Harvesting from Overhead
delivers an economical alternative to heli-logging in extreme conditions.
by Tony Kryzanowski
delimbing device delimbs standing timber from top to bottom.
The feller/buncher, the stroke
delimber, the harvester/processor -these were all inventions that changed the
direction of the world's forest industry. Now meet the next big invention for
use particularly in steep slope logging, the 'heli-harvester'. It is now
possible to economically delimb, fell, grapple and transport small- to
medium-size standing timber -typically harvested using the traditional, labor
intensive, heli-logging method-using a single tool called the heli-harvester.
The entire process of flying a
helicopter and operating a heli-harvester tool dangling below requires only one
person: the helicopter pilot. And Timber/West is the first media outlet given
full access to its research and development. Well-known Utah and Colorado heli-logger,
Bob Chalifoux, invented this device that may change steep slope logging
He sold the world's first
commercial heliharvester to helilogging company Canadian Air Crane in British
Columbia, Canada for potential use in certain select harvesting applications in
Weyerhaeuser's coastal BC timber stands. Both Canadian Air Crane and
Weyerhaeuser were impressed with the heli-harvester's performance after
witnessing a recent demonstration hosted by Chalifoux.
He has been using his invention
successfully for the past three years in his own business, developing and
improving the product along the way, to the point where he's developed a light-,
medium- and heavy-duty model. However, he recently decided it was time to launch
the heli-harvester into the commercial market before someone else did, and
created a company called Heli-Harvester, Inc.
Bob Chalifoux, inventor
of the heli-harvester, watches the unit harvest standing timber through
an observation bubble installed on his helicopter.
"It wasn't for sale until we
talked about it and decided to start marketing it because if we didn't, someone
else would copy it for sure," says Chalifoux. "We've received a patent
for our heli-harvester in both the United States and Canada." He owns six
medium-lift helicopters in his heli-logging and heli-portable seismic company
and has worked for most forestry companies in parts of the U.S. and B.C. over
the past seven years.
The heli-portable seismic branch
of his business serves the oil and gas industry, moving portable drilling rigs
from one location to another. A number of forestry companies active in the Rocky
Mountain States and American Northwest have traditionally used heli-logging as
the only means of economically harvesting valuable timber situated on steep
slopes and treacherous terrain. This type of logging usually requires a
considerable labor force such as chainsaw operators, hookers, riggers and
chokers to deliver timber to the landing.
Essentially, the helicopter's role
in this operation is simply to wait until forestry workers at ground level
attach logs to cable tethers hanging from the helicopter, and then deliver them
to the landing below. It's an expensive way to log, but often the only
alternative given ground conditions.
begins to delimb a tree in the mountainous terrain of British Columbia.
Chalifoux does not foresee the
heli-harvester displacing workers, because in many cases, forestry companies
have already abandoned certain sites that can only be harvested using the
traditional heli-logging method because of the expense. The heli-harvester will
actually create a certain amount of employment, he says.
Timber stands will still need to
be investigated for harvesting potential, trees will still need to be marked to
avoid harvesting inferior wood and chain saw operators will still be needed at
the landing to ensure that a thorough delimbing job has been done. Furthermore,
bigger timber will still offer a steady income for chainsaw operators, an
environment in which they prefer to work anyway because it generates more
The heli-harvester is available in
a number of configurations - as a combination felling, delimbing and grapple
unit or as individual felling or grappling units. Here is how it works. Once a
target has been identified, the pilot maneuvers the helicopter so that the heli-harvester
is positioned above the tree. Chalifoux's helicopters have been equipped with a
special viewing bubble so that the pilot can lean over and observe the entire
process as it happens.
Using a control stick, the pilot
operates the heli-harvester as it grabs the tree at the top, then delimbs it
from top to bottom. Part of the heli-harvester's design includes a metal ring
that encircles the top of the tree trunk, stopping the tree from falling during
the delimbing and felling process. The tree is then grappled at the stump, while
a saw performs the felling.
The helicopter then lifts off and
transports it to the landing. During the product's testing phase, Chalifoux
noticed a number of huge advantages using the heli-harvester as opposed to
conventional heli-logging, simply because the trees are harvested from a
standing position versus lying on the ground. "You get great recovery using
the heli-harvester for the simple reason that, normally when you fall the wood,
you lose about 30 percent of the fiber due to shatter and breakage," he
says. "Usually, the wood is falling in steep slopes, rock outcrops and
things like that. Breakage even occurs on flat ground.
With the heli-harvester, you can
let the tree down gently and you recover about 30 percent more volume from that
tree." He adds that this method also results in less wear and tear on the
helicopter. "You are not dead lifting the tree from a slash pile and trying
to rip it free from other trees," he says. "It's already in clean air
because it is in a vertical position." Furthermore, this method also saves
time, resulting in huge savings for forestry companies because of the expense
inherent in the operation of a helicopter.
With heli-logging, it is all about
pounds harvested per hour. "A lot of your time in heli-logging is spent
picking up the tree and trying to get it vertical," says Chalifoux.
"With this method, you just drop your machine on the tree, cut it and,
because you are already standing in clean air, you are gone." He is
realistic about the product's worldwide potential, predicting that there is
probably a market for about 100 heliharvesters worldwide. However, as it becomes
more prevalent, forestry companies may find other economical uses for this
device. For now, this technology represents a more cost-effective method of
harvesting trees in specific circumstances.
Among these are situations where
the helicopter can fly less than a kilometer between the harvest zone and the
landing. It also works well in steep slopes where it is too dangerous for
chainsaw operators to work and where conventional falling could result in 50
percent breakage. Additionally, this method makes it possible for forestry
companies to select harvest small- to medium-size timber in environmentally
sensitive areas, as it has virtually no environmental impact because roads are
required and the highest- grade trees be targeted.
Finally, because heli-harvester
logging targets standing timber, forestry companies are not hampered by ground
conditions such as deep snow. Weather permitting, the heliharvester can operate
productively year round, as opposed to the current heli-logging season, which is
virtually shut down during the winter months. That, in fact, is what spurred
Chalifoux to ponder the invention of a heli-harvester in the first place. He and
his staff had plenty of time to ponder constructive alternatives to traditional
heli-logging during the typically slow winter months.
Initially, they developed a
grapple device that would allow them to pick up trees knocked down by chainsaw
operators below. "It was pretty efficient and worked quite well," says
Chalifoux, "but in the winter time, there was always a problem with snow.
You lose the wood under the snow, so you have to wait till next summer to fly
the logs out. We thought that our next step would be to try to build a machine
that actually delimbs and cuts the tree standing." After experimenting with
sharpened pieces of pipe as a delimbing device, Chalifoux settled on chipper
knives welded to the bottom of a ring because they consist of very sharp and
rugged steel. With that problem solved, the next challenge was drafting a
feasible saw design.
"I came up with a fairly
light saw, using a Hultdins sawblade," says Chalifoux. "Then I had to
figure out how to supply horsepower at 30 gallons per minute and 3,000 psi to
make it work. I had to find a power plant that was light enough and ended up
using a snowmobile engine." It was ideal, he says, because a snowmobile
engine produces 100 horsepower quite easily and is the lightest alternative when
considering power-to-weight ratio.
It runs both the saw and the
hydraulics. A number of safety features are built into the heli-harvester's
system, including an engine kill switch in case of a heli-harvester engine
malfunction or a blown hydraulic hose. In a worst case scenario, the entire heli-harvester
can be jettisoned from the helicopter. Chalifoux says the cost of a heli-harvester
is comparable to conventional felling heads.
Installation is the customer's
responsibility, and staff at Chalifoux's heli-logging company can provide
operator training. At present, the heli-harvester is at the critical stage of
achieving market acceptance. Chalifoux is convinced of its production
capabilities. Now it is a matter of convincing other high profile heli-logging
companies and forestry companies of its potential.
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