Helicopter replaces antenna on WSB-TV tower near BeltLine

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News gave you a pretty cool peek behind the WSB-TV curtain Thursday morning.

We showed you the delicate operation of a helicopter lifting an antenna off a WSB tower next to the Old Fourth Ward skate park via livestream.

Channel 2's Richard Elliot was on the ground, where crews climbed 900 feet above his head to install the antenna.

The operation went off without a hitch, and now a brand-new, 7,200-pound antenna towers above the city. The new antenna is 50 feet long, so the tower now stands 915feet tall.

Crews arrived early in the morning to begin the process of removing a 21-year-old antenna and transmission line from the top of the tower.

It didn't take long for a crew of five workers to reach the top and go to work, just as a Sikorsky S61 chopper landed right next to the BeltLine skate park.

The reason for replacing the antenna? The same reason you may have had to reprogram your TV recently to get local channels.

"The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) sold the spectrum above 500 megahertz, and we were above 600 megahertz," WSB-TV director of engineering Gary Alexander said. "So now, with this new antenna, we're below 600 megahertz."

After tower crews removed the final bolts, the helicopter lifted off and set the antenna down on the field right next to the BeltLine.

Next, the chopper lifted off again, this time with the new antenna. Once it carefully flew to the top of the tower, the crews bolted it in.

Tom Fonesca is one of the engineers who planned the operation.

"We done several of these projects around the country, so the team's very well-experienced and knows all the procedures," Fonesca said. "Because these guys are so good at what they do, and our team up there is so good at what they do, so it's just kind of enjoying the moment."

The pilot who flew the chopper is also highly experienced: He's a U.S. Army veteran who decided while fighting in Afghanistan that he was going to learn how to fly.

Bracken Douglas said flying his vintage 1971 Sikorsky helicopter is no big deal.

"I mean, really, it becomes second nature, kind of like driving a car," Douglas said. "The more you do it, more practice you have at it, the more you just know what to do."

Douglas said conditions weren't perfect Thursday, but it wasn't a problem.

"Not too bad. It's a little windy, but the wind is steady," Douglas said. "That's the important thing. As long as it's a steady wind, it's easy for us. It's when the wind is real gusty that it makes it a lot harder."

Since the FCC made changes to the frequencies from which TV stations can broadcast, he's been flying all over the country changing out antennas.

He's pleased the job in Atlanta went so smoothly.

"It's always great to have a job accomplished and everyone safe and nothing to happen," Douglas said." All the hard work has paid off, and we move on to the next one."

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