October 15, 2005 Australia’s vast distances, harsh climate and isolated communities present major challenges for companies delivering vital services like electricity. To help in this environment, Brisbane-based Aeropower has developed a Volvo 380hp FM9 truck into a mobile helicopter landing and maintenance facility. Aeropower’s Volvo-based mobile facilities for its fleet of Hughes MD500 helicopters plays an essential role in the aerial survey and maintenance of high voltage power transmission lines by providing not only a safer, elevated landing platform for its helicopter crew, but also fuel, water and maintenance provisions to maximise operating efficiency in the field.
The portable helicopter landing and service unit is actually constructed from a standard 20ft shipping container fitted with a 4,000 litre fuel tank and a 7,000 litre water storage, all topped by a fold out landing pad. This allows safer refuelling and landing for the helicopter while delivering fuel and maintenance closer to the areas where the Aeropower team is operating, reducing transit time between refuels.
Often traversing roads that are little more than dirt tracks the Volvo FM9 has proven its dependability in the toughest conditions ensuring it is always able to establish a mobile operations base close to where the helicopter is working. With its assistance Aeropower is able to move down the power line without the need to enter farmers’ properties, eliminating the need to drive across and damage valuable crops.
Aeropower’s Steve Jones believes it was the first company in the world to develop and operate mobile helicopter landing platforms. "We started using mobile landing platforms in 1992, but the original vehicle we used was not up to the task. We found that we could not fully load the unit as it would have been overweight on the front axle."
The problem led Aeropower to search for a replacement truck, a task that was made easier by Volvo’s proactive attitude according to Steve, "We’re not a trucking company, so we knew very little about specifying a truck and that is where Volvo really excelled."
"Volvo Trucks however came and met with us and used their Weight Information System (WIS) and Performance (Perf) programs to match our requirements with the appropriate specification truck," he added. "It was that sort of pre-sale service, combined with very competitive pricing, that led us to choose the Volvo."
The twin-steer Volvo FM9 has allowed Aeropower to fully utilise the potential of its helicopter landing and service unit now able to run with the tanks fully laden. The 4,000 litres of Jet Fuel – A1 and 7,000 litres of de-mineralised water means the fluids alone tip the scales at 10 tonnes and when fully loaded the Volvo FM9 comes in a tonne under its 28 tonne GVM.
The need to tackle rough country to be close to helicopter operations was another essential element for Aeropower and this meant the 8x4 chassis was the perfect choice. The FM9 comes standard with cross locks in each rear axle, and disc brakes with ABS/EBS added to the attraction and has resulted in tangible savings in terms of tyre wear. Steve attributes this to the way the Volvo FM9 puts its power to the ground and its smooth effective braking.
The Volvo FM9’s specification enables Aeropower to utilise the truck through a diverse range of terrain from urban areas to rural bush tracks and to even some of the remotest parts of the Continent. Coupled to the D9A 380hp Volvo engine is the V2214, 14-speed split and range change transmission, which has the capability for high average cruising speeds - making it ideal for those long transport legs such as across Australia’s Nullabor Plain.
The truck not only provides vital refuelling and replenishment in isolated areas, but also delivers a safer and better landing facility for the Hughes MD500 Helicopters used by Aeropower. The level elevated landing platform three metres off the ground, keeps the helicopter clear of dust, which can be extremely damaging to jet engines. The platform also ensures the aircraft is clear of people on the ground improving the safety of operations and has allowed ground crews to get into areas they could not even contemplate in the past, further cutting transport time for the helicopter crews.
"Our operations are spread over a vast range of terrain and locations all over the country," said Steve. "We are currently operating in Western Australia, but soon we will be back on the east coast working in Far North Queensland, which gives you some idea of the sort of territory the Volvo FM9 has to tackle."