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  • Last modified 73 days ago (Aug. 10, 2017)

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Chopping from a chopper

Staff writer

It’s not unusual to see helicopters from Fort Riley or medical helicopters taking patients from one hospital to another, but a chopper with a dangling string of whirling saws suspended from it is what people along Union Pacific railroad tracks saw Thursday and Friday.

A pilot and ground crew for Rotor Blade, a South Carolina company that does aerial sidewall trimming for railroads, utility companies, and pipelines, was trimming a section of trees in railroad right of way.

When the helicopter reached Marion, a crowd gathered at the Main St. crossing, most taking photos with cell phones.

According to ground crew member Phillip Meredith, the crew originally came to trim branches along 15 miles of track Thursday as a demonstration. By noon that day, UP had hired them for an additional 90 miles, taking the helicopter from Peabody through Aulne, Marion, Lincolnville, Lost Springs, and well beyond the county line.

Pilot Wesley Bogar flew the helicopter over the tracks and operated 10 belt-driven saws, trimming branches 80 feet below the helicopter.

Each of the two-foot saw blades has its own engine inside a cage mounted at the top of the row.

Ground crew members Meredith and Gene Zurcher are responsible for finding landing zones and fuel for the helicopter and picking up brush for disposal.

The team worked closely with UP authorities, who gave them access to tracks when trains were not in the area to be trimmed, and access to train dispatchers to assist with the project.

Rotor Blade is one of three companies in the United States that provides helicopter-driven trimming services, Zurcher said.

Last modified Aug. 10, 2017

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