At most stations here in the U.S. to become a News Chopper Reporter you have to go up in the News Chopper and report.
At CTV News in Canada it is a bit more complicated than that.
Penny Daflos is training to be a regular chopper reporter at CTV and it's a little more than just getting in the chopper.
She writes I had what’s very likely the scariest, most humbling experience of my life yesterday.
I felt what it’d be like to survive a helicopter crash in water, then have to swim my way out.
It’s part of the training to be a regular reporter in Chopper 9, CTV British Columbia’s single engine Bell 206 L4 Longranger helicopter specially outfitted for news gathering in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.
The first step to flying regularly in “the bird” as we often call it is a one-hour orientation by one of the Talon pilots who operates the helicopter for us. Guiv Nabavi made sure I knew all the important things -- which basically boils down to: “don’t touch anything but the door handle and your headphones.”
Even though we sit to the left of the pilot in the front of the aircraft it’s so noisy that I need headphones with a microphone in order to communicate with my pilot and the CTV cameraman in his area behind me.
Pete Cline, Gary Barndt and Murray Titus are our three rock star photographers that take turns operating what’s essentially a remote-control TV news camera mounted on the front of Chopper 9. They see the world through a lens and they do an amazing job capturing the images in such a way that you feel like you’re watching the action yourself.
Do you know the number one rule of getting into a helicopter? I thought it was to duck down as you’re approaching it, but it’s much more important to know you never walk toward or around the tail of the aircraft. As Nabavi told me, the tail rotor is the “thing that’s going to take your head off.”
Ducking is important when the main overhead rotor is engaged, but that back rotor is essentially invisible when it’s running so you can’t tell how big it is or how close you are. Things like learning how to buckle up the four-point seat belt over an aviation life jacket, how to read and write my notes in the dark, how to activate the emergency beacon and what kind of flying patterns to expect round out the orientation session.
There’s a particular art to reporting in the helicopter itself. While we’re directly above whatever’s happening -- much of the floor is made of glass for easy viewing.
We’re also 1,500 feet or more above the fire or motor vehicle accident or whatever we’re talking about which can make it hard to make out details. That’s why we have a special little monitor mounted to the side of the centre console showing us what our cameraman is filming, which is usually zoomed in to show a tremendous amount of detail. So when we’re reporting live on the air we’re constantly looking at our notes, the little four-inch monitor and the earth below us in what’s a bit of a juggling act.
A routine day on a chopper reporting shift often includes waiting for the weather to clear enough to fly safely (which may or may not happen during the winter), standing by for a scheduled “live hit” into one of our news broadcasts, or zipping down to the airport and hopping on in a breaking news situation. We’re prepped and ready for all those scenarios.