Front Page

Previous Story

Next Story

NIH Record

'Jolly Green Giant' Visits NIH

When DES Director Tony Clifford looked up and saw a bright yellow helicopter flying over his house early one Sunday morning, he knew exactly where it was headed. Clifford and his 11-year-old son Brian were about to leave for the same place — parking lot 10H behind the Clinical Center. They were eager to see history being made, an NIH first — a helicopter lift of mechanical equipment to the roof of Bldg. 10.

The "Jolly Green Giant" helicopter touches down on parking lot 10H behind the Clinical Center.

Designated the HH-3E Jolly Green Giant by the U.S. Air Force, the Sikorsky S-61 copter is a reliable machine. Once used to rescue shot-down aircrew during the Vietnam war, they are used today by the U.S. Marines to ferry dignitaries to the Pentagon.

The mechanical equipment to be lifted was a 7,060 lb. air handling unit for the new NIAID air system being constructed for the solarium portion of Bldg. 10. This area has become hot property for meeting and conference rooms, but its air conditioning is inadequate. According to Norm Jones, project officer for the new air system, the project is designed to provide 100 percent of the outside air for the solarium's current and future needs.

In the past, such equipment at NIH has been placed by crane. But the new South Entry to Bldg. 10 put the solarium roof out of reach of mobile cranes. Jones and his construction quality manager Carlisle Bean of GRD Construction Consultants, Inc., checked out the possibility of transporting the unit in pieces up the freight elevator and through building corridors to the roof, as many had suggested. But this option was thwarted by the inadequate size of corridor and elevator doorways. The only way left was by air.

While placement of mechanical equipment by helicopter is routine on major construction projects throughout the country, it had never been attempted at NIH. There is a big difference between flying equipment across an open construction site and carrying it over an occupied hospital. And it is rare for helicopters to touch down at NIH — it happened in July 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson came to visit and once when a Maryland State Police copter participated in NIH Fire Prevention Week activities. (When President Clinton comes, he usually lands at the Naval Hospital and drives over by motorcade.)

But Jones, a former Air Force officer, believed in the helicopter lift, and was confident it would save the government thousands of dollars.

Copter hovers above Bldg. 10 as it places its payload atop the roof.

Ultimately, the operation came off without a hitch. The lift took place on a Sunday, when activity on campus was at its lowest. According to a special timetable, the chopper (painted yellow, not jolly green, by contractor Carson Helicopters) would be in the air only during 15-minute periods, separated by half-hour downtimes. These intervals were necessary to allow intermittent resumption of traffic and patient care activities. It was also agreed that if a Code Blue or Code 100 emergency occurred within the Clinical Center, any lift in progress would be immediately aborted. Five lift periods were scheduled to provide for this possibility.

At exactly 8:15 a.m., the powerful turbines of the S-61 roared into life. Slowly, the craft rose from the tarmac, turning gently until it was directly over the mechanical equipment. The first piece was hooked up, a signal given and the Jolly Green Giant climbed noisily into the air until it hovered directly over Bldg. 10, where it appeared to float motionless while the equipment was wrestled into position and secured on the solarium roof. When the harness was released, the chopper swooped back down for another load. In all, three pieces were moved during the first lift, and the other two during the next.

Promptly at 9:45, the aircraft rose for the final time over NIH, turned slowly toward the east, and disappeared over the treetops. History had been made. Helicopter placement of mechanical equipment had proven to be fast, efficient and safe.

Up to Top