Aerial Photos by Passengers

Some great shots from my left seat.

One of the things that’s so frustrating to me as a pilot and photographer is that I can’t do both activities at the same time. You see, when I fly, my hands are full. I can’t let go of the cyclic to frame a shot — the helicopter would begin aerobatic maneuvers that would make me sick (or worse). So although I get to see some pretty amazing things from the air, I rarely get a chance to take a decent picture of any of it.

So I was tickled pink today when I went through my Google Alerts and found that photographer Ann Torrence had mentioned me in two recent blog posts. In each post, she shared a photo she’d taken from the left seat of my helicopter when we flew from Page to Marble Canyon and back on August 16.

The first post shows a great — and very unusual — shot of Horseshoe Bend. Everyone takes the same picture of this place, primarily because they all take it from the same viewpoint, on the east side of the cliff. But when you’re in a helicopter, above the terrain, you can shoot from anywhere. And as I circled this outrageous bend in the Colorado River, Ann shot from the northwest. As she said, it’s the first time she’d seen it from that angle. And it’s the first time I’ve seen a picture taken from there.

The second post shows the two Navajo Bridges — historic and newer — over Marble Canyon. Marble Canyon is the extreme starting point of the Grand Canyon. It’s a narrow, deep gorge cut through relatively flat rock plateau. As I used to tell my Grand Canyon passengers, it was named by John Wesley Powell, one of the original explorers of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, who thought the walls of the canyon were made of marble. (They’re not.) From the air, it looks like a crack. Ann’s shot of the bridges is pretty good, although I did have a passenger take a nice shot for me, years ago, from the other side of the bridge looking downstream. Trouble is, the bridge is in restricted airspace, so you can’t just fly around it. You can only fly past on landing or takeoff from Marble Canyon’s little airport.

I should point out here that there are other images taken from my helicopter in the Page, AZ area on the Web. Photographer Mike Reyfman has a number of galleries of Lake Powell and Monument Valley. And at least one photo taken from my aircraft in this area has wound up in a Cessna magazine ad.

Anyway, I’m up in Page, AZ, offering photo flights in the area through American Aviation. I’ll be here through the end of September and possibly into October. If you’re in the area and want to see a different perspective for your photos, give American a call at 928/608-1060. They’ll set you up for a photo flight you’ll never forget. And maybe — just maybe — you’ll get some photos as good as Ann’s and Mike’s.

2 thoughts on “Aerial Photos by Passengers

  1. As a fixed wing pilot I have on some occasion managed the distraction of taking pictures while being the PIC. I understand just about enough (most likely nowhere enough ;-) ) about helicopter flight to know that you have “both hands full”. I do think I read somewhere that in the 50’s or 60’s they came up with friction devices to hold the stick up so it didn’t just slump over once let go and send the helicopter out of control. Is that so and does that only apply to the cyclic and not the collective? (which one would presume would be easier to implement)

  2. I guess I should clarify.

    The collective (gripped in my left hand) does not require constant attention. On my helicopter (and most others I’ve flown), it’s a “set-it-and-forget-it” control. That doesn’t mean you can really forget about it or let your hand get too busy with something else. If the engine quits, you have about 2 seconds (no exaggeration here) to get the collective completely down and enter autorotation. The collective has friction, but I never use it in flight.

    The cyclic (right hand) also has a friction device, but on my aircraft it cannot be used to “hold” the cyclic in flight, like a poor man’s autopilot. At least I’d never use it that way. Full movement of controls is vital in flight. I’m opposed to using any friction in flight, although I understand that not all pilots feel the same way.

    I’ve tried (and failed) to fly with my left hand on the cyclic. It’s a skill I really do need to develop. But wow! When I try, the helicopter is all over the sky.

    The cyclic is extremely sensitive and is probably the reason most pilots who try to learn to fly helicopters drop out. When you first learn to hover, you get the feeling that you’ll never be able to do it, just because the cyclic is so hard to get a feel for. But after the first 5-10 hours of flight training, it starts to become automatic — for your right hand!

    As a result, I’ve been able to take some photos while flying. In all cases, they were quick snapshots with a point-and-shoot or my digital SLR held in my left hand. Occasionally I’ll get a good shot, but in most cases, it’s poorly framed, has lots of glare, and is out of focus.

    On my flight with a CFI from Wickenburg to Seattle, the CFI did just about all of the flying and I took lots of pictures. It was a real pleasure.

    I would love to hear from other helicopter pilots who use friction to hold the cyclic in flight. I’d be especially interested in knowing which aircraft they use this on.

    And I should mention here that two- and three-axis autopilot is available for many helicopter models — including a 3rd party solution for Robinson R44s.

What do you think?