Cold Weather Photo Flight

A vertical shot of the target property from 5000'.

While most of my flying is done during the warmer months, which are also the ones with leaves on the trees, I still fly from time to time, in the winter.  Yesterday was one of those flights.  It was a perfect day, but a little chilly at 18 degrees. I met my pilot, Toby, at the Waterville airport, and while he started his preflight of the plane, I started my preflight of my equipment.  My checklist includes two cameras, one with a 24-105mm lens (for wide angle shots), and the other with a 100-400 zoom lens (to get close).  I check the settings, making sure that I am in shutter speed priority at 1/1250th second, and my ISO is at 400 or 640.  This usually gives me an aperture of f5.6, give or take a stop.  One camera hangs around my neck and the other, the one with the big zoom, rests between my knees.  Once I start shooting, I have to be careful because, in the heat of the moment, when you're shooting with both cameras, and you're wearing a headset with a cord, it's easy to get everything tangled.  So I try to tuck the headset cord under my leg and be conscious of the camera straps.  The last thing I check in the cockpit before takeoff is the window.  If it doesn't open, it's tough to work.  More often than not, there is a set screw that only allows the window to open about 4 inches.  This was the case yesterday, so we removed it, but the window was frozen stuck.  The little bit of ice in the window would come back to haunt me a little later.

We took off out of LaFleur Airport in Waterville and headed east to the little town of Hermon.  As Hermon is a little outside of Bangor, and Bangor International Airport, we requested "flight following".  Flight following is basically the tower at BIA letting us know of any other planes in our "neighborhood".  And although it adds a lot of extra radio chatter, it's nice to know that someone is watching out for you, as you fly all over the sky. And that's exactly what we do when we get to the target.  My instructions to the pilot will sound something like this " right.....a little more... hard over... more... OK, straighten out... come back hard left... good, now hard over to the right...  hard over..." and so on.  Basically, what I am doing is directing the plane into the right spot in space to get the shot that I need for the client.  Of course, if I'm in the middle of giving directions and the tower comes over the radio saying that we have "traffic at our 2 o'clock at 2 miles and 2000'..." we stop taking pictures and look for that plane.  Once that plane is considered "no factor", we start the shooting process all over again.  

The Sappi Paper Mill.  Skowhegan, Maine.

We started shooting vertical shots of a property at 5000', and then started working our way down to 1000' to finish up with a couple of shots of the house.  As time is money, you want to get from 5000' to 1000' as quickly as possible, which usually means anything from a slow spiral to a vertical corkscrew.  I've done the vertical corkscrew, but find that I only last a couple of minutes before I have to ask the pilot to straighten out before I toss my cookies.  As we began our rapid descent yesterday, I realized that I couldn't get my window closed all of the way, because of that ice I had mentioned a while back.  Now, as I said, it was 18 degrees out, and if that plane was flying at 140 knots, that made the wind chill on my fingers about... well... pretty cold!  We actually had to slow down enough so that we could fly with the window open the rest of the flight, which was a pain, but not the end of the world.

Heading back to Waterville, I spotted the Sappi Paper Mill on the horizon.  It wasn't hard, as the steam the plant was giving off was rising a couple thousand feet into the cold, still air.  I was drawn to the mill as I enjoy shooting "industrial" sites from the air, so I asked Toby how far the mill was from Waterville.  He replied (in airplane talk) "one to two tenths".  When you're flying, time is money.  And the device that let's you know how long you've been flying (and therefore, how much money you're spending) is called the Hobbs meter.  One tenth of an hour is 6 minutes.  So Toby was telling me that the diversion to take silly pictures of a stinky paper mill would cost me between 6 and 12 minutes of flight time, which at $200/hour works out to 25-50 bucks.  As I knew there would be this cool looking waste pond on site, I told him to head over.

If you ever want to get up in the air around Waterville, make sure to contact the folks at Airlink LLC.  I've flown with Klaus Thalinger and his pilots several times, both summer and winter, and I've never had a complaint.  They also provide charter flights.  You can contact them at 1-207-859-0109.

The Waste Pond at the Sappi Paper Mill, Skowhegan, Maine.