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news item

Hillsboro Aviation Assists with Unique Avalanche Control Equipment Installation

Hillsboro Aviation assisted the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) with the installation of the O’Bellx gas exploder, the first in North America, at the Cow of the Woods avalanche path in Hoback Canyon near Jackson, WY.  

The O’Bellx unit uses compressed hydrogen and oxygen gas to produce an explosive detonation above the snow surface clearing snowfall by triggering slides. This unit is completely self contained which makes the installation process simpler because it only requires a rock anchor in the avalanche starting zone thus making the installation the perfect mission for a helicopter.

Hillsboro Aviation was contact by Jamie Yount, an avalanche technician for WYDOT, regarding using a helicopter to install the system because of the company’s previous experience working on avalanche prevention with WYDOT.  Based on an altitude of 8200 feet and a temperature of 5 degrees Celsius, the Bell 407 was the best fit from Hillsboro Aviation’s helicopter fleet to lift the 1380 pound load.

The Bell 407 helicopter picked up the O’Bellx unit at Bryan Flats located on the west side of Hoback Canyon which is the closest location to the Cow of the Wood avalanche path. The elevation at the pickup zone is about 6000 feet. A specially designed autonomous grabber on the helicopter long line allowed the unit to be picked up and placed completely by the helicopter. The grabber is designed so that when weighted a spring will latch or release a softball size steel ball on top of the O'Bellx. Using the helicopter creates a distinct safety advantage because no ground personnel are required to be in the starting zone for the installation or removal of the device.

The O’Bellx was placed at the Cow of the Woods in the Hoback Canyon which is one of the coldest areas in Teton County with a snowpack that is typically shallow and weak. The Cow of the Woods is a small but steep and rugged avalanche starting zone at about 8200 feet. This challenging location made using a helicopter perfect for this installation. Prior to using the O’Bellx system, avalanche reduction at the Cow of the Woods was conducted with artillery and occasional helicopter bombing missions.  

“Placing the O’Bellx unit was a unique experience. The grabber was easy to operate from the helicopter and the weight of the unit kept it from swinging which made precision placement easy with plenty of power to spare. It was a great privilege to be the first pilot in North America to install the O’Bellx,” said Hillsboro Aviation’s pilot Nicole Ludwig.