Helicopter helps with mountaintop repairs to WCAX antenna

Helicopter and tower crews remove the damaged WCAX antenna and replace it with a new antenna as part of repair work on Mount Mansfield.
Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 6:54 PM EDT
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STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - Sunrise on Mount Mansfield-- last Saturday, Mother Nature didn't disappoint. On the mountain, a tower crew prepared for a busy day replacing an antenna on Vermont's highest peak.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s a different type of adrenaline in your system,” said Daniel Cuervo of GTI America.

A picture-perfect morning with little to no wind.

"Beautiful day for it, the air is completely still," WCAX Chief Engineer Tim Thayer said.

For Thayer and WCAX General Manager Jay Barton, this has been months in the making, ever since the antenna jointly owned by WCAX and WPTZ went up in flames last November, killing the stations' over-the-air signal for 12 days. The cause of the inferno is still unknown.

"This is game day," Barton said.

Environmental concerns over the nesting of the endangered Bicknell’s thrush and other permitting issues had to be addressed before the broadcasters could get the go-ahead to mount the new antenna.

"When they get ready to go, the tower crew will be on the tower first and when they give the go-ahead, the helicopter will go up," Thayer explained.

The morning silence was quickly overtaken by the beat of the hulking Sikorsky helicopter.

It's the most intense and stressful time for the tower crew as the helicopter hovers above.

The gutted 50-foot antenna was taken to a staging area just on the other side of Mount Mansfield.

"Unbelievable," Barton said.

It just took three minutes and 15 seconds from the time the cable was connected to the moment the helicopter took away the 11,000-pound antenna.

Less than a half-hour later, the helicopter is back with the new antenna.

Again, time is critical. The crew attaches the structure and the helicopter is gone in less than three minutes.

"You got to be ready and alert to do the job," Cuervo said.

Between 10% and 15% of WCAX viewers watch the station off-air. The rest see it from cable, satellite and internet.

"The good news about this is it returns Channel 3 to the same power or maybe a little more power than what we used to broadcast prior to the fire," Barton explained.

He says viewers in the eastern half of the state, specifically in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, will see the benefits. It will take a few days for engineers to get the new antenna up to full power.

For the tower crew, it couldn't have gone any better.

“We were expecting a little bit of wind, but this is awesome,” Cuervo said. “We hope for days like this all the time and today we just got lucky I guess.”

There is still a little more work to be done before the new antenna comes online and all of our over-the-air viewers get the signal back. Beginning at around 8 a.m. Tuesday, August 4, WCAX will reduce power on our over-the-air signal until approximately 4:30 p.m., but there will be no need to power down the transmitter on Tuesday. We expect to be required to either reduce power or power down intermittently throughout this week for the safety of crews continuing to work on the towers at the Mount Mansfield site.

Click here for more information about the work at our tower.

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Transmission tower fire interrupts Channel 3 broadcast signal

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