It’s been a few years since I was last up in a helicopter, so when photography legend, Paul Campbell, asked if I like to join him on a flight, I jumped at the chance. Paul has been working on an aerial photography book project for a couple of years, so as well as coming along for the jolly, I suggested that we might get some shots of him in action for his biog page.
The shots document all aspects of the trip from the all-important pre-flight equipment checks, take off and positioning to the location, opening the doors and then directing the pilot into precisely the position he wants for his shot. All of this needs to be timed to hit a 10-minute window when the light level in the sky, balances with those in the buildings.
The combination of low light and the vibration from the aircraft, it is a battle to capture a technically perfect image. Paul attaches his camera to a handheld gyroscope to help steady the shots.
The cityscape shots that I’ve got here are just grab shots taken through the front cockpit glass and so lack the final clarity that Paul’s shot will have. Still, there are some spectacular views of our fine capital and the excitement of flying in a helicopter never subsides.
There was a slight edge of tension put on things when ten minutes before the flight was due to finish, pilot Tim announced that we had to return to the airfield as a gearbox warning light had come on. This was conflicting with the information on the rest of the instrumentation, but as Tim succinctly put it once we had landed, “It’s far better to be safely on the ground wishing you were in the air, rather than in the air wishing you were safely on the ground”
This reminded me of an incident that happened a good twenty years ago… I was flying with the same photographer Paul, all be it in a different capacity as his assistant. We were photographing crop circles for a pharmaceutical company hayfever ad. We had been in the air for about half an hour and had spotted a field of wheat with a series of connecting crop circles that looked interesting. As Paul directed the pilot into a static position at about 750ft above the field, the aircraft suddenly lurched upwards and sidewards. The pilot immediately put out a mayday call and within what felt like seconds he’d regained control and brought the aircraft to a safe landing. Some weeks later after in air investigation had taken place, it turned out to be a failing servo to the rear rotor, but at the time it all felt a bit alien crop-circle spooky vibe. The pilot was ex Israeli airforce, I’ve always felt his quick reactions saved our bacon.