America’s Cup helicopter is an action movie

Auckland, New Zealand – The main attraction for viewers and TV viewers at America’s Cup will always be the AC75s, sleek racing yachts that can fly over the water on hydrofoils at high speeds such as 60 miles per hour.

However, the one who stole the scene of this week’s event, it is possible that the supporting actor was racing them: The helicopter filmed the races between The Emirates team of New Zealand and the Luna Rossa of Italy for international television broadcasts. Its pillar-like maneuvers, almost always at full speed and sometimes just a few feet from the water, gave the brilliance of a big-budget action movie for what could often be. a sprint is relatively simple.

To do their job correctly, helicopter pilots often match the speed of the AC75s, lifting just above the water as it tracks them for miles up and down the course. Helicopters also fly back, sideways and diagonally as needed, diving down and up around yachts as they all glide over the water. And it has to do it all while avoiding the spectator boats, the whitecaps below and most importantly their multi-million dollar AC75s and their 87-foot masts.

“It’s just normal for me,” said Tony Monk, a New Zealander who controls the helicopter this year. “I feel safer in a helicopter than when I am in a car.

Monk’s reckless flight has left some viewers unfamiliar with how to shoot race videos. One spectator described Monk’s skill, admiringly, as “crazy,” but others said watching helicopters revolve around action gives them a sense of omen. Some expressed concern that wind from the propellers could interfere with the race.

There is precedent for that concern. As part of the 2017 America Cup in Bermuda, Jimmy Spithill, then coaching an American catamaran and this year a co-coach for the Italian team, blamed a television helicopter for “flying everything. the wind ”as it flies above his team.

Monk, a New Zealander with about 40 years of flying experience, avoids risks and complaints. “Most people see a helicopter just flying forward,” he said. “They can go in any direction.”

He honed his skills in avoiding trees and power lines as a sweeper before moving into film production, where his job included recording overhead shots for the series “The Lord of the Cars rings ”. When his helicopter did not chase yachting races, it led to a much quieter life: charter flights, aerial video recording, and customer pick-ups for lunch, golf and fishing. fish by helicopter.

During the American Cup competition, the amount of information Monk has to keep an eye on while in the air is huge and constantly changing. His flight is subject to the safety instructions for the helicopter model he uses. He is unable to fly into the airspace of another TV helicopter overhead, which provides a wider image – often covered with graphics – allowing viewers to follow boats on a marked football field. like a football field. (That footage was shot by Monk’s son, Blair.)

Monks must also be within a certain distance – at least 500 feet – from any spectator boats and populated areas. This figure is closer than the usual 1,000 feet, and to venture inside it, Monk and race officials must obtain special permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand.

And then there’s the gust of wind, or the wind generated by the propellers, which is a unique problem when spinning a yacht race because the pilot must avoid interfering with the competition by all means. A windy day means rainwater will disperse much faster than a calm day, and that allows helicopters to fly closer to the AC75s, Monk said. And if the boats are going in the opposite direction, Monk can get closer if he flies behind them than when he flies ahead. “You are always conscious of the direction of the wind,” he said.

“Sometimes we have to pick up the plane very quickly because where the boats are going through the trails,” Monk said, who is flying is guided by his ability to visualize what the camera operator is. on the train were seen through the camera on the bottom of the helicopter, all at the same time receiving radio orders from the TV director. (There’s also a photographer on board, sitting by an open door, and a supervisor acting as a second eye for Monk.)

Why a helicopter? Drones were initially considered for this work but were quickly removed due to the increased weight of the camera equipment. “Very quickly, you get a drone the size of a dining table on it,” said Leon Sefton, production manager of America Cup.

Besides, Sefton and his team like Monk as their living eye, breathing in the sky. Since Monk is right there, Sefton says, he has a spatial awareness that a remote drone pilot wouldn’t be able to do.

“Race yachts can sometimes do things that seem unpredictable to us,” he said.

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