Waterford — With the precision of a surgeon and the finesse of a tailor, a helicopter hovered Monday morning about 100 feet above the ground on Boston Post Road, pulling and threading nylon rope into a pulley mounted on new high-voltage towers.
The nylon rope will eventually pull new electric lines into place.
"What used to take weeks, now just takes hours to do," said Frank J. Poirot, Connecticut Light & Power spokesman, of the project. "This is being done to strengthen the power grid and our reliability to provide uninterrupted service in southern New England. It also will make us less vulnerable to lightning strikes."
The Hughes model 500 helicopter, yellow with white stripes, moved horizontally, occasionally lowering and raising itself to guide the rope into the pulley. At the other end of the pulley, a worker in a crane 80 feet above the ground helped secure the rope.
The helicopter flew from Spithead Road to its ultimate destination on Rock Ridge Road.
The operation was a bit tricky as the helicopter used a device called a needle — a stick about 10 to 15 feet long with two separated, red hoops — to guide the rope through an unmanned, center row of "H-framed" towers.
The needle dangled from a rope as the helicopter had to spin from left to right and then quickly from right to left to guide it into the pulley. Sometimes the wind would blow the needle, forcing the specially trained pilot to fly upwards to reposition the needle into the pulley.
After the nylon line was strung through the 13 structures — a distance of more than 6,700 feet — the helicopter then strung shield wires that are supposed to protect the wires from lightning strikes.
The process took a little more than two hours to complete. Eventually ground crews will use the pulley system to pull steel wires that will then pull the conductors, which are about 1 1/2-inch thick steel core, wrapped with aluminum wires.
Once in place, the wires will be pulled from the temporary pulleys, which will be removed from the tower, and placed into insulators, which resemble a string of dishes.
Those lines are expected to be energized towards the end of the month.
Weather permitting, the helicopter is expected to fly again on Wednesday where it will pull rope from Rock Ridge Road to a point north on Interstate 95 in the area of Lowes.
Earlier in September, the helicopter did the same procedure from a right-of-way on the Millstone property to Spithead Road.
The project in its entirety, which includes replanting and restoration of some terrain, is expected to be completed in the first quarter of the upcoming year.
Costs for the project was not immediately available. CL&P contracted the project to Par Electric out of Kansas City, Mo., which hired the helicopter.
Poirot said there are several procedures in place to ensure the project is safe. He said the pilot has access to a control that will release the rope in the event that it got tangled . Also, he said there is an automatic release that goes off if there is too much tension on the line.
The pilot is also in constant contact with the crews on the ground.
"We can go through swamp, rocks and pond in a short period of time and it has little impact on the environment," said Poirot.