Well, wow. What a weekend. Two air shows in two weekends, hundreds of miles of driving, 17.3 gigs of pictures, and 3,145 pictures! But this past Saturday, for the first time ever, I went from taking pictures to having my picture taken! I became a part of the show. 🙂 And it was cool.
A few days ago, my friend Willie, the VP of Marketing at the Hiller Museum, who puts on the annual Vertical Challenge Helicopter Air Show, approached me and asked if I wanted a unique opportunity to get some interesting shots. And of course, I said yes! Being the ‘Official Photographer” for the event, I wanted to have the best images possible. So he asks if I’m afraid of heights, and I say no of course. “So how’d you like to hang from the bottom of a helicopter?”
It’s 9am on Saturday, and I’m walking into a dark room. “Performers Only. Briefing in Progress” it says on the door. I walk in and take a seat. Current weather, Frequencies for the Air Boss, discrete, what to do in case of comm failure, instructions on what to do in case there is a “knock it off” or airspace intrusion, emergency hold points…yikes, what have I gotten myself into??? But I was already committed. We go through the schedule of events. Engine starts, take off to holding points, acts enter the box, etc. 12:05pm Otto begin show.
I was flying with Roger Buis, otherwise known as Otto. He flies a Schweizer 300C helicopter, and is easily the best pilot of the show. It’s the smallest helicopter out there, but Otto is the most skilled and has one of the most challenging acts. He sets up some barrels and slaloms between them at 5 feet above the ground. And if that’s not skills, then he works a Yo Yo! Ok, I can barely do it with my hand and two feet firmly on the ground, let along flying a complicated machine. He has this 4 foot Yo Yo, picks it up with his skid and then launches to the skies. Impressive.
So I go to the helicopter for my briefing. Suit up in my safety harness, put my flight suit on to cover it, and go over the act. Be dramatic, large movements so the crowd can see you, make sure the hook is secured to the harness, thumbs up when you’re ready, and in case of an engine failure don’t let the helicopter land on you. Um, wait a second! Let me add this up. Me, harness, steel cable, falling helicopter. Um, yeah. Not a good combo. And of course there is the issue of the cable not detaching from the helicopter, me getting hit in the head with the cable as it lowers or is detached from the helo, and of course, that whole engine failure thing. 😉 Good thing my dad is in the audience watching me. And there is no shortage of photographers who will give my cameras a good home in case something happens to me. One final check, harness secure, camera double strapped to my body so it doesn’t fly off and cause an accident. Well, good to go!
12:10pm. I’m in front of the announcers stand and watching Otto twisting through the sky. Pauline, Roger’s beautiful wife and announcer, asks Otto, “Hey Otto! The Museum Photographer wants to know if he can come fly with you and get some crowd shot” Some great banter back and forth, and a little of me pleading for the crowds encouragment and help, and Otto tells me to come on out! Next think I know, I’m under this helicopter hovering 25 feet above me. The cable comes down, and I hook it on. Thumbs up to Otto and I’m whisked away! Flying through the skies. Twisting, turning, and taking pictures. What a thrill! Time suspended. Only a few minutes went by, but then the helicopter was lowering me to the ground. Unhook, and the cable fell. I then made my way up to the announcers stand and had a little back and forth. And then it was all over. Dad said the show was good. And that’s all I needed to know!
Me asking the crowd to cheer and let me fly!
Up, up and away!
Speaking to Steve, the announcer about my experience.
Images courtesy of Rob Tabor and Airshowfan.com