MANASSAS PARK, Va. (WUSA) - You think you've got a tough job?
How'd you like to have to work 150 feet up or more in the open air, on high-power transmission lines?
It is highly-specialized maintenance work that is now the norm for Dominion Virginia in keeping transmission lines operating because if they go out, hundreds of thousands of people would lose power.
That's why you might see a man dangling on a rope some 30 feet below a helicopter. He's one of several lineman from Haverfield Aviation, which is contracted by Virginia Dominion Power to do maintenance on hi-power transmission lines. Sometimes, they do work on energized lines, but on Monday they had rerouted the electricity. It's still dangerous work that requires the utmost precision, by both the linemen and the pilot.
Former pilot Joe Stamaugh, who is Haverfield's Director of Safety and Training, says the pilot actually pokes his head out of the chopper to communicate with the linemen. The linemen wear helmets with plus signs on top and either nod or shake their heads to ask for equipment that's being lowered to move to the right or left.
Dominion Virginia invited news crews out to watch this high-flying work underway in Manassas Park. Sometimes the workers are as high as 400 feet to get to the often hard to reach transmission lines.
Ron Vandiber, Haverfield's Director of Line Operations says sometimes you just can't get a truck to the lines. Many transmission lines go over lakes, streams and wetlands. "It's easier to fly in and do it," he said.
Plus, flying in actally saves money. A recent project through wetlands that would've taken 30 days, only took 4 days, and was a third of the cost, Dominion says.
This crew is replacing the insulators, which are those vertical coil- like pieces that stop the electricity from grounding. The old ones that were replaced had rips in the rubber-like polymer discs after 15 years of wear and tear.
The linemen always work with the same team, 21 days on, 10 days, that helps them develop a bond like a good sports team. We watched two workers on the same tower hi-five each other when they were done.
Vandiber, who spent years doing the high-flying work himself, says it feels like your flying when the helicopter carries you through the air. "They love it. It's exciting. It's fun."
The specially-skilled workers come from all over the country - one's from Seattle- flying by airplane to their destinations, where they then get to fly through the open air, like a bird.