Skywitnessing it all from above

Skywitness 9 HD Josh Benson WFTV-TV
Skywitness 9 HD standing by on pad (photo: Dan Criswell)

News helicopters are so cool. And they are such a valuable tool. I’ve never worked at a station that has a news helicopter until now. And boy, have I been missing out. Some of the pictures we get into our newsroom are unbelievable. At a moment’s notice, our chopper “Skywitness 9 HD” is in the air from Orlando Executive Airport en route to a breaking news story. Our talented pilot Judy knows exactly where to be and our photographers who fly with her take some pretty amazing video.

Our chopper is a Bell 407 with a max speed of 140 knots (thanks to Dan Criswell, one of our talented photographers for the info and the great snaps). I’m told it has 3 HD cameras. I haven’t actually been up in it or seen it in person just yet. I’m excited to someday get the chance. What a thrill.

We depend on our chopper quite a bit. Most news stations seem to if they own or lease one. It allows you to get to the story quicker than anyone else – and get you pictures on the air as soon as possible. Most viewers want their news NOW. So this helps attack that massive challenge.However, safety is key. Pilots needs to be so careful when it comes to a scene where multiple choppers are in the air. I was working in Tucson, Arizona at KVOA on July 27th, 2007 when I got word into our newsroom that choppers from Phoenix stations KNXV and KTVK collided in mid-air above a school park. They were following a police pursuit. It was difficult because a few of my co-workers were friends with pilot Scott Bowerbank, photographer Jim Cox, pilot Craig Smith and photographer Rick Krolak.

All men were killed in the crash.

Flir Camera System on the WFTV Skywitness 9 HD Helicopter
Flir Camera System on Skywitness 9 HD (photo: Dan Criswell)

To this day, news helicopters remain an integral part of gathering news quickly. The technology keeps getting better, the cameras more advanced and the helicopters more powerful.

I am excited to fly in Skywitness 9 HD someday not only for the rush and a whole new perspective of gathering news – but just to see the professionalism my coworkers exude day in and day out. It’s kinda cool to watch when it all comes together back in the newsroom.

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Josh Benson

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