People who live along U.S. Highway 2 and the Hi-Line in extreme northern Montana might be wondering what that helicopter was doing flying up and down the railroad tracks. Always looking for a new photo op (especially when it involves aviation photography) I decided to hunt down the helicopter and find where it was landing. And it didn’t take long to find it.
The helicopter was an Enstrom 480 owned by Cline Air Services and Central Valley Helicopters, which are located in Ellensburg, Washington. They are a small company that uses its fleet of helicopters to perform aerial seeding, fire suppression, wildlife surveying, charter tours, construction, and other related services to a variety of different companies and individuals. In this particular case their services were contracted by BNSF Railways to spray noxious weeds along the railroad right-of-way along the tracks in north central Montana.
The company uses on board GPS technology so the helicopters are able to apply herbicide precisely using this form of aerial application. They helicopter would fly up and down the tracks along a straight line spraying the weeds for about 15 to 20 minutes before landing on top of a large support truck to presumably take on additional fuel and/or herbicide. The pilot then took of and began the process all over again as the crew kept moving east to continue their work in the days that followed.
The Enstrom 480 is a popular and easy to fly light helicopter specifically designed as a trainer to teach pilots how to fly. It is also used to transport people (it can hold five people including the pilot), and for specialty purposes, such as this one…spraying noxious weeds for the railroad.
The best part was watching the pilot repeatedly stick its landing on the small platform welded to the top of the support truck, which is used to replenish its fuel and/or herbicide. It only took a few minutes to resupply before it took off again to continue spraying along the railroad right-of-way.
Above are a few aviation photos I made of the helicopter and its work just west of Kremlin.
Also take a look at my other examples of industrial photography here: