Tag Archives: midwest

Merchandise Mart video

In a previous post I showed some images I took at the Midwest Helicopters lifting job at the Merchandise Mart.  As is normal for me these days, I also took the time to get a bunch of video and, finally, I have got around to editing this.  I wanted to focus a little more on the guys working on the roof rather than just the helicopter operations.  Of course, there is still plenty of footage of the flying too!  I hope you enjoy.

Merchandise Mart

wpid6502-AU0E5564.jpgI know what you are thinking.  It has been a long time and no helicopter photos Rob!  You are right, it has been too long.  Fortunately, I can rectify the situation.  The good people at Midwest Helicopters had a very intensive project recently.  The Merchandise Mart in Chicago was the project in question.  They are installing a series of new chiller units on the roof of the building.  These are big units – too large for the Midwest helicopters to lift as it happens.  However, before they go up, there is plenty of work to be done.

wpid6509-C59F6677.jpgBig chiller units need to be mounted to something and getting the structural steelwork up on the roof is no small task.  It needed over 180 lifts to complete the job.  It was planned for two possible days with the whole day being booked for each occasion to maximize what could be done.  Flying the helicopter all day was intensive for the aircraft and required two pilots to alternate in order to avoid getting exhausted.

wpid6497-C59F6467.jpgI got myself up on to the roof of the Mart for the job.  The Mart is a huge building.  It used to be the largest floor space building in the world before the Pentagon was built.  It might still be second (and, if I was diligent, I could probably look that up to confirm it but we know that isn’t happening while I am in mid-story).  The roof is a big space and there were two separate areas where work was going to be done.

wpid6499-AU0E5532.jpgMounting points on the roof had been installed in advance.  The task on the day was to lift each piece of steel to the roof and bolt it into place.  The next would follow and the frameworks for mounting the chillers would gradually come into place as the ironworkers bolted each new piece to the previous pieces.  (The chillers will follow in a few weeks when Construction Helicopters come to town and I hope to cover that too.)  Each pick went pretty quickly.  As the new piece came into place, the guys on the roof grabbed it and bolted it into place.

wpid6517-AU0E5710.jpgThe line would be released and the helicopter would go down for the next piece while the guys finished bolting the piece into place and preparing for the next section.  This was a continuous process as long as the helicopter had fuel.  Given how warm and sunny it was, the black-painted roof was a hot place to be and the guys were working hard.  I was glad to only be photographing the whole thing!

wpid6519-AU0E5771.jpgAfter the helicopter left for the first refueling, I headed down from the roof.  I had other things to be done that day and headed off.  My original plan had been to get some shots from the ground on the second day.  A lot of the steel was being stored on a barge on the river so getting some shots of that being lifted to the roof was the plan.

wpid6512-AU0E5632.jpgHowever, the team was super-efficient and completed the whole job in the one day.  This was a great success for them and, while they were exhausted at the end of it, I am sure they were very pleased with the result.  Unfortunately, with no second day, I missed out on getting the other shots I had planned.  Oh well, there is always another day.

Back at the Hyatt

wpid5523-AU0E4830.jpgI wrote previously of a lift that took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago. Erickson undertook this lift with the massively powerful S-64. However, they did not manage to finish off all aspects of the lift and a follow up job was required. Since the largest items had already been dealt with and the remaining items were either light enough for a smaller helicopter or could be broken down into parts that were light enough, the remainder was contracted to Midwest Helicopter with an S-58T.

wpid5525-C59F4047.jpgwpid5537-C59F4279.jpgI was planning to join them on the roof but it turned out that the team contracting the lift had already got one of their guys on a neighboring roof taking some shots and I could join him. This roof was higher and up sun from the majority of the action so a great spot. I gratefully accepted their offer. (I should note that I also tried something new this time. However, it didn’t work out as planned. I should write about it here but I think I will get it working properly before I tell the full story. Everyone prefers a happy ending and I am no exception.)

wpid5532-C59F4248.jpgThe lift went well and I got a lot of shots (and some video of which more another day). The same problem as the previous lift affected things with the wind meaning the helicopter was tail on to me most of the time. However, this time it was more than compensated for by the scenic background and chance for some nice wider shots. I was happy with the outcome.


Some Long Line Work

wpid5505-C59F3653.jpgIt has been a while since I was up on the roof with the Midwest Helicopter team. A couple of jobs came up recently on the same morning and I went along. It was a great morning with lovely winter light and good skies, at least to start out with. Of course, these conditions in the winter also can mean low temperatures. It was 14F on the first job – not the coldest I have experienced on one of these lifts but quite close! However, when benefit of living in Chicago for a number of years is that I do have suitable clothing for cold weather.

wpid5511-C59F3753.jpgThe first job was a relatively simple one. The building was not terribly tall, maybe a dozen floors or so, and there were three cooling units going up and one old one coming down. A previous job had been done by the team on this building but this one required some adjustments. The location where the units were to be placed was on the other side of the roof and a lot closer to a far higher building. The normal 100′ line would not suffice and the 300′ option was required. This is a far rarer requirement so Jim, the Chief Pilot, decided to fly it instead of one of the other pilots since he hadn’t any experience with the 300′ line.

wpid5509-C59F3729.jpgwpid5507-AU0E4788.jpgI had plenty of space up on the roof to move around to shoot while staying out of the way of the crew. My job is to avoid them and stay out from under the loads. I do think Jim sometimes is playing a game with me as, on this job like some before, I ended up tight in a corner as it seemed like he was aiming for me! In truth I was well clear and he wasn’t chasing me but when you are looking almost straight up at the loads, they do look like they are closer than they really are.

wpid5513-C59F3812.jpgThe only disappointment for me was that the wind was coming from the west so the aircraft was tail on for most of the time. Since the light was at its best this early in the morning, that was a shame. However, not a bad start to the day.

Changing Your Name – Even if You Are a Building Pt 2

And so we progress to Part 2.  Attentive readers will already be aware that the Unitrin sign had been removed.  I was a lazy boy and watched from my living room.  The following weekend the new sign was scheduled to go up.  Fortunately, we had friends staying with us.  Mark is a flight test engineer and a pilot so the suggestion that some aviation action could be added to the weekend was good for him.  Since it was close to home, we wouldn’t be missed for a short while on a Sunday morning.







The replacement of the sign was pretty much the reverse of the previous week.  The letters and the logo had been assembled on the street on the back of trucks.  Two sides of the building had to be done and fortunately our side was to be first.  The placement of the signs was a touch more tricky than the removal.  Pulling them off meant getting them clear and dropping them down to the street.  Lifting the new ones up was complicated by the way in which the letters – which are large but don’t weigh much – can catch the wind and start to rotate.  The crews on the building have to catch the tag lines and then pull them steady before positioning them.







They soon got a good rhythm going and we watched the letters and the logo go up on the first side of the building.  We then retreated to further away as the other side was dealt with, not least because a lot of it was out of sight from the better locations.  Midwest did a great job as always and it was good to see the team.  Thanks everyone and Mark certainly was glad to see one of these jobs in person.

Changing Your Name – Even if You Are a Building Pt 1

This story comes in two parts (if the title didn’t give that away already!) and it is one that is a little bit of luck.  Regular readers know that I do a lot of jobs with Midwest Helicopters.  This was a job of theirs but not one that I was involved with.  However, it just happened to take place outside my window so I got to watch anyway.  There I was on a lazy Sunday morning (I was being lazy even if others obviously weren’t) catching up on a bit of TiVo viewing when a helicopter comes in to view out of my living room window.  Familiar shape and colors but what were they up to?







Turns out a building across the river from me was due to have its name changed.  The company had renamed from Unitrin to Kemper.  Unitrin was plastered on two sides of the building in large illuminated letters so they needed to come down.  The first week of the job was to take down the old letters.  I could have hurried outside and grabbed some shots but this was a lazy day (did I mention that before?) and so I just grabbed a camera and shot through the windows.

It was about an hour’s work to get the letters from each side of the building and drop them down to the truck on the street.  All of this from the comfort of my living room interspersed with a bit of Grand Prix watching!  Of course, if something comes down, there is probably something to replace it?  And so we shall progress to Part 2…

Some Board of Trade Video

Over a year ago I shot a job that Midwest were undertaking on the Board of Trade building here in Chicago.  The job was spread over three weekends and I was there for the first two.  The job involved lifting a lot of steelwork and piping into location at the back of the building where the steelwork was then assembled using the helicopter to move the individual pieces into position.

All of this was a touch trickier since the assembly location was close to the building which is pretty high.  Therefore, 300′ of lifting line had to be used which made the job of maneuvering the helicopter to position the loads just that bit harder!  The final week involved the cooling towers being put in place but I could not be there for that.

I shot a bunch of stills but also got a fair amount of video which, at the time I did nothing with.  While doing some work on my database recently, I realized just how much footage I had and decided to have a shot at editing it down to something a bit more digestible.  Here is the result.

Thornton Quarry Video

The Thornton Quarry lift job with Midwest Helicopters was a full day job so it provided a bunch of opportunity to try different things.  This was true for the stills but it also allowed me to experiment with the video as well.  Since the aircraft was operating all day, I was able to get to multiple locations and see all aspects of the job as they happened.  Normally, this isn’t possible since a lift will only last about 30 minutes.  In that case, you have to pick the location that will get the shots you must have and accept that the alternative shots will not be made.

This time I was able to move around the whole site and capture as much as possible of what was going on.  Some of the clips looked really interesting and the time but they actually proved to be no use.  Some of the boring stuff as it appeared at the time actually ended up being really of use when it came to editing.

At this point, it is important for me to apologize to people like Gerry Holtz.  Gerry is an editor and he does this sort of thing for a living.  Anyone else who knows about editing professionally, you are all due my apologies and my respect.  I am trying a bit with video editing but what I have learned is that it is bloody difficult to do.

On this shoot, most of the video was captured using my SLR.  The rest of it was shot on a GoPro which is such a great little device to get something a little more unusual.  It was handheld (or mounted in the case of the GoPro).  No tripods or dollies and certainly nothing as impressive as a Kessler Crane!

I suspect that to be good at editing it is important to have had some education in the process.  I am doing it the guy way – try something and then try something else and see what happens.  Not even a manual to consult!  Consequently, I make some progress but probably my approach starts from the wrong place.  If I was going to do a lot more of this I would take the training aspect seriously.  However, for the time-being, this is a little side hobby so I will probably stick with what I am doing.

Part of the fun(?) of the edit process is taking all of the disparate elements of the footage and trying to combine them into a coherent timeline.  Part of the engineer in me thinks it should be delivered in the same order it happened.  This is rubbish of course.  The viewer has no concern of course.  As long as the result doesn’t obviously have terrible jumps or continuity issues, no-one is going to be any the wiser.

Also, how much do they need to see.  About eighty lifts were done during the day.  Does the video need to have eighty lifts?  NO!  In the end, I concluded that two lifts were enough to tell the story.  One wasn’t enough but it didn’t need more than two.  I cut the length down as I went but even then it was still quite a long piece.  A pro would probably have it down to a couple of minutes but then, as I mentioned, I am not a video pro.

One lesson I have learned as I have practiced this video stuff is how many of the tools the software has are no use at all.  There are a million transitions between scenes, all of which make it look like you are experimenting with the software but they are a distraction from viewing.  I have learned to use simple transitions that are short so they are not obvious to the viewer.  They just stop the jump being the item the viewer focuses on.

Anyway, the final part of this story is that I was very happy with the result for this video.  Unfortunately, it turns out the company that was doing part of the work is very sensitive about their equipment and doesn’t like the equipment being shown on the video so I have had to remove it from my YouTube channel.  Consequently, I can’t include it in this post.  Oh well…