Helicopter Express was founded in 1995 as a single call-when-needed helicopter operation for the United States Forest Service. The seasonal contracts have since grown to a fleet of 22 mission-specific workhorses, and are dispatched worldwide for fire-fighting to heavy lifting, disaster relief, charter operations, aerial cinematography, and heli-skiing.
One mission in particular, heavy lifting, is accomplished in a small but mighty airframe powered by the Honeywell T53-17 engine, the Kaman K-MAX® K-1200 Helicopter. This single-seat helicopter has almost twice the lift capacity when put against comparable airframes and engines. The one-seat configuration allows the unusual flexibility of retrofitting for unmanned purposes, but with or without pilot, this wedge-shaped, bubble-window wonder can lift 6,000 lbs. without complaint, all day long, thanks to the venerable Honeywell T53-17 turboshaft engine, with 1500 maximum continuous SHP (shaft horsepower).
“It increased production from a conventional month-long project to a little over 5 hours”
A particular contract that Helicopter Express was awarded came with a caveat; decrease the time and overall project costs for setting 41 individual 100’ telephone towers along the major U.S. interstate I-70 in West Virginia. The typical tool for the job was a conventional crane, which meant (expensive) labor crew, closing the highway, disrupted traffic flows; and with an estimate of 1-2 poles set per day the project would take a month to complete.
Helicopter Express called their specialized K-MAX up for service on this project. The T53-17 engine’s reliability and capability to operate under high/hot conditions meant continuous heavy lifting without any performance degradation, with increased production. The K-MAX’s nimble qualities with the T53-17 engine provided easier access and quicker response than conventional equipment.
A month-long project with a conventional crane turned into a half-day project with the K-MAX K-1200 helicopter powered by the Honeywell T53-17 engine. Remarkably, this helicopter set a tower every 7-8 minutes, completing the project in 5 hours. No traffic impacts or control flows, no extra crew or expenses, with a whopping 99% decrease in time to complete the project. With those success factors, it’s no surprise Helicopter Express added two more Kaman K-MAX K-1200 helicopters to their fleet of heavy lifters. That’s serious lift in a single seat.