In the old days, forestland was harvested by loggers who had to build roads to the logging site. While necessary, these roads stripped away parts of hillsides, increasing the likelihood of landslides due to erosion and disrupting wildlife habitats.
Increasingly though, helicopters are being used to harvest timber, bringing logs off the mountainside with minimal damage to the surrounding area. In many cases, the logging crew can be flown in as well.
If done correctly, helicopter logging, or heli-logging as it is known, can be a safe way to access areas that would in the past be too dangerous or ecologically harmful to reach. Because less infrastructure is needed to support logging operations, there’s much less impact on wildlife habits, streams and rivers and the existing ecosystem.
Heli-logging is not without its dangers, of course. The downward wash of the rotors can create unpredictable challenges, including causing loose timbers and snags to become flying projectiles on the ground, potentially harming the logging crew.
Dropped loads are another danger. There is always the danger that the trees being transported can be lost in transit, meaning that anyone or anything underneath can become a target for a 1,800 kg load of trees. As such, a route must be chosen that doesn’t cross over highways, homes or individuals unless the areas are temporarily closed.
The use of helicopters is nothing new in logging. But with the increased value of lumber, particularly older growth trees that have been damaged by storms or natural disasters, heli-logging is becoming a popular alternative for logging companies.
As such, new ideas are being incorporated, including the use of “standing stem” harvesting. Here, a tree is selected ahead of time and the helicopter uses something called a horizontal grapple to grab the tree and snap the trunk at pre-cut points. The tree is then lifted right up out of the forest and delivered to the ground crew some distance away.
While the Huey has long been a workhorse for heli-logging, Kaman began producing a helicopter in the 1990s designed specifically for lifting – the K-MAX. In operation in more than 10 countries now, the K-MAX is a single-engine, single-seat helicopter that can lift nearly 2,8000 kg, which is perfect for logging as well as firefighting.
If one knows the family tree of helicopters, one will instantly recognize that the K-MAX shares some common DNA with the Kaman Huskie. Like the Huskie, the K-MAX uses counter-rotating main rotors powered by a single Lycoming T5317A-1 gas turbine. There’s no tail rotor, allowing all power to be used for the rotors. Thanks to the single engine design, the K-MAX burns only 82 gallons of fuel per hour during lift operations. Not bad considering the loads it is hoisting.
Known as the “Aerial Truck” for good reason, there’s no room for passengers. Instead the K-MAX features a fuselage designed for maximum pilot visibility, a very desirable feature during external lift operations.
Not only can the K-MAX be used for heli-logging, but also it can be fitted with a water cannon and snorkel for firefighting operations or additional equipment can allow it to be used for patrol or agricultural applications.
Given its lift to power ratio, its versatility and its efficiency, the K-MAX is fast becoming the most popular choice in heli-logging operations around the world.