Mississauga-based Rodair International Inc. reports air-lifting one of the heaviest single pieces of freight ever moved out of North America by Air France: a Synchronous AC Generator manufactured by their client General Electric for a subsidiary in Milan, Italy.
Rodair’s Manager of Airfreight Operations Chris Matthews was on hand to supervise. He reports that two dedicated trucks picked up the generator in five pieces at General Electric’s plant in Peterborough, Ont. The total load was just over 36,000 kilos, and the largest piece was 29,457 kilos (more than 65,000 lbs).
The destination was Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and the heavier truck, because of weight restrictions, couldn’t go through the state of Michigan – so its route was through New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, then Illinois, and the drive was restricted to weekday daylight hours only.
The aircraft that could accommodate cargo this big and heavy was Air
France’s 747 nose-load freighter. The airline considered it a major, specialized move and brought in three cargonaughts (master freight loaders). They were flown in from Paris and took complete responsibility for the move, including the on-load, strapdown and unload. These specialists work with local staff but ultimately have final say.
Air France Cargo’s engineering department at O’Hare had initially approved the generator as liable for airlift, and had what they thought was a good plan for loading; the cargonaughts examined it, said merci, and proceeded to revise it. The
fact that it was pouring rain might have influenced their decisions.
The largest piece required a 40 ft pallet, including five nine inch by 40 ft long steel I-beam girders, which added approximately 15,000 lbs. Air France Cargo brought in a 150 ton crane to unload the piece from the truck to the pallet, then kept it connected as a precaution, as the generator was being loaded into the nose of the aircraft. The opening of the nose is 96 inches, the piece was 95.75 inches, so there was only one-quarter inch of tolerance. The wheels inside the nose that are supposed to grab the pallet and pull it inside were slipping, since everything was soaked, and the task was becoming very arduous.
“The rain was definitely a hindering factor,” recalls Matthews. “The weight of the single piece combined with the loss of grip due to the rain greatly increased the anticipated load time of this shipment. The Air France staff had to move slowly to insure that the loader could compensate for the weight of the shipment as the piece was slowly ingested by the mouth of the aircraft. With each additional kilogram that the aircraft assumed the loader had to compensate for the compression of the front of
the plane. When you only have one-quarter-inch to play with, it’s got to be a very precise operation. We were also under time pressure, so it meant everyone involved had to be at the top of their game. The Air France Chicago staff, and in particular the cargonaughts, were very capable under these intense conditions.”
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