A Camera On Your Shoulder Gets You Into Many A Cockpit...
Getting to fly aboard various aircraft is one of the many things I love about my job. I've shot video from the co-pilot's seat of a many a Cessna, always fearing I'd send us plummeting to the Earth by nudging the wrong cockpit control with my betacam. So far it hasn't happened, but the thought of it always weirds me out.
Early in my career, a small group from my station went tandem sky-diving. Our chief photog shot it from the ground and jump-shooters flew along side us as we free-fell to terra firma. The memory of that experience is a personal treasure, as is the 30 minute private documentary I later produced on it.
Once I rode along with Cherry Point marines aboard a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter. We flew at tree top level along the sand dunes and scrub brush of the Crystal Coast. Then we rendezvoused with some kind of tanker aircraft for a mid-air refueling. Hovering under a giant airplane in flight as we took on fuel is an experience I'd never have had if I managed a shoe store.
Then there was the time we did morning live shots from a hot air balloon. The reporter was in one balloon with a wireless mic and a cell phone - a producer and myself flew in another balloon with a camera and a two-gig transmitter. We bunny-hopped each other over the rolling Piedmont hills as the sun rose on a gorgeous fall morning. We eventually landed in a remote field where all the virgin passengers were treated to the champagne-filled first flight ceremony. Bank tellers don't get paid to do that.
But my favorite flying experience was aboard the Goodyear Blimp. The local Goodyear Plant was celebrating an anniversary and their bigwigs had managed to pull off a visit from the famous dirigible. Only a few select employees and top managers were allowed to go up in the blimp, but I was welcomed to tag along thanks to the battered camera on my shoulder.
Blimps ascend at a steeper angle than you might guess and as my fellow passengers giggled nervously I was reminded of the closing scene in 'Willie Wonka'. Once we reached our desired altitude the pilot 'parked' the flying bladder and passed out Goodyeqr trading cards. He had the steady patter of a stand-up comedian and it occured to me that blimp pilot was one of the few jobs cooler than mine.
Access to exotic aircraft is one of the many perks of our jobs as professional insiders. I for one relish my role as a video interloper - it's afforded me a wealth of extreme experiences, from the tragic to the terrific to the trite. It will never make me rich but I'm always a hit at cocktail parties. It sure beats my old job at the windshield wiper factory.