View Full Version : What are the Balls on Powerlines?

04-06-2001, 11:13 AM
I know of 2 places where there are powerlines that run high over highways, and have something peculiar on them. One is on Rt.2 in western Mass. and the other is on Rt.84 a little west of the Rt. 684 interchange (not too far east of the Hudson).

On each of the lines there are what appear to be large red, orange, or yellow colored balls of some sort.

We have some theories for thier purpose. One is that they make the lines more visible presumably so planes don't fly into them. Another is that they either weigh down or have some aerodynamic property to keep the lines from flapping in the wind like the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Anyone have the definitive word on their purpose? If so please qualify with your credentials or source of information.

Much Thanks!

04-06-2001, 11:15 AM
Whenever I have seen the type of adornment you are describing, it has always been near a helipad

04-06-2001, 11:17 AM
I have seen them down near Quantico marine base, as well as up on 95 near the private airport. I was told by a Marine officer that it is to improve visibility for low flying aircraft.

04-06-2001, 11:28 AM
Visibility is one reason for the balls. You'll also see them in windy areas. Putting a weight on a cable damps its resonant frequencies and makes it less likely to snap in high winds.

Why A Duck
04-06-2001, 11:32 AM
Silly person. That's how you tell the male power lines from the female power lines :)

Gregor Samsa
04-06-2001, 11:33 AM
My credentials: I work as a field contract administrator for a pipeline construction firm in Canada.

We recently had to pay our contractor to replace two of these warning balls on powerlines that crossed our right of way. In that case, they were used as a marker to warn the company helicopter pilot (he flies the right of way looking for problems) of their presence.

You'll also see them in the countryside if there's a lot of cropdusting going on, for the same purpose.

I'd never heard of them being added for extra weight, but it makes sense now that you mention it.

04-06-2001, 11:35 AM
Usually they are put on power lines near airports to make the lines visible to pilots.

04-06-2001, 11:43 AM
Already really been answered but I'll give a link.

Interestingly, the original point of the dampeners wasn't to reduce bird kills. They were originally designed to reduce movement of power lines in high winds. However, power companies have taken note that in areas where the dampeners are used, bird kills seem to decline.

04-06-2001, 12:27 PM
The Bird Kill reason was actually our other possible theory, but I didn't post it cause I thought it was the least resonable. It appears to be a beneficial side effect.

So basically we think that my 3 original threories, visibility, weighing down, and so birds don't die all seem to be the effects of the Balls.

Oh, and I should have known that the male powerlines have balls. I wonder how that relates to the Male Plane (Mail Plane) mentioned in The Three Amigos movie. Maybe the Male Planes are the only ones that would avoid the Male Powerlines?

And thanks for all the imput!


04-06-2001, 12:46 PM
Here's Cecil's answer to this question:

Why are those red balloon things on overhead wires? (https://academicpursuits.us/classics/a3_283.html)


04-06-2001, 01:50 PM
According to the link yojimbo provided, they are not the dampeners.

These little plastic devices [line dampeners], which resemble giant antipasta twirls, have been known to reduce bird kills in other areas,... [snip]

It's possible that the dampeners simply make the lines more visible to birds. Smalls said another option would have been to put up large balls on the power lines to make the lines visible, but OPALCO was concerned that this would have been offensive to people living in the valley. The dampeners are not particularly conspicuous, and, in fact, most people would have to specifically look for the dampeners to even notice them.

So we have two separate items being added to line - giant "antipasta twirls" that are hard to notice, and big colored fiberglas balls. The balls may provide some stabilizing effect as an extra weight, but their intention was as visibility aids for pilots. Both additions seem to have the effect of reducing the number of dead birds. Is it possible that the lines move enough in the wind to kill birds who don't anticipate it? Then the effect is not visibility, but stabilization? That's my guess.

04-06-2001, 02:47 PM
Well, according to R.E.M. in the song "Driver 8" :
Power lines have floaters so the airplanes won't get snagged...

04-06-2001, 03:11 PM
They're squirrel traps. The reason they look like balls is because they've already caught squirrels.

Bah, you say. That's nonsense. Oh? Ever seen squirrels on those lines? That means they're working.

04-06-2001, 09:14 PM
Them round ball things on powerlines are to keep near-sighted pilots such as myself from snagging our little airplanes in the wires on either departure or landing.

They may have some other uses, as well, but from my perspective that's the main one.

Turbo Dog
04-06-2001, 10:00 PM
They are Aircraft Warning Markers. Here is a link to the largest manufacturer which also has the FAA regulations and requirements for the balls.


04-06-2001, 10:55 PM
The thing is, I seldom see power lines with balls on them other than when they cross a river. I used to think that they were floats to ease recovery in case the line went down. Now, I imagine that aircraft often follow rivers, but still, I seldom see power lines with balls on them other than when they cross a river.

04-07-2001, 12:41 AM
Just to add my $0.02 - power lines are pretty much impossible to see from above. In a small plane, it's amazing to me that I can be looking at power lines with the balls, and I know there are lines there, but I can't see them.

All the power line balls I've seen are near where you would expect aircraft to be.

04-07-2001, 04:48 PM
I suspect that the river connection is because most valleys have rivers running through them. Power lines usually stay more or less horizontal, so they're higher above the ground when crossing valleys, so they're in navigable airspace.

Rayne Man
04-08-2001, 01:05 PM
Another reason they might be near rivers and other areas of water is that this is were you would get swans and other large water birds trying to land and take-off on/off the water.

04-08-2001, 01:14 PM
I think they are for people to sit on. Nothing beats a view from atop these powerlines, and the balls are very easy to balance on too...

04-09-2001, 05:22 PM
Sqweels, the city I grew up in had a small airport, and those balls along the power lines out near the airport. The airport was not particularly near the river, and in fact I didn't see any of those near the river. There's one example for your anecdote collection.

04-09-2001, 05:51 PM
I once convinced hubbie that they were to keep the power lines afloat in case of bad floods.

04-09-2001, 10:31 PM
Re: sqweels' observations about seeing them mainly over rivers.

Note that power lines are easier to spot from above over land than water. But not for the reason one might think. The land under power lines is usually maintained differently than surrounding land. In the Pacific Northwest forested areas they are clearly visible as clear cut linear swaths.

Hard to clear cut a river.


04-09-2001, 10:39 PM
Note for Sim City 3000 players: if you run power lines over a body of water, you'll see these balls on them.

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