Ruth Glacier in Alaska, left, leading up to the peak of Mt. McKinley, right
My wife and I love to fly (we are both pilots, I hold an ATP with ~2500 hours total time over 30 years flying), and we have some trips we very much want to do. A few years ago we took our Massachusetts-based Baron to Greenland and Iceland (she loved Greenland, I loved Iceland). A trip on my list has always been to go to, and around, parts of Alaska. We are now incredibly lucky to have a Twin Commander, so the airplane is capable of it, and a couple years back I started planning the trip.
Both Jann and I used to be photojournalists, so between us we spent about 30 years working at taking high quality photographs. We love looking at the amazing sights we see routinely as pilots. And so it was no great leap that one of the things that I wanted as part of the Alaska trip was some really high quality aerial video, especially since part of the plan was to fly up one of the glaciers near Mt. McKinley (20,325, the tallest mountain in North America) and then fly around the summit.
So I started researching video cameras, and a friend clued me in that now there were really inexpensive, really small HD cameras on the market. I checked them out, read all the reviews, and selected one by GoPro, which is sold in a little waterproof case.
When you are a professional photographer, you want to be sure nothing gets between your lens and the subject, especially something like an aircraft window: a lot of quality is lost shooting thru glass or plexiglass. So I did some basic experiments very securely mounting the tiny GoPro on the tailskid of the Twin Commander, learned a lot of lessons (about flare, fog, vibration among others), and ended up with a setup that worked pretty well.
Off we went to Alaska, and I soon found I was really excited after a leg of the trip to pull the camera off the tailskid and look at the video! Seeing the video in the hotel at night was almost as cool as the flights themselves. I was also amazed at how much you cannot take in while making sure your main focus is on flying the airplane, not to mention how much you miss because you only have the nearest window to look out, versus a wide view.
We got home, and I got to thinking (always a dangerous situation). I loved having an HD camera travel with me on the flights. Perhaps other people might enjoy that capability as well? I had lots of idea of how to do it even better, and I knew there would be lots of interesting lessons along the way. I also came to understand that mounting a camera on the outside of a certified aircraft (no matter how securely) required the FAA’s blessing, and I found that some people were mounting cameras in very dangerous ways, putting themselves and others at risk. I wanted a solution that allowed easy, spectacular photography but would be approved for certified aircraft.
The goal: to design and sell a whole new kind of aircraft accessory: an enclosure to allow low cost HD photography of the amazing sights we pilots routinely see (but cannot bring home to share with others). And that was the beginning of this long, continuing, and somewhat amazing journey, with lots of lessons in aerodynamics, engineering, materials, flight test, the STC process, and safety. This blog will take you through the experience of bringing a new aviation product to market, from the concept, to the prototype, to the approval process, to launch. I hope you enjoy the trip!