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Helicopters Hum Over Nome as Refueling Effort Begins

A Bering Air UH-1 Iroquois helicopter pictured at a Memorial Day event in Nome, Alaska. Taylor Booth photo.

May 9, 2024

Ben Townsend, News Director

Residents of Nome have been looking to the sky this week as the steady hum of helicopters fill the air. The flights are part of an annual exercise to refuel TERRA Network microwave towers operated by GCI throughout Western Alaska. Due to their remote locations, these towers rely on diesel generators to stay running for months at a time. 

“GCI technicians from across the state support this effort and bring their decades-worth of experience to bear every year to ensure these towers have enough fuel to stay online 24/7/365,” Senior Manager of GCI Facilities Operations Earl Merchant said in a press release. 

The operation began with the Cape Nome repeater located about 13 miles to the east of Nome. GCI plans on refueling 22 towers in total. A Bering Air Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter could be seen taking part in the first few refuelings of the season. 

Crews are expected to make over 200 round trips this summer to deliver over 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Each trip carries just over 400 gallons of fuel, taking as many as 16 trips to refuel a single station. 

GCI has relied on Nome-based Bering Air for decades to handle this sensitive but essential task. 

“From weather to wildlife, there’s no shortage of challenges when it comes to an operation like this one,” Merchant said. “That’s why we rely on our local contractor partners like Bering Air, which is based in Nome. Their extensive experience flying in this region is invaluable to ensure the safe and efficient refueling of these remote towers.”

GCI shared in a press release that crews will fly at least 1,500 feet above the ground to minimize disturbances to wildlife. If animals are visible near the site crews will adjust their flight routes to avoid any unnecessary contact.

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