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class="style8" Helicopter AC

>Published : 22nd February 2005  Updated : 7th March 2005

>I have a job soon filming a snowboarding event in Europe whereby Ill be loading and assisting.

We will be in a helicopter…Using an Arri SR2 high-speed mainly at 150fps.

>No opportunity to put down to reload. We are covering the event; we don’t call "Action" ... it just happens. We will hover above the mountain whilst these guys throw themselves off. I'm not sure yet what type of helicopter, or the mount (if any) that will be used.

>It will be cold enough for there to be snow on the ground, so I imagine its going to be pretty chilly in the helicopter with the door open.

>I’m well used to loading Arris and can cope with fast and furious shoots but the potential for foul-ups working with cold fingers in the back of a lurching helicopter seems quite high.

>Do any of you out there have any suggestions that might make life go a bit smoother?

>From warm clothing that doesn’t prevent me from using a changing bag to general working practice in helicopters and cold conditions, to how to stay on top of things when the distractions will be many.

>I’m new to filming from helicopters and have only worked in UK winters.

>All suggestions are welcome, it would be good to hear your experiences

>Thanks in advance

>Phil Ball
AC, Op, DP
Oxford England


class="style9">>I have a job soon filming a snowboarding event in Europe whereby I’ll >be loading and assisting.

>You should be able to have room for as many as 4 or 8 loaded magazines in the helicopter. That ought to do.

>Dennis A. Livesey
Camera Assistant/Camera Operator
New York, NY USA


class="style9">>You should be able to have room for as many as 4 or 8 loaded >magazines in the helicopter. That ought to do.

>Ah, you're spoiling his fun! He really wanted to tell tales of his changing tent blowing out of the chopper at 2000 feet...with a roll of exposed film inside...and how they recovered it and processed it and it was fine...one of those tales.

>Jeff Kreines


class="style9">>I have a job soon filming a snowboarding event in Europe whereby I’ll >be loading and assisting.

>You need to know what kind of helicopter you'll be using-then you can decide what mount will fit your needs- a belly mount may work for your purposes. You’ll have a 180 degree field of view and will be able to tilt up and down. This mount can be used with zooms, but looks best with wide angle lenses. Most mounts need FAA inspections and require a specially trained pilot. Wescam or Spacecam have Gyro stabilized systems. But the camera system may be limited here. The Tyler Mount comes with gyros- and is relatively simple to operate with practice, however, this requires you to hang out of the helicopter with the door and the rear seats are taken completely out.

>Changing mags may be a bit difficult in the air, you'll need a specialized pilot and the system needs FAA approval as well as a 1st AC that’s certified to build it. You may consider renting a nice heated chopper and shoot with a 24P DV camera, it'll be light, easy to use, images will look great and you can eventually transfer back to film. Consider the problems you’ll have with the weather when you shoot film, I could go on for pages about cold weather shooting - You're looking at a whole host of problems unless you research the event, know what you’re getting into, and talk the DP into using two 24P DV cameras!!

>RT Cascio
Cameraman-SF CA


>The easiest answer really is to take more mags pre loaded.

>Depending on the type of helicopter, it could be a bell 206 jet ranger, long ranger or a squirrel these are the most popular. If its a jet ranger and the DOP is using a mount there won't be room to load in the back which means you are in the front. There is huge potential for fouling of controls and that almost certainly means certain death so you basically need to do a huge amount of homework to find out what type of aircraft it is. Then GO and see one there are plenty of airfields and operators in this country and you maybe lucky to find the aircraft type, most operator if you explain why you need to see in one will let you do it.

>If you are operating the camera and loading then good luck!...

>Everything needs to be minimalised so big camera bags with lots of loose stuff are out, just the basics, the camera with no mount will have to be secured to the airframe as will you be, even a empty film can flying out the door and hitting the tail rotor would cause the aircraft to plummet like a brick and out of control. Only a really skilled pilot with enough altitude can get you out of that one.

>Cold clothing I recommend buffalo, its lightweight warm not stylish and cheap. I used it to 6000m (20000ft) loading my own mags on a mountain and its great...It's not fireproof though.

>Boots lightweight moon type boots are good if you are using a mount and your toes are out the door. I used them in the artic at -40C out the door of a long ranger doing 80knots, so that B9s over -100C..

>Lightweight goggles might be an idea to stop tears running down your cheeks and freezing. Cross country types from horse shops are good and are the same as worn by skydivers.

>Check your pilot knows what he is doing, all pilots will be qualified but have they ever done film work before...??? If they have they will do most of the positioning work for you, get a headset if you don't have one.. Essential for being able to chat. Only approach the helicopter from the front regardless of wether the blades are turning or not.

>If they are turning... only do it with the pilots permission. If you get out on the uphill side of a slope where the pilot has landed across the slope be really careful, best to squat while the pilot shuts down or lifts off.. The blade tips are closer to the ground on the uphill side ( obvious) but you won't see them or feel them but it will be messy.

>Regards
Rob Franklin DOP


class="style9">>You should be able to have room for as many as 4 or 8 loaded >magazines in the helicopter. That ought to do.

>Dennis, thanks, I think well have three mags on board, so maybe I should persuade the DP to hire some more, although I need to have a reason to be on board, it would be a shame to watch the event from the ground like the rest of those mortals!! (Actually Ill be helping out the stills photographer when I’m not loading so my seat is guaranteed) but I think we will need to be hovering the whole time the event takes place , an extreme snowboard event so putting down to load another 8 rolls in not an option...

>>Ah, you're spoiling his fun! He really wanted to tell tales of his changing >tent blowing out of the chopper at 2000 feet... with a roll of exposed film >inside...and how they recovered it and processed it and it was fine... one >of those tales...

Jeff, exactly the kind of story I was hoping to avoid, Id like to work again. Maybe what I was hoping for was something like Phil, what I do to avoid the tent blowing out of the door is...Actually I'd already thought to tie it down but its practical gems of advice that would help immensely, best type of ditty bag, harnesses, how to keep your feet/hands warm, etc etc. When these guys are hurtling down the mountain the camera will be rolling at 150fps. By my calculations in 1 minute and 46 seconds a roll will be used up, hence my concern that things go smoothly

class="style9">>I could go on for pages about cold weather shooting - You're looking at >a whole host of problems unless you research the event, know what >you’re getting into, and talk the DP into using two 24P DV cameras!!!

>RT I was rather hoping someone would go on for pages about shooting in cold weather/high wind chill also cold weather loading and working in helicopters

>We may be taking a digi beta camera up, but for the snowboarding event, the whole idea is 150fps, so sticking with the Arri is probably best.

>I’ll try and find out more about the helicopter and what kind of mount and also find a bit more about the event,

>I have plenty of time to get prepared for this but it would be great to avoid any disasters.

>That way Ill get the chance to take in the view without being as cold as Voyager-1

>Thanks in advance for all the practical advice that I'm about to receive..

>Phil Ball


>Phil,

class="style10">>I need to have a reason to be on board, it would be a shame to watch >the event from the ground like the rest of those mortals!!!

class="style10">>(Actually Ill be helping out the stills photographer when I’m not loading >so my seat is guaranteed)

>It's important to remember that, particularly in this case, filming is a job, not a spectator sport.

>If you are loading and helping the stills man (where does he sit, if you have a mount?) you will be too busy to watch anyway. Talk to the pilot, tell him what loading in the front seat involves and see if he is happy. I would be surprised. Whenever I have worked with helicopters, the pilots have been very concerned that ANYTHING in the aircraft is secured before takeoff.

>I would second the idea of having extra mags on board and not trying to load. Even then, be very careful. One aircraft lost in the UK was because equipment(a mag I think) came loose in the cockpit causing the pilot to lose control.

>I love working with helicopters but have lost too many friends not to treat them with the utmost respect.

>Martin Shepherd
London based 1st AC
http://www.sheph.demon.co.uk


>Martin

class="style10">>Its important to remember that, particularly in this case, filming is a job, >not a spectator sport.

>Yeah Good point well made . I fully expect to not see anything. I'm kind of used to going to great places in the world and missing them completely.

>it sounds like the picture that is emerging is that I avoid using the changing tent/bag altogether. but it really depends on :

>A - whether we can get enough Mags, ( shouldn't be a problem someone is paying for a helicopter!)

>B - how long we are going to be hovering/ flying around and how many suicidal snow boarders will be throwing themselves off if there's a constant supply of them all day and we stay in the air for as long as the fuel tank lasts then at 150 fps even 8 Mags may not be enough

>It may be a case of one mag each time someone jumps off.

>I'll talk this all over with the DP as soon as I get the chance, as there are some very valid points coming up

>I'm glad I asked the question now. Great site this!

>Thanks everyone

>Phil Ball


>If you don't use a mount system and go handheld, I'd highly recommend a bungee cord and carabineer to suspend the camera from the top of the open doorframe. There's usually multiple places to hook on and it not only takes the weight of the camera off the operator but it also separates his and the chopper's vibrations from transmitting to the camera. Even hovering, the helicopter is vibrating a lot and you'll want to try to minimize this.

>You should also look into getting 800' mags to limit mag changes. Don't know if an SR2 HS can handle the 800' mags, but it's something to look into. If the camera has a videotap then the operator can use an onboard LCD monitor and close off the eyepiece, again helping to minimize vibration contact with the camera.

>It'll be cold, cold, cold, so go with a big brick battery strapped to the floor rather than an onboard. Any mattebox or sunshade should be extra secured and put tape over all the thumbscrews to keep the vibrations from shaking them loose.

Anything and everything should be strapped down or otherwise secured in place. Even just hovering, anything loose is fair game to drop out the open hatch. Velcro is your best friend.

Don't forget about taking care of yourself. Remember with clothing that layers are everything--keep that heat trapped in. And any kit should include powerbar snacks and a thermos of hot drinks. Working up in the cold drains the energy out of you. And don't drink coffee or anything else with caffeine--there's nowhere to pee up there unless you go right out the open door (clients generally frown on that one).

Mitch Gross
NYC DP


>RT Cascio wrote :

class="style10">>know what you’re getting into, and talk the DP into using two 24P >DVcameras!!

>Why should an inexperienced AC talk the D.P., into doing anything solely because it is easier, but not better, and not what is wanted.

>If you read the post, the A.C. clearly stated that they would be shooting at 150 FPS, I'm a little confused as to how a 24P Dv camcorder can capture at 150 FPS.

>If your A.C. told you to use different equipment because they wanted to sit in a warm helicopter during the shoot, would you work with them?

>The rest of the information was detailed and interesting, but I'm surprised a cameraman would suggest to an A.C. that the A.C. should act in such a manner.

>The A.C. is asking all the right questions. Personally I don't know if 8 mags will be enough. He needs to find out how long a duration each shot will be and how long he will be up there. In my A.C. days I was pretty quick with loading SR mags, but there is no way you can keep up with a camera running a 400 foot load at 150 FPS, even in a perfect environment.

>Steven Gladstone
www.gladstonefilms.com
Cinematographer - Gladstone Films
Cinematography Mailing List - East Coast List Administrator
Better off Broadcast (B.O.B.)
New York, U.S.A.


>Based on the questions the AC asked, It sounded to me that it may have been a first time for both DP and the AC. The alternative I offered I stand by. I would not opt to use a Tyler mount or have my AC change mags in the air, especially in winter conditions hovering over skiers or snowboarders.

>(If you read the post, the A.C. clearly stated that they would be shooting at 150 FPS, I'm a little confused as to how a 24P Dv camcorder can capture at 150 FPS.)

>As far as the 150 fps goes, yes, a 400 foot mag in a nose mount would go quickly, but it would be safer and less of a chance of dropping mags out of a helicopter because the AC's fingers are numb. I believe using the new 24P DV cameras would do just as well, or an HD camera in a nosemount. I’m thinking safety of the crew, and of the people on the ground. Mostly anything can be manipulated in post to get exactly what everyone wants. Otherwise I would say, if you want it done right and safely, use an experienced DP and a pilot that do this kind of shooting professionally.

(Why should an inexperienced AC talk the D.P., into doing anything solely because it is easier, but not better, and not what is wanted. If your A.C. told you to use different equipment because they wanted to sit in a warm helicopter during the shoot, would you work with them?)

>Mr Gladstone makes good points here about my choices in answering the questions, however, I would hope my AC would give me suggestions that were pertinent, especially if there’s a chance that the shot may not be a safe one.

>RT Cascio


>Hi,

>In reply to the enquiry about helicopter AC here are a few personal opinions and pointers based on my own experience :

>Secure EVERYTHING, get there early. Take the time YOU need. Don't lift off until you are absolutely sure everyone knows what they are going to be doing and how it's going to be done, regardless of the pressure put on you by ANYONE to get going. On helicopters the dollar meter usually starts running once the engine starts turning. Don't lift off until absolutely certain the gear and all personnel are secured properly.

>Airborne, the most IMPORTANT point is that anything that goes out the door runs the risk of hitting the tail rotor - you must be meticulous in your housekeeping inside the chopper and especially on the camera - a matte box can easily blow off and hit the rotor.

>Tape down spare safety belts and buckles which would other wise blow around with lethal effect. I have had one go out of the door and batter the body of the aircraft on one occasion and I had major problems trying to reach it from the other side of the Tyler mount.

>Jet Rangers are great helicopters - Long Rangers have more room.

>The safest place for spare batteries, consumables etc. is behind the pilot's seat because the jet stream almost doesn't reach there in a forward moving aircraft, even with the door off.

>If you are going to be changing shutter angle, film rolling speed etc. I always do the math first on the ground and then keep it easy if possible in double multiples eg. 25fps-50fps. etc.

>The further out a mount is outside the camera ship the more range of shooting ability the operator will have panning left or right. The further inside the mount is , the more stable it is. I know which one I prefer.

The bigger the camera ship, the bigger the door, the more you can sit inside it and get comfortable. With the door open if you don't have a helmet with a visor I always wear a tight fitting ski mask (I'm not kidding).

>At low altitudes you will certainly get a bug or two on the head.
Force = Mass x Acceleration. A small fly will feel like a stone if it hits you.

>On jet aircraft they can actually put a dent in the metal nose cone. At higher speeds without the mask you will have great difficulty seeing because your eyes will water due to high winds.

>Safe flying.

>Cheers,

>Marc Ehrenbold GBCT
London based 1st. AC
USA green Card Holder
Steadicam master & Preston FIZ ownerpter


>Hi,

>A few points I forgot to add :

>Many UPM's, directors etc. have little or no experience in managing real flight situations. For many it will be a first time experience and they may treat it like fun and games. I always do an assessment of the people I'm flying with to determine their abilities and eliminate any safety threats.

>Pilots tend not to enjoy people throwing up in their aircraft. Do what you can to anticipate any air sickness you may experience...It may sound obvious but in a helicopter you can not just throw up out an open door. Such debris would be sucked into the engine air intakes thereby precipitating something far nastier. If you start to feel ill tell the pilot before it even occurs.

>If shooting over water take careful note of what is holding you in there and how to release it. That ski mask or dive mask will come in useful here too. In a big helicopter with a large door which may be closed some of the time, make careful note of how the door opens.

>I wear my watch on the wrist of the direction I need to go in an emergency - especially useful if you are upside down, at night, underwater!

>Have a look at the way the rotor turns - it goes one way on a French helicopter, the other way on American helicopters - if you ditch in water this will dictate which way the helicopter rolls over - it will because it's top heavy. Better still, if you have the time or the money do a H.U.E.T. course. (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training.)

>Carry a heliograph - a signalling mirror available from any good camping store - you can attract the attention of people on the ground or in the air if things should go pear shaped.

>It's not a bad idea to get your own flying suit and proper boots - nothing you are given otherwise will ever fit properly which makes for uncomfortable flying. A flying suit has the advantage of pockets which are actually accessible after you put on a G suit or safety harness. The bottom of the legs are zippable which means you don't have to gaffer tape them to stop them flapping at speeds.

>The pockets of your suite can contain things like the heliograph and you know where it is. The suit is also an indication to other professionals, especially pilots that you are serious about what you do.

Cheers,

>Marc Ehrenbold GBCT
London based 1st. AC
USA Green Card holder
Steadicam Master & Preston FIZ owner


>Some more great suggestions coming in Thanks for them all.

>The suggestion of using a High Def camera is a valid one but We already have an Arri HS which can Do 150fps besides My DoP has Told Me that's What we'll be using.

>The DoP has 100s of Hours in helicopters, I have plenty experience working on the ground I've done some pretty hairy military flying in helicopters but never on a film shoot.

>8 magazines would be great, we will have 4. The HS Arri kit we will be using will have 2 we will hire 2.

>We are filming an extreme snowboarding event for 3 or 4 days the way I understand it, the snowboarders throw themselves off a mountain one at a time 4 mags should get us more than enough time to film one run down the slope besides, having spent the morning on the phone trying to hire Highspeed Arri SRII mags, that's probably all we're gonna be able to find

>The DoP will be the one who is hanging out of the door being shot at by projectile bugs A happy motorcyclist is one who has bugs stuck to his teeth, I guess this is similar.

>I'll be more inside the helicopter so should be able to stay a bit warmer, but will be investing in some better cold weather gear there will be no Mount, (as far as I understand at present) the cameras weight will be taken on a bungee (which, I learn, has an inherent damping which helps the vibration) and I have got hold of a KenLab KS4 Gyro stabiliser which ( all being well) will be screwed to the bottom of the camera

>regarding the safety aspect we aren't going to be over water so I'll put the HUET course on hold, but point taken these things do need to be considered regarding the heliograph suggestion, the event is right next to a major European ski resort so if the helicopter goes down plenty of people will see due to the nature of the event I expect that first aid will be close at hand, let's hope the snow's soft but, a little suggestion, for a heliograph you can use a compact disc, conveniently has a hole in the middle for sighting and computer shops give them away (just My little tip).

>Regarding putting a safety lanyard on Mags, a good idea, cold fingers and all that. Would you suggest ( using several layers of tape) gaffer taping a ring on that can be clipped onto as there's no ring on an SR2 Arri mag obviously making sure that the mag doors will still open !

>Something I thought of to keep hold of my Marker pen was to secure it to one of those retractable ski-pass things, sound like a good idea?

>Phil Ball
Soon to be Helicopter AC.....


class="style10">>Regarding putting a safety lanyard on Mags, a good idea, cold fingers >and all that. Would you suggest ( using several layers of tape) gaffer >taping a ring on that can be clipped onto as there's no ring on an SR2 >Arri mag

>May I recommend liberal use of industrial strength 2" Velcro? Slap it all over the mags and slap the other side to a work surface inside the chopper.

>Perhaps a board that you can bolt down to the floor. Then they won't go anywhere.

Mitch Gross
NYC DP


Updated post : 7th March 2005

>Phil,

>I recently shot some air to air in fighter jets and small four place airplanes for a doc on air racing. The best piece of advice I was given was to use three stage breathing (like in Yoga) and to look off at the horizon if I became nauseous.

>I was very confident I would be fine... I learned that when you are focused on a task in front of you like reading a book during a bumpy car ride or working in a lurching aircraft, things can get very uncomfortable. It goes with out saying seat belts, helmets, and cabin pressure (when at altitude) are also recommended. All of these where missing from my last aerial experience and made for a not very fun time

>The thing that saved me was looking off at a steady point on the horizon and slowly breathing in three deep stages. You will be fine I am sure : )

>Best,

>Christopher Webb DP
Christopher Webb Films NYC