Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fly Me To The Moon

For a Tuesday on a flight week, today was a very good day. Mother nature has treated us with a break in the monsoon season. Clear skies, fresh snow on the mountains, surely flight missions would follow.
It began with a phone call from re assigned flight reporter Dave (Kink) Kincaid. He reassigned duties keep him terrestrial. He now fronts a thing called "Where We Live" and today he sold the desk on the idea doing one from the air.

It has been said by someone when describing Vancouver, that you can ski, golf and then go for a sail in one's yacht all in a single day. Our mission, to show this from the sky.

As we took off to collect the orgasmic visuals for this piece. A call from the desk sent us in a different direction. A body found in Langley.
"We're on our way Gregg." I told the voice on the other end of the cell phone.
Actual news gathering is what we live for and this mission in Langley would fill the need for the "hard" news that the desk hungers for.
Peter my pilot for today, began to bring the turbine engine to life. I established contact with control room to determine which receive tower I would be linking with. Gregg breaks in on the radio and gives us an additional assignment. This one, a shooting in Surrey less than ten minutes old.
This would be a busy flight. We had a guest with us as well, Freelance CTV Writer Doug Murray. Doug also writes a blog called "Road Spill". Kinda funny now that I think of it, we had three "Murray's" on board.

We flew to both scenes, collected the shots that were needed and then proceeded to collect shots for Kink's story. Yes siree Bob, we got in some quality mountain flying. Hikers atop Mount Seymour, back country skiers, snow covered mountains that look like ice cream cones. It was soulful.
Our flight took us over to Grouse Mountain. I shot some skaters outside on a frozen pond. Onto Cypress Bowl, a reveal shot from the mountains to the bright blue waters of Howe Sound and a BC Ferry making the turn into Horse Shoe Bay. Peter spotted some folk enjoying a picnic on the rocks overlooking Point Atkinson. And finally shots of pleasure craft maneuvering into docks at Granville Island.
It had been a busy flight. So much so that I did not have a chance to get out the D-80 and fire off a frame or two.

A call from Kink when we were back on the ground had me run through what I had shot for him.
"Murman, what will my closing shot be?" he asked.
Just then I remembered that we had a wonderful full moon rise last evening at around 4 :20.
"How bout I shoot the moon rise tonight from the air?" I sold him on the idea.

The sun goes down on a very productive flight day as we prepare to fly and shoot a moon rise

We took off at about 4:50 and headed out for the money shot. I had my eyes and lens pointed at the North East looking for a bright disc rising. Surely it would be up very soon. The flight continued. We orbited over the waters of English Bay waiting.
I was only give a small flight window to make this happen. I shot the sun set, just in case I botched the timing of the moonrise. As I looked at my watch, time was running out. Not even a glimpse of a bright object resembling a moon. We headed back to base and set the machine down. As we powered down machine, my cell rings. It's Kink.

"How is it that the United States lands a man on the Moon, and YOU can't find it?" he mocks.

I begin to explain that I had a backup shot and whine about not being able to time a moon rise. Kink laughs at what a failure the idea had become. Just at that moment, I look out my window toward the north shore mountains, and low and behold, a sliver of bright silver moon rising over the ridge. I quickly re establish our microwave link and shoot the freakin' thing from the aircraft dolly with the FLIR. It appears I have wrestled victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was orgasmic.

The moon finally makes an appearance. My rather weak attempt to photograph it without a tripod.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Flight Week Ahead

After an interesting week on the ground, I find myself ready to get back on flight duty. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and our flight crew will have some good hunting. Maybe a rescue or two. We don't need anyone to get hurt, just a visual rescue. Something that will lead the cast. God knows, it has been a very, very long time since I had something that I have shot from my seat aboard our camera in the sky. I am beginning to feel snake bit. Oh yes this "rescue" needs to happen before it gets too dark. Unfortunately the nose mounted wonder camera, is not much of a wonder when it is dark. So, I'll bring my rabbit's foot, eat my Lucky Charms and knock on any wooden surface and hopefully, it will be a good week riding high above the tree tops crankin' it out for your viewing pleasure.

My favorite part of the week, the first launch.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kick Ass Day

The Martin Mars Waterbomber as it sits at anchor in Vancouver Harbour

For a Wednesday, today kicked ass. Well for me it did anyway. It began with an early morning call to go and cover a quick shoot at a school. Interesting subject matter, kids and gangs. I figured that this would be my fate for the day, but when the item got down graded to a VSV, it enabled me to team up with Kink on another assignment. And what a gem it was.

Kink and I have worked many stories from the air aboard CTV Chopper 9. One of our favorites from the sky are forest fires. We have done many over the years. From the air they can be very visual and when we happen to share the skies with the world's largest water scooping tanker, there is always excitement in our aircraft.

A shot out the hatch looking at the Starboard Engines (Right side for you non mariners)

Today, we got to do one of those cool things that most never get to experience. We both boarded and were given an inside look at the mighty Martin Mars Water Bomber. This second world war era flying boat, originally designed as weapon against Japan, had been converted for fire fighting after wars end. There are only 2 left on the planet and they both are based in British Columbia, owned and operated by Coulson Avaition. It was a particular thrill for me, as I have shot this massive aircraft fighting fires on several occasions from my seat aboard Chopper 9. ( See "Best Laid Plans")

This particular Martin Mars is called the "Hawaii Mars". It is the same plane that some of you may have seen fighting fires in California this past fall. To see this vintage machine drop her load never gets tired. It scoops a full load skimming along a waterway, in just 25 seconds. When over a fire, she can drop enough water out of her belly to soak 4 acres in just a single pass. She may be old, but she is very capable.

Kink and Jim Messer of Coulson Water Tankers on the flight deck

The Mars is in Vancouver for a Forestry trade show. It is believed that this is the first time either "Hawaii" or her sister "Philippine Mars" has ever touched down in Vancouver Harbour. It certainly drew a large crowd on the pier to see her drop a load into the harbour.

Some of the Crowd at Canada Place's Pier waiting for the water drop demo

To have been given a look inside, and to have spoken to the crew that keeps her airworthy was indeed a privilege and coupled with a phone conversation I had with a special person back east, it made for a KICK ASS DAY.

Murman enjoyin' his KICK ASS DAY on the flight deck of the Martin Mars

More photos at my flickr site.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Freestylin' Olympic Venue

One of the things that make this occupation so attractive is seeing and doing things for the first time. Earlier this week, I was given an assignment that would provide an up close look at something I had only seen on TV, Freestyle Skiing.
Most of you are already aware that Vancouver will be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In preparation for the world class competitions, the Venues for the various sports have been completed or are near completion. One such venue is the Freestyle Ski Venue up on Cypress Mountain. This week the Canadian World Cup Freestyle Ski team held training sessions on the new venue. Most of the athletes attending will be a part of the Olympic team that will compete in 2010.
I would be tasked to shoot b-roll of the team training on the Aerials and Moguls Venue. I was excited to be given this assignment as I had never seen Freestyle Skiing live and up close before. When training was over I would be shooting a number of interviews with the team for use by our Olympic Desk for a later date. Not a bad assignment for a Wednesday in the middle of a week of early morning shifts.

CTV Olympic Desk Chase Producer Marina Ellis gives me the horns.

I had seen this venue many times from the air aboard Chopper 9. I had also seen it from a distance from the ground. My son and I ski often at the Cypress Ski area. But it wasn't until I walked over with my camera and stood at the bottom that I got any kind of an appreciation for just how steep the venue is. To get the shots I was going to need, I would have to get up to at least the Judges Building half way up the course.

CTV Olympic Desk Chase Producer Alex poses for the lens

Producers, Alex and Marina, both young enough to be my children, hoofed it up the mountain with me. Alex had my sticks, I had my lens slung over my shoulder. It wasn't long before I was huffing and puffing thinking I would need to stop and set up camp and try for the summit later. After what seemed like an eternity, I got to the Building. Huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath, Alex introduces me to one of the coaches. The look on the coaches face seemed to be surprised that I had survived the climb. The jumpers had not yet begun to launch themselves off the ramps yet. I took the opportunity to walk over to the ramps and survey the landing area. Holy Crap, that was steep. And they are going to jump off that??!! Man these folks have stones. It looked more daunting when I climbed up into the judges building and looked over the area.

A member of the Canadian Freestyle Aerials Team launches themselves into the air.

It wasn't long before the team was doing their thing. Launching themselves into the air, twisting, flipping, all with incredible precision. Wow. They make it look effortless.

Another member of the Canadian Freestyle Aerials Team in flight over Cypress Mountain

Over on the Mogul course, the team was working on technical things. Flying down the course, knees pounding and then leaping and launching themselves off a smaller jump. Some took a spill, but they would bounce right back up. Man they're tough.

A look from the bottom of the course as a member of the Canadian Freestyle Aerials team trains at the 2010 Winter Olympic Freestyle Venue at Cypress Mountain.

During the sit down interviews later, listening to some of these athletes, we learn a little of what makes them tick. Just regular folks, with extraordinary talents. Talents that allow them to defy the laws of gravity. It really was something to see. I can only imagine just how incredible it will be to see the best in the world compete and fly through the skies of Cypress come 2010.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Silver Lined Clouds?

A look to the north from YVR- The cloud shroud over the North Shore Mountains

The first week back after the holidays began with the promise of flight. Yes sir, Murman was back, assigned to flight operations for the week. Now if only the News Gods would cooperate and present us with some fine news gathering from the sky. The only things that could screw this week was weather and a silent scanner.

Winter flying is less than predictable. Systems coming off the Pacific can last for days or they come at you in rapid succession. Either way it means messy flying. We were tasked to get some pics to support a story about "out of bounds" hikers/skiers and snowboarders. Every year, search and rescue organizations are busy with folks that believe the rules of the resorts don't apply to them, who head out of bounds. The result: a search, sometimes a rescue more often than not, a recovery. The irresponsibility of these thrill seekers and self proclaimed extreme adventures, puts others at risk who are tasked to "rescue" them.
Local ski area Grouse Mountain had just the night before, dispatched the North Shore Search and Rescue team to search for a father and son snowboarding duo who ignored the signs and decided to head into the back country. They were rescued. Safe. This of course precipitated the interest for our desk to do a story about the problem.

Cloud and fog atop Grouse Mountain as I snap this shot of the Lodge out the window of Chopper 9

Our mission was to get up to Grouse and get some shots, but the weather had cloaked the North Shore Mountains in low cloud. The forecast called for clearing as the day progressed. So we waited. The clouds lifted just enough to attempt a flight just as our trusty scanner alerted us to a house fire which coincidentally was on route to Grouse. The desk always liked a "two-fer" and this flight would provide two for the price of one.

When we arrived the building was fully involved. A good visual, but bad for the occupants of the dwelling below. Holiday fires suck. We did a couple of good orbits and then headed off to Grouse. The clouds had dropped, but our pilot continued and we were able to get enough shots of the area to meet the needs of the story being done back at 750 Burrard, as we dodged clouds.

A hole in the clouds reveals part of the ski area of Grouse Mountian

There were no flight operations for New Years day, but a late breaking event in Whistler on New Years day, dominated the casts. An out of bounds incident had ended in death. This would set the agenda for the next couple of days.
Surely we would be dispatched to Whistler to get some shots from the air of the accident area. Mother nature would not cooperate. And Wednesday was spent checking the weather conditions and providing updates for the desk every 30 minutes. On the home front, the scanner had provided us with a couple of potential sorties, but by the time we had established a departure code and buckled in, we would get stood down by the desk as the story had "gone away".

The day would yield no flight time. Disappointing considering the potential the day had begun with. But such are the ways of the News Gathering Camera Op. It's either feast or famine and here it was Wednesday it was looking like it would be a lean week, and my hunger for the hunt would have to wait until my next tour.

An increasingly unfavorable weather forecast sealed the deal. I guess it is not meant for us to be in the air. Thursday brought more low cloud over the mountains and the weather gods threw in some wind. Fun stuff. A late day call out for a search up on Mount Seymour sent us out to have a look. A most uncomfortable flight. Chopper 9 is not exactly a graceful bird in the wind. Being in the back seat staring at 5 inch monitors, trying to focus in the rain, on a search helicopter in fading light, being bounced about, ya that's fun.

Talon Helicopters launches to assist North Shore Search and Rescue for a search on Mount Seymour

I can report that no lunches were lost in the making of the Search tape for air that evening. Thank God, I would never live it down from the others on the crew.

The cloud blanket over Vancouver as we head back after the Mount Seymour mission.

The wind today has returned, so has the rain and the ever present Low Cloud. No silver linings that I can detect, but the day is not over.