Helivision sprang from the heart of Nascar country–Concord, N.C.–mainly to provide helicopter aerial camera platforms for race coverage. That was 18 years ago. Motor sports is still a large part of the company’s business, accounting for many of its flight hours between February and November and constantly keeping its two camera helicopters, hauling trucks and crews on the road. “In June 2011 I think I was home all of two days,” says pilot Kevin Knotts, whose father, Buddy, founded and still runs the company today. “Our families are used to it. It is what we do.”
Knotts, six other pilots and two full-time cameramen can usually be found flying events, such as the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, or providing shots for movies, television programs and commercials. The company flies a pair of Bells, a 206B3 and a 206L1, for most of this work. They are hauled to locations aboard Helivision’s customized semi-trucks, which also contain room for maintenance stores and air-conditioned crew quarters, galleys, bathrooms and showers. “Our crews need to be rested to do the job right. It’s pretty demanding work,” Knotts says.
The company typically dispatches crews of three–one pilot, a back-up pilot and a cameraman. A few pilots also are A&P mechanics but Helivision will send a mechanic with a crew operating in a remote location. A crew can roll the helicopter off the trailer, attach the camera and be ready to fly in 20 minutes, says Knotts. The company operates nationwide.
The cameraman sits beside the pilot and plants his face into a long visor over a monitor. With a portable control board on his lap, he can control every aspect of the $600,000 Cineflex HD gyro-stabilized camera system–panning, tilting, zooming, rolling and reversing. Images on site are transmitted live via microwave downlink, while remote panoramic beauty shots can be stored in the system for later broadcast. The Cineflex system camera weighs just 75 pounds, a big weight reduction from the 250-pound Wescam system it replaces. For car races it is hung on the helicopter’s right side and the pilot flies right hand orbits at torque settings between 60 and 80 percent. From his cockpit monitor, the pilot sees what the cameraman sees and can fly more precisely to line up a shot. Forward speed with the camera attached is limited to 80 knots. Helivision hangs appropriate weights from the camera mounts when practicing emergency maneuvers such as autorotations. Knotts said the company has not suffered any actual in-flight emergencies while filming.
In addition to the Bells, the company owns a pair of Schweizer 300s it uses in its flight training division, Heliventures, and for hand-held camera work.