The News Choppers
“” They are loud, fast and don’t play by the road rules. That’s why when news happens they usually arrive first at the scene instantly showing us what’s going on. From the latest traffic jams, to car cashes, huge crowds marching, to showing us the dreaded pictures of the latest hurricane aftermath. Sometimes even saving lives. Newschoppers are part of the local news media and in markets such as Miami where traffic seems to be getting worse with every passing month and hurricanes taking turns to see which one can do more damage, they are indispenable.
We don’t see them often but for a few frames in the latest station promo, or maybe flying over on the way to a news story. However thanks to someone nice who was kind enough to take a few shots and share them so we can all get up close and see where these news helicopters live.
Click here to see the photos – 1.4MB download
Here are some questions I asked about flying a news helicopter. If you have any questions that didn’t get answered you can use the tip link and send them to me
Q: Do you spend the whole day flying around or only when there’s news?
A: No, we have a contract of 70 hours a month to fly, we only fly when there is a story that warrants the chopper. Fire,Accidents,etc. The LA market is the only city that flys news choppers all day long, 24 hours a day (they shoot chases that never make the news)
Ch10 and Ch7 both have about 60-70 hours a month to fly, ch6 and ch4 have about 45 hours a month. The hours are like cell minutes, we have to pay a preimum if we go over per hour. Plus every 100 hours of flying, each chopper has to go through a 2 day check up, where they check everything for safety.
Q: What happens if you are at a big story and the chopper starts to run out of fuel? How long can you be in the air before needing to refuel?
A: Choppers can stay up about 3 hours before they need to refuel, if we are on a big story (hurricane coverage,chase,plane crash) Channel10 has an aggrement with Ch7 to pool the live signal to each other. This started during the FTA riots, while they were up, Sky10 was getting fuel and vice versa ( they will super wplg on their video).
Fort Lauderdale intl airport is the only place that can Hotfuel us, we will go there and gas up much like a race car, we call them 2 mins out, the gas truck is ready, runs to the chopper , fills us up and we take off again without shutting down the engine, (its illeagal in dade to hotfuel, so we love fort laudedale airport for that) the hotfuel takes about 8 mins.
Q: If all of the stations keep their choppers at the same place, and they always want to be first with breaking news, when a big story happens and everyone else is “asleep at the controls” but your station, do you tell your colleagues from other stations where you are going or do you sneak out as soon as possible and try to get to the scene before they do?
Its hard to sneak out, cause the choppers are loud, but during ratings, the choppers are always taking off and landing, its hard to keep track of where they go. We usally dont share info, it just depends, the pilots always have to talk to each other though for saftey reasons. Sometimes we will call our station and ask if anything is going on cause everyones taking off.
Q: How high do you fly? Every time I see a news chopper around they are always suprisingly low. Few weeks ago Skyforce flew over and it was low enough to see the logo.
A: The choppers can fly at any height they want, for saftey of the public below, they hover at 700 feet and fly at 500 feet, during a chase though the news goes up to 1000 feet so police can have 300-500 feet, over the water in the ocean we can fly lower, since there are no people below the pilots can fly at 100-200 feet, 1 time we were 50 feet over us customs speed boat getting video of them in the ocean and they were waving back, we were going to send them a copy but never did.
Q: How many other cameras besides the gyro are on board?
A: ch10 only has the gyro, ch6 has 2 cams on the tailboom (to get the logo shots) and 2 cams inside for reporters, ch4 is the same, only 1 on the tail, ch7 is the same as ch4.
Q: One of the photos shows all of the equipment was on the left side of the helicopter, doesn’t this affect it somewhat when it’s flying?
A: The pilot can adjust while flying, ever chopper here is diffrent, we have the pilot and photog on the same side so the action can be out our same windom, ch7 photog sits in front, ch6 sits in back on oppiste side of pilot, and not sure about ch4
Q: On the photos all the chopers sit on these things that look like carts, are the helicopters really that light that you can push them around or do you use a little truck thing like they have for the big airplanes in the airports.
A: The choppers are about 4000 pounds, yes they are pulled by a john deer tractor and put back in the hanger at night.
Q: Can helcopters glide in case of a problem, or do they fall down?
A: Choppers are actally safer than driving on the palmetto, but when a chopper crashes its usally dramatic, if you lose engine power in the air, the pilot goes within 1 sec into auto-rotation mode, we basiclly do a steep dive, then pull up at the last minute, it would be a hard landing but we may survive. the pilots actually are always looking for places to do a auto rotation when they are flying, they can land it anywhere in a emergency, but choose fields, water, etc – anywhere there are no people. Also roofs are a bad place to land.
Q: Are we going to see any of the local stations at least have 16:9 video from the helicopters and when?
A: Not sure about 16:9, or HD, its very pricey, LA and NY are the only stations that have HD chopper cams, and the picture is amazing. It could be years before that happens.
Q: Do traffic reporters fly in the helicopter during the day?
A: No they don’t, all stations have 1 photog and 1 pilot.