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Hauling the heavy stuff; Farren International takes to the road when rotorcraft can’t fly

Posted 6 years 17 days ago ago by Admin

There are times when helicopters can’t just fly from one place to another, and during those times, Farren International comes to the rescue.

Sometimes it’s because the rotorcraft is in pieces, either because it’s not yet assembled or tragically because it crashed. Other times it’s operable, but it’s a prototype not yet authorized to fly anywhere outside of specified testing zones. It might be that a new owner doesn’t want to add flight time to the precious cargo until it’s in his hands. Or they’re military secrets that the public can’t see flying overhead. In the case of aerospace projects, such as rockets, they aren’t designed to fly to their launch points. “We’re probably the premier aircraft ground transportation company,” said Glenn Wargo, Farren’s director of aircraft transportation who helped start up that portion of Farren’s business back in 1989. 

Farren International specializes in transporting complicated, oversized and overweight loads under extreme deadlines and conditions. Farren also provides other specialty logistics solutions including rigging, millwrights, turnkey plant relocations, sensitive cargo trucking, warehousing and storage. Its services often require customized solutions for time-sensitive jobs, from retrieving downed military helicopters to relocating AgustaWestland’s entire AW139 assembly line.

The company’s growth mirrors its success. It started with three employees in 1959 and now has more than 400 employees working in facilities across the United States, including its new 400,000-square-foot headquarters and warehouse in Ledgewood, New Jersey.

Transports of the Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche from 1995 to 2004 are among the highlights of Wargo’s career with Farren. In 1995, this next-gen stealth military prototype was inside the first oversized truck authorized to travel on the New Jersey turnpike, Wargo related, requiring extensive coordination with the state police and special ops. The Comanche was headed to the Pentagon for presentation to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It was quite unique to run down the New Jersey turnpike,” recalled Wargo, who grew up in the Garden State.

Then in 1998, Farren transported a Comanche nicknamed “The Duke” from Andrews Air Force Base to the U.S. Capitol for presentation to the Congress. The Discovery Channel featured that trip on its “Cybercopter” program. It was the only time Farren transported a Comanche without hiding it in an enclosed trailer. Farren used a special winch system to remove it from the trailer and set it on the street in front of the Capitol. “That was probably our most unique transport,” Wargo said.

The ability of Farren and Wargo to work out intricate travel logistics has won Farren the ultimate trust of customers from SOFSA (U.S. Special Operations Forces Support Activity) to Sikorsky, one of the world’s largest helicopter manufacturers. “Everything Sikorsky makes, we move,” Wargo proudly related. That adds up to a lot of business, considering Sikorsky needs to move a wide variety of airframes, not just between between the Sikorsky facilities In Connecticut, Alabama, Florida, and Pennsylvania, but international locations as well. Farren provides multi-layer protective packages while partnering with major overseas air and ship carriers to coordinate these international transports. 

Farren now has an operation base in the UAE to support overseas customers. Farren’s longest trucking rig carries Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion, a heavy-lift cargo helicopter being developed for the U.S. Marine Corps. The tractor and trailer add up to more than 100 feet in length; Wargo won’t say exactly how long. Farren’s tallest rig transported the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel  (a.k.a., US-101) while it was under development as a hopeful new Marine One for U.S. presidential flights. It was 20 feet high; legal height limits in the U.S. and Canada are generally 13.6 feet.

When the U.S. cancelled the US-101 program because of cost overruns, it sold some of the helicopters and parts to Canada. The highway on the way to IMP Aerospace and Defence’s headquarters in Halifax had to be closed so Farren and its Mountie escorts could transport the Kestrel the wrong way on the highway to avoid overhead obstructions – five times for five Kestrels. Wargo found out the hard way that it’s true what they say about Canadians. “People were very polite” as they sat in their cars waiting for the Kestrels to pass, Wargo related. He didn’t spot any raised fingers.

Some of Wargo’s most enjoyable assignments are the weather trials, because he gets to hang out and watch the maneuvers in between transporting the prototypes between various extreme locations. For example, Farren brought an AgustaWestland AW189 to Mesa, Arizona for hot trials at 120 degrees, then to Fairbanks, Alaska for icing trials at minus-20 degrees. At least Wargo got to experience more pleasant temperatures during the high-altitude trials at mile-high Prescott, Arizona in between the extremes.

One of Wargo’s favorite jobs was transporting an F4U Corsair WWII fighter through city streets to a Sikorsky Family Day event in Stratford, Connecticut last fall. Wargo’s stepfather worked as an electrical designer on the Corsair at Vought-Sikorsky and knew Igor Sikorsky.

So it’s no surprise that Wargo grew up with a love for flying. As a kid he used to hitchhike from Newark to the Totowa Wayne airport for Cessna flight lessons. These days he loves piloting Open Class sailplanes. He notes he was born on the 43rd anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered aircraft flight. “So I guess I was supposed to be doing something in aviation in my life,” he concluded.

After 29 years as the driving force behind Farren’s success with aircraft cargo, Wargo remains heavily involved in the detailed logistics. He’s especially proud of safely moving historic airframes such as the VH-3 Sea King that served as Marine One for presidents Nixon and Ford. After its restoration, Farren transported it for display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. Directly following other restorations, Farren also transported a “gorgeous” Temco TT Pinto Navy jet trainer to the Naval Museum, as well as a Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw to the National Museum of the Marine Corps near the Quantico Marine Corps base.

Recently Wargo needed some more of his own “restoration” that’s been ongoing periodically since an Eastern Airlines mule ran over him three decades ago. But the new metal rods in his leg don’t seem to be slowing him down too much.

“I’m a tough old bird,” he explained.

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