Max has two main intermeshing rotors but no tail rotor. Its two rotors turn in opposite directions, with each rotor mast mounted on the helicopter in a slight angle relative to the other and in such a way that the blades intermesh without colliding.

This original design is what allows the helicopter to function without the need for a tail rotor. This configuration is referred to as a synchropter. Such helicopters offer both high stability and powerful lifting capability, further they are more efficient, have a natural tendency to hover and are excellent for precision work in placing suspended loads. They’re also more responsive to the pilot’s control inputs, making it possible to easily and precisely swing a very heavy load; in fact, this flying crane can lift more than it own weight – 6,000 lbs – and while it burns an average of 85 gallons of fuel per hour during lift operations like this one, it remains the most efficient lift-to-fuel ratio of any helicopter in its class.

Like on fixed-wing aircraft, the lift of the helicopter rotating wings is produced by its reaction with the surrounding air. The denser the air, the greater the reaction. As the aircraft climbs in altitude, the air becomes less dense, so the amount of lift is reduced. This is because the atmospheric pressure acting on a given volume of air is reduced, allowing the air molecules to move further apart. At some point in a climb, up into a high mountain environment for instance, the lift produced by the thinning air is only enough to maintain the altitude, but no longer enough to climb. This constitutes the absolute ceiling for the aircraft.

The air density is not just a function of altitude though; the atmospheric pressure plays a role too; if the pressure is lower, the air is not as dense. Same effect with the temperature; as warm air expands, the air molecules move further apart, creating lighter air, but the reverse is also true as cooler air will create denser air conditions. Finally moisture influences lift as well; as the water content of the air increases, the air becomes less dense, decreasing performance. Increased relative humidity also contributes to that loss of lift.

To illustrate these physical facts, the working crew that day was telling us that while performing a similar work at 11,000 feet elevation at nearby Snowbird, earlier in the week, the weather was so hot and humid that the helicopter had a challenging time carrying some of its loads. At times and when the parts allows it certain elements like the sheave assemblies must be removed from the cross arm that sits on top of a chairlift tower and be replaced later on. In terms of lifting performance, the K-Max cargo hook capacity is rated at 6,000 lb at sea level. At 10,000 feet it’s about 5,163 lb and at 15,000 feet it falls significantly to 4,313 lb.

At the end of August, when the towers will have been manufactured, the helicopter will return to replace the new infrastructure of what will be the new “Mountaineer Express” chairlift. I hope I’ll get to be invited again to shoot the scene and focus on the wonderful choreography between some heavy hardware, a team of skilled craftsmen and a wonderful flying machine…


All Aboard!

If you’re getting ready to board the plane with your kids during the holiday season, and the very thought strikes terror in your soul, let me say this: I feel your pain!

We fly away a few times a year, and recently, when someone asked me how I managed the solo flight with both kids (and one plane change), when we returned home a few days after Ski Dad, I said, simply: I have no memory of it whatsoever. Like childbirth, it meant I would inevitably sign up to do it again.

So, earlier this month, the family headed to Florida (complaint department moment: It was NOT WARM. NOT POOL WEATHER.) and I wondered what the trip would be like. As in, casually wondered, instead of actively worrying. I guess part of it stems from the fact that we do this enough to know that we can only control a very small amount of the action—and the kids’ moods. Also, Little Guy is toilet trained, so less stuff, less EXTRA stuff, etc. I will spare you the story of the “present” that rolled out of a loosened diaper in the boarding lounge onceuponatime.

 Anyway, we packed pretty light, but smart. And it went…WELL!

Here, some airport highlights:

SIT PRETTY We use a Sit-n-Stroll, even though our three-year-old is long past the days of passively hanging in a stroller. (Really, was he ever fond of those days?) Still, it’s novel, we ONLY use it on trips (so it’s appearance is a signal that adventure is in the offing) and this time he was to use it only as his sweet ride between concourses, and also his car seat. He learned the term Gate Check and (quite adorably) wondered if there were other items, such as our RV, that we could gate check, too. Even if you are on your last baby, if you don’t own this piece of gear, buy it before you come out for your vacation. Having a car-seat at the ready for rental cars or even airport shuttles and taxis is a fabulous thing.

Also, when the kid wants to walk (ahem, run) alongside you (and believe me, factor in time for this between flights, if you can), it’s a great cart for your carry-ons.

BOTTOMLESS PURSE. You know how the mommy handbag always contains a surprise? (Once, when I was interviewing a Famous Person, I dug into my handbag –WHICH I HAD CLEANED OUT before the interview—to fetch a pen, and came up with an armless Lego guy, half a Clif Z Bar, and (score!) a mechanical pencil replete with Spongebob motif.) Now, go through your house and find the dumb toys. Little mechanical things that come in kids’ meals, rev-up monster trucks that are roughly small enough to palm. Or Hot Wheels. If you don’t have some, get them. When you are hanging about the airport lounge, bust out these toys and allow your kids to zip ‘em around the floor. My kids managed to trip only a few unsuspecting passengers. Sigh.  

Steve Jobs is your best parenting weapon. I don’t care if your kids are on a strict diet of watercolor lessons and picture books at home. The iPod video is the must-have tool for any airplane trip. I downloaded identical video and audio playlists to two far-from-obsolete-but-redundant-to-iPhone-owners iPod Video units in our house. And to my iPhone. Just. In. Case. Plus a hand-held gaming console for each (the kind they make for three year olds, and one that even growunups love). Can I just say, my kids were so well-entertained that I got to use my new iPad inflight? Yes, we did some coloring, some reading to each other, some tic-tac-toe, but the kids were not sick of me by the second hour of flying. (SkiDad sits across the aisle, and manages the food and, ahem, tech support).

 Set aside some scratch for on-board food. Trust me, I pack my own snacks. Nutrient-dense bar thingies for one-and-all, mixed unsalted nuts, dried fruit. ThinBagels with a schmear (they take up less space). But I plan to buy something from the snacks-for-sale cart on the flight. Why? Cause the kids think it’s fun. And we can play “Be A Duck” with the canned chips. It’s cheap entertainment. And my kids are usually too full from the other stuff to finish the chips.

In the airport, eat at the place with the friendliest staff. A special shout-out to the Sports Grill in Concourse B of the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport: This restaurant is so well-managed, the entire staff seems to come out to greet arriving patrons, lead them to the table, all the while attending to those already seated. The wait staff makes smart menu suggestions and carries crayons. Find a place like this in every airport you use. You won’t regret it.

And if you notice we had time enough on our layover for a sit-down meal, then good for you. I know, I know, you want the trip to be OVER. But our experience has shown us that no one enjoys the ride if we’re racing to catch a connection—or if you miss the connection and then first need to figure out how to get where you’re going before the week is up.