“In my opinion, it’s the coolest job you could have.”
You’ve probably seen them before, but how do those giant balls get on power lines, and what is their purpose?
They’re aerial marker balls, and they’re used to help pilots see the lines and avoid flying into them. But to get them in place, Tennessee Valley Authority crews have to fly right up to those lines to attach the markers. Recently, markers were installed from a helicopter above the Tennessee River near Guntersville.
Tommy Hayes, a helicopter lineman with TVA, was responsible for installing them. He spoke with News 19 about what it’s like installing marker balls on power lines from a helicopter 300 feet in the air.
“The pilot mainly is looking at everything,” Hayes said. “Everything that he can see he’s using as a reference, because when we’re going over water, there’s not a stationary point for him to focus on to know that he’s not moving.”
The flight is difficult not just for the pilot; the two have to work perfectly in sync on every job.
“So any movement that I do, affects him. So if I reach and yank or pull on something, he might be floating away and not realize it, because I have the wire in my hands and it’s moving with us so, in his eyes, everything is staying the same,” said Hayes.
A few obvious factors, like the wind coming off of the helicopter blades, could easily become big problems for the two-man crew.
“Once I open it, all that air coming off the helicopter enters inside of that big ball of course,” Hayes said. “So once you open it, it’s a pretty quick process that starts at that point. I’ll open it, kinda pull towards me, he pulls at the same time.”
If the wind catches it in the wrong way, does that cause a big problem?
“Um not a big problem, it’s just, it’s like holding two parachutes in your hand kinda,” said Hayes. “So you notice that it pulls on ya, but you’re never at a point where you feel like that’s too much, anything like that. It’s just a little bit different.”
Hayes said the job isn’t for the faint of heart or anyone who’s afraid of heights, but he’s used to the work.
“I know it looks fairly complicated from the ground looking up when we’re doing it but, it’s just a pretty simple deal,” he said. “Because once we go on with the ball there’s a few nuts you put on, tighten them up, and on each end, there’s what we call a ‘preform’, and it wraps around the wire just kinda like a vice.”