Aerial Boat Photo

Bit of a challenging flight, but thanks to my flying with Boatpix I was able to do it. This was a larger boat than I’d photographed before, so I didn’t plan the positioning of the GoPro very well. The actual photos for the shoot were captured by the photographer’s equipment, and the GoPro was just for my own use. These clips give you a flavor of what we were doing.

Some of the issues we were dealing with were the changing weather conditions, including an impending storm system moving into the Puget Sound area; changing light conditions; flying door-off with temperatures below 5C; the client’s changing plans; the need for continuous communication and planning with the photographer and boat captain while flying the shoot; cold, fatigue, and fuel planning over the 1.7 hour flight; and a crowded waterway (small craft and regular ferry traffic).



We get the most interesting calls

Commercial pilots, can you take this flight:

Yeah, I need to go to Hoquiam (KHQM) tomorrow. Can you take me, wait around for an hour, and then bring me back? You won’t charge me for waiting around, will you? …Right, anyway, we need to go look at an airplane I’m buying. How much will it be and how long will it take? …Oh, and Bremerton (KPWT) is too far. Can you just come pick me up? I have a huge front yard, or could we meet at Tacoma Narrows (KTIW) and start from there so I don’t have to drive?…

This prospective client is a rated pilot (ASEL, Private). I didn’t end up taking the flight, for many reasons (too expensive, looming CFII check ride, bad feeling about what this guy would end up asking for since he kept adding demands as the call progressed…). But say I really, really wanted to go fly that day. Is there a way you could work the conversation to do a legal flight that would get him to HQM to do his thing?

Aerial Photo Cockpit Views

Had a second aerial photo flight with the same photographer. I thought it would be helpful to post both the initial request and video of how it comes together…seems like one thing student pilots will tell you they aren’t getting in primary training is exposure to commercial jobs. The air work was something I got specific training on (with Boatpix), but the beginning-to-end planning wasn’t. If I get enough requests, I’ll keep posting content like this as I can. For now, the view out the front is on my YouTube channel, and video/audio of an overlapping segment is that I captured from another camera is posted on the Contour Cam site.

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Aerial Photo (Navigating Adjacent Airspace) Scenario

This post came out of a question I had about navigating contiguous Class D airspace for a photo flight that I was asked to do earlier this week. I’ll add the “answer” to the communications question to the comments. I’d also be interested in the utility of this as a scenario: how useful would it be for pilot training? I try to do something like this for the students I have. Many of them have said outright that they’re “hands-on” learners, and haven’t really been able to understand or apply regulations or other topics just by reading or getting a lecture on them.

I do land appraisal evaluations, and one of your pilots has flown me around to evaluate properties before. It worked really well, so I’m willing to drive the extra distance to KPWT  to fly with you rather than working with somebody closer. Now I have a list of properties that I need to survey and photograph tomorrow. Since I’ll be taking the pictures, I need to have the door off and would like to be able to get as low as possible for pictures of the waterfront side of the properties. The other pilot was able to stop the helicopter so I could get the shots I needed. Here are the lat/long coordinates for the properties: [47.151275,-122.562098], [47.151902,-122.564464], [47.161102,-122.570134], [47.163393,-122.567173], [47.172277,-122.567822]. After you’ve had a look, call me back so I can get on your schedule.

  • As a commercial pilot stationed at KPWT, can you take this flight? If you do, what limitations might you place on the flight based on you experience (<1000 hours TT) and capabilities?
  • You have access to an R22 Beta (875 lb BEW, 103.71 long arm). Your weight is 172 lbs and the passenger is 200 lbs with 3 lbs of camera equipment. The aircraft has an auxillary fuel tank, non-moving map GPS (database expired in 2001), transponder, and single radio. Can you do the flight in this aircraft, and is it the right aircraft for the customer and mission?
  • The relevant TAF for tomorrow is 20006KT P6SM SKC, and the civilian forecast is for clear skies, low of 65 F, high of 85 F, with light southerly winds throughout the day, becoming cloudy overnight with rain showers, low 55 F to 75 F, with westerly winds 5-15 knots throughout the following day.
  • You haven’t flown in this area before. What airspaces will you have to navigate, and what communications, equipment, and regulations apply? What altitudes and airspeeds will you use enroute?
  • What are some of the external pressures that you need to keep in mind as you’re working with this customer? How will you manage them? If he shows up business casual (short sleeve shirt, khakis, and dress shoes), with a small point-and-shoot camera on his hip and a high-end SLR, and a stack of satellite photos of the properties so we can identify them from the air, does this raise any additional concerns or pressures for you?

helicopter aerial photography




Lessons and Rewards from Demo Flights

The senior CFI here has been generous enough to pitch every demo flight that comes in the door to me. I’d say that three-quarters of the demos are one-time lessons–either somebody who just wants to say they’ve flown a helicopter, or an airplane pilot who wants to see what a helicopter’s all about. I know I’ll never see these guys again, so I keep the ground short and practical, try not to scare them too much with the Awareness Training, and answer all their questions.

The ground focuses on the controls, what they do, and I’ll ask a few questions (“If I asked you to turn the helicopter left, what would you do?”) to see if they’re getting the concepts. It also gives me a chance to correct the mentality of “pushing the cyclic forward” or using the cyclic to climb. This is good for them and for me. Keiko, the CFI who took me on my first demo flight, did it this way, and it really helped me; most of the other demo flights I did, the CFI explained the controls in the cockpit. Lesson one, and I already knew this: the cockpit is a terrible classroom. Doing it this way, I’d end up spending over 1.5 hours for a demo flight. I figured that I needed to streamline the ground lesson some, so I tried one lesson where I briefed the student on the controls and SFAR right there in the helicopter. I thought this would be fine, but it wasn’t. Poor girl had a good bit of trouble, and I ended up having her mostly work on the collective. Since then, I’ve gone back to doing at least a half-hour ground in the office, and most of those guys do really well on the cyclic. Yeah, I don’t get paid for the time I go over, but it’s worth it so the student doesn’t end up frustrated.

Lesson 2: adapt. I’ve had 3 airplane pilots come in for demo flights. The first was a 60-year old cancer patient who had flying a helicopter on her bucket list. The other 2 were older pilots who just wanted to get back in the air for the fun of it. Now, the cancer patient was a tough one: she would under control the cyclic sometimes (“why’s it climbing…am I doing that?”), but would then over control (think cyclic pushovers). She couldn’t keep the helicopter going straight, so I demonstrated a few turns and let her have it. After that, her control inputs became smoother and she ended up having full control of the cyclic on the way back to the airport and into the pattern.

The other notable airplane pilot had me worried during the ground lesson. I couldn’t get him out of the airplane mentality (“To descend? Well, I’d roll off the throttle.”), and he wasn’t getting the controls, even when we did some armchair flying. I started him off with the collective, and had to have him take his hand off the cyclic because he’d move it when I told him to raise or lower the collective. After a few minutes, I just gave up on telling him which control, and started telling him “lift with your left” or “forward with your right hand.” Once we were past trying to learn “cyclic” and “collective”, he got it. The perceptions he had developed as an airplane pilot kicked in, and he was nailing his airspeed control and making great turns. When I told him we had to head back to the airport, he practically handed me his checkbook to keep flying.

The other great thing about these flights is that you end up dealing with really happy people. That makes a huge difference in the job satisfaction department. Yeah, controlling somebody’s nerves and excitement can be a challenge, but at the old job I was mostly dealing with people who didn’t want to be wherever they were. That’s a no win situation from the get-go; no matter how good a job you do, the best you can expect is for your clients to not be unhappy. One of my first demo flights I ended up canceling on account of some unanticipated convective activity–this is after I’d gotten the guy all through the ground, pre-flight, and buckled in. For the next 2 weeks, we tried to work in the flight around his schedule, the weather, and my schedule. When it finally happened, he walked in with a fresh halibut fillet for me. We ended up flying out over his house and doing a few orbits.

Helicopter Demo Flights

Lesson 3: don’t push your limitations to please somebody. One flight I did was for a guy’s birthday. His wife was planning to surprise him by dropping by the airport on the way back from his b-day breakfast. The weather that day was cruddy–low ceilings, and a little drizzle. I tried to talk them into cancelling, but the wife was insistent on at least stopping by to see if the flight could maybe-possibly happen. A couple of hours before the flight, the ceilings were 1200-1500 and holding steady, with light rain throughout the area. Not having flown much in this area, I didn’t feel like I had the experience to know what flying in a 1500-foot ceiling would be like, and wasn’t going to risk it. I decided I’d have to turn them away when they got to the airport. As it would happen, the other instructor had a student that wanted to just do some pattern work that morning, and they decided to go fly. Their report of the actual conditions–good visibility, and consistent ceilings–put me at ease, and I changed my mind, with the caveat that we wouldn’t leave the pattern and I’d cut the flight short if the ceilings came down any further. Turned out, that was perfectly fine, and he was happy enough to do a few approaches, some hovering, and a quick stop. He even dropped by last week to give me a CD with pictures his family took during the flight.

In-flight Decision-Making Scenario

Do a quick flight plan for ferry flight that takes you west from Dill0n (KDLN), past Lemhi Co (KSMN), to La Grande (KLGD). You can use the AOPA flight planner or, or the chart below and an AFD should suffice. Assume you’re in an R22 with full fuel (~3.5 hours), and just ignore the practicalities of making a flight in an R22 over this terrain. With the forecast winds and fuel, you figure you can make this leg of the ferry flight and arrive at KLGD with at least a 30-minute reserve.

The GPS shows you’ve been fighting a strong headwind during this whole flight. About 70 NM from KLGD, you review your plan and notice that your main fuel is below 1/2 full and the auxiliary has about 1/8th tank remaining. You’ve been managing about 75 KIA. What are your options?


TR Pre-flight Scenario

What do you think of this? We just switched out our Mariner for a Beta 50 hours out of its 2200-hr overhaul. First picture was from the pre-flight, second was 0.8 later on the post-flight. Would you take the next student out for his flight? According to Robinson, the only requirement for oil in the tail rotor gearbox is that “oil should be visible in the sight glass.” After looking closer, you find several drops of oil on the bell crank. That change your answer?

Sometimes Making the Right Decision Costs You


Last Monday I had my first lesson with a new student seeking his add-on rating. He was determined, ready to launch into it, had a great attitude…and was ready to fill up my otherwise empty schedule. I had 3+ hours sweat equity invested in coming up with a plan to help him reach his goals. Since the weather Monday was terrible, we spent an hour discussing the plan, setting up some homework, and testing his knowledge. Weather for the rest of the week looked spring-time-good, and I was looking forward to getting in a couple of flights with this student before passing him off for a few flights with another instructor while I headed home for family time.


An hour later I was on the phone with the vet: my 15-year old dog was in bad shape. We set up an appointment to put him down on Thursday, if he lasted that long. I’ve had and lost dogs before, this guy was different. Over almost a third of my life, he’d seen me through school, jobs and joblessness, beginnings (and endings) of relationships; he’d been with me on many adventures; moved me in and out of new apartments and homes, and traveled with me all over the country. “Woof” and “Koko” were among my daughter’s first words, and he was the business end of the team when we did Search and Rescue and Therapy Dog work. Other than my family, there’s maybe only 1 or 2 people I’ve even known for 15 years. I knew this time was coming, and it wasn’t going to be easy letting go.


At first I thought I’d stay until Tuesday morning, take the flight with this new student, and then head home. By the end of the day though, I could tell I wasn’t with it. I cancelled the lesson and drove home. It’s a 5-hour drive for me, and I could tell I wasn’t all there. Distracted, unfocused, fixated on what the next few days would be like–caffeine and luck got me home.

Before coming back to work, I noticed the student had taken his name off the calendar, so I called him up to see how he’d been progressing. He didn’t exactly hit it off with the instructor I left him with, and in the interim had looked up a school that was a little closer to his house. So that was that. I’d definitely made the right decision not to do any flying, but it wasn’t without consequence. But I was able to spend a few good moments with my old friend before he faded away, and I’ll get to fly again another time.

One Ugly Cell

Today was shaping up to be a great day to fly…high overcast and calm winds. Not exactly the type of day you’d think of going out flying. So I was pretty pleased to get an out of the blue demo flight show up. Had him all SFAR’d and through my ground routine, let him work through the pre-flight since he seemed interested. And then as I look up from the start-up checklist I see one ugly cell. Over the next 5 minutes I watch it close in on us, and I decided not to do the flight. Felt bad after dragging that guy through everything to bag it the minute before turning the ignition. Think I made the right choice?

KPWT 262155Z AUTO 20012KT 10SM FEW039 FEW047 BKN055 10/03 A3014 RMK AO1
KPWT 262135Z AUTO 21009G15KT 10SM SCT037 BKN046 BKN055 12/02 A3015 RMK AO1
KPWT 262115Z AUTO 22008KT 180V240 10SM BKN037 BKN048 BKN055 11/03 A3014 RMK AO1
KPWT 262055Z AUTO 17006G14KT 10SM BKN037 12/03 A3015 RMK AO1 57003
KPWT 262035Z AUTO 20003KT 10SM BKN034 BKN043 11/03 A3015 RMK AO1
KPWT 262015Z AUTO 24004KT 10SM FEW025 BKN036 BKN041 11/03 A3016 RMK AO1
KPWT 261955Z AUTO 18004KT 10SM FEW026 BKN035 09/03 A3016 RMK A