Every three minutes, the helicopter flew from the mountainside carrying another pine tree to drop in a pile beside the dirt road.
Pilot Roland Bergamyer worked as efficiently and methodically as a bee carrying pollen back to the hive.For several hours, the work progressed without a hitch as the drone of the helicopter echoed in the canyon south of Pebble Creek Ski Area recently. By the end of the day, a pile of logs was ready to be hauled away.
The workday, averaging about seven hours, concluded without a hitch, belying the dangers of aerial logging. It demands that pilots and ground crews work precisely as a team.
"It's pretty wild-looking," Bergamyer said. "When I first saw aerial logging, I was astounded. I had no idea a helicopter could do that. It's pretty spectacular."
Aerial logging has become more popular in the past couple of years because it's an economically efficient way to harvest trees and not harm the forest. "We can get in and out without destroying the environment," he said.
As he flew, Bergamyer constantly communicated via radio with his crew on the mountainside as they roped up trees for him to pick up.
The crew used chokers, pieces of thick rope about 20 feet long with loops in both ends. They put the rope under a tree, then threaded it back through a loop on one end. The other end of the rope with its loop was then slipped into a hook that dangled from the end of a 100-foot metal cable attached to the belly of the helicopter. As the helicopter lifted the tree, the rope cinched around it.
Bergamyer flew it out, swooping toward the log pile, where he navigated a semicircle and swung the log outward until it dangled above the other logs. Then he lowered it to the ground and pushed a button, which released the mechanized hook and let the log fall.
Ideally, for aerial logging to be cost-effective, a pilot should drop a log about every minute and a half, Bergamyer said. Each round trip on the job south of Pebble Creek took twice as long, partially because he had to navigate around a radio tower.
A pilot who does aerial logging must be precise and have a lot of guts and patience, said Scott Kimball, a mechanic who worked on the helicopter Ber-ga-myer was flying.
Bergamyer and Kimball work for Pacific Western, an aerial logging company based in Provo.
A pilot has to have 3,000 hours flying time with a long line before Pacific Western will consider hiring him, Kimball said. Bergamyer, 50, has been a pilot for 20 years and gained his experience flying with a long line when he worked for a logging company in Alaska.
It's dangerous flying because a pilot works on "a deadman's curve," Kimball said. "He's flying with a high gross weight at a high power setting with low air speed. If he makes a mistake, he can be on the ground in two seconds."
Bergamyer acknowledges the dangers of his job and at the same time marvels at the capabilities of his aircraft, an Aerospatiale Lama, a helicopter designed in France to work in the Alps. It's reached altitudes of 40,800 feet and has been used on a search and rescue mission at the top of Mount McKinley, Kimball said.
"It's a very efficient light utility helicopter," Bergamyer said. "It flies at the absolute limits of its capabilities all day long."
He lands the helicopter about every hour to give the crew a break and to have Kimball maintain it.
Bergamyer's work requires constant concentration. "It's exciting because it's a challenge every minute," he said. "It can be dangerous if you get careless. You have to be paying attention to what's going on. If you're not concentrating, you can get hurt or hurt someone else."
Once last week, he had to drop a tree before he reached the log pile because weather suddenly became turbulent.
"It's hard work," Bergamyer said. "It's something I enjoy. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."