Bridgewater Logging Invests in a DroneBridgewater Logging has added a new piece to its equipment lineup — a drone — being set up in front of the Doosan and Thunderbird TTY-6170 yarder.

Taking to the Skies

Bridgewater Logging Invests in a Drone

By Andrea Watts

As operations manager of Bridgewater Logging, Matt Cron has run every piece of logging machinery there is. Yet operating the new machine the company acquired in November 2018 makes him nervous — even though it’s small enough to fit comfortably in the backseat of Matt’s pickup. Just as the processor was a game-changer for the industry, a drone has proven to be a game-changer for Bridgewater Logging.

Making an Investment

Matt credits his Uncle George, president of Bridgewater Logging, for suggesting they invest in a drone (also known as unmanned aircraft system or UAS). George heard through word-of-mouth about drones being used on logging operations. Matt contacted Mark Standley, owner of Oregon-based Pacific UAV Technology, to learn more. Pacific UAV is currently the only company in the Pacific Northwest creating a drone package for logging companies.

After seeing a demonstration, Bridgewater Logging made the investment of $45,000. “It’s a big investment,” Matt admits, “but it’s worth it if you want to save the guys.”
As for how the crew responded to their new partner, dubbed the Hector 5, Matt says, “My guys love it, especially my hook tender.”

Bridgewater Logging Invests in a DroneSaving Time

A 15-year veteran with Bridgewater Logging, Jesus Diaz has been their full-time hook tender for eight years, and Matt Friese joined a few years ago. Because of Hector 5, this is the first year that Diaz and Friese no longer lug haywire across the valley and over the ridgetop to the tailholt in the back of the unit. Instead the Hector 5 flies that distance with a 1/4 X-Trema rope that is then attached to the tailholt. Jesus attaches the haywire to the rope, and it’s strung back across the tree tops, hanging the skyline in a fraction of the time. Work that used to require a day is now completed in less than an hour.

“It’s amazing how much work it cuts out for Jesus and Friese,” Matt explains, adding, “We’ve made their lives so much easier.”

That being said, the drone cannot replace all the work that Jesus performs. He is still just as busy scouting the locations for the skyline anchors, but now he directs Matt via radio when to drop the rope at each anchor site, while Friese assists with the launch of the drone.

Bridgewater Logging Invests in a DroneLearning Curve

Describing his experience working with Mark Standley at Pacific UAV, Matt says Standley was “unbelievable to work with.” Standley tutored Matt on how to operate the drone and use the accompanying software that tracks each flight and generates statistics such as flight time and distance flown. On an iPad, Matt can view the miles and miles of rope flown since November: around 70 flights with an average of 2,500 to 3,800 feet per flight.

While the drone has reduced the time spent manually running lines, Matt says he must be more proactive in planning work flow. Depending upon where the new lines need strung, he prefers to fly the drone from the ridgelines to avoid shutting down the tower. When launching the drone, the area needs to be cleared, both on the ground and in the air.

On average, it takes about 30-45 minutes to run three lines. On today’s flight, Friese is tasked with swapping out the batteries and letting out the rope. Regarding issues of strength and visibility, Bridgewater prefers to use a high-tensile bright orange 1/4 X-Trema rope sold at Harbor Saw & Supply in Aberdeen, Washington. A weight is attached to the end of the rope, so it remains level when being flown. A ribbon is also attached to help increase its visibility, because at a thousand feet away, the rope can disappear against a gray sky backdrop.

The drone is cutting man hours. Work that used to require a day now takes less than an hour.

Logger and Pilot

Driving through the hills outside of Raymond, Matt points out where he used to string haywire and wonders how much time he would have saved if he had used a drone. He now sees the landscape and wind from a pilot’s perspective rather than a logger’s because both factors affect the drone’s flight path. “Everything is about the weather,” he explains.

Although the drone is water-resistant, Matt avoids flying in the rain and tries to refrain from pushing the bar when flying in some conditions to avoid running out of battery power. “There is a hard time limit [for the battery] and wind will affect the amount of time in the air,” Matt says.

When running three or more lines, he must be strategic in which line is flown first to ensure there is adequate battery power to finish the work. The company invested in three batteries, and after each flight, the batteries are swapped out and charged to ensure there is enough power for the subsequent flight.

Added Benefits

Although the greatest benefit of the drone is making work safer for Jesus, the trees benefit as well. Previously, when the haywire was run along the ground, raising the cable would scar the trees and potentially cause a safety hazard.

“Now you can’t see any damage to the trees because the drone flies the rope over the top, which in turn guides the haywire and skyline over the top,” explains Matt.

In reflecting upon the purchase, Matt doesn’t see any downside to investing in the drone. He admits that the initial costs made him skeptical, but the investment was necessary for the safety and longevity of the crew.

And what is his uncle’s reaction to the drone? “George has never seen it fly,” Matt chuckles, “but he trusts the new technology.”

Tips for purchasing a drone

Thinking about buying a drone? Here are some helpful tips and websites that Nicole Bridgewater used when working through the process of purchasing a drone for Bridgewater Logging.

To fly a drone commercially in the United States, a company must first register it with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Registering costs $5.00, and if it’s done online, a Certificate of Registration is immediately issued, along with a registration number that needs to be placed on the drone. The online process takes about five minutes, and the certificate is good for three years.

The operator is also required to get a pilot’s license from the FAA. In this case, because the UAS weighs between 0.55lbs to 55lbs, Matt obtained a Part 107 remote pilot’s license. The license requires the operator to pass a recurrent knowledge test every two years from an approved knowledge testing center; complete FAA Form 8710-13; and pass a background check, among other things. There are online testing companies, but Matt chose to take a two-day training class at an approved testing location in Olympia, Washington. The test was hard, he admits, but he passed.

The last piece is insurance. The FAA does not require it but in Bridgewater’s operations, the drone is used for tower logging, mostly on Weyerhaeuser and Hancock Timberlands, and they require coverage. Drone insurance is still new to most insurance companies, so Bridgewater went with a company recommended by the manufacturer, Oregon-based Hagan Hamilton Insurance. They know the market, it was affordable, and the process was easy.

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