Tuesday, February 05, 2013

My flight in an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter.

In my real-world life away from this blog I work as the photo editor with ABC News Online in Brisbane, Australia. It's primarily a desk job but every once in a while I get out and about. I don't always share my ABC escapades on the blog but I thought I would with this one.

At the time of writing, Brisbane is a few days away from hosting the G20 Leaders' Summit on November 15-16, 2014. What is the G20 Leaders' Summit? The best way to answer is to quote from the G20 website - 

"The Leaders' Summit is the most important event in the G20 year. The summit provides a valuable opportunity for leaders to discuss a wide range of global economic issues and to use their collective power to improve people’s lives. The summit is informed by the policy discussions held throughout the year. At the end of the summit, leaders release a communiqué which outlines the G20 policy discussions and commitments."

The Leaders in question are the 'big cheeses' of world politics - Obama, Putin to name two. You get the idea. It's a big deal and, as a result, security is - and will be, in Brisbane's case - at a ridiculously high level. 

The G20 Leaders' Summit also attracts the protest movement like a light attracts moths. These protests are often violent and many locals are a bit dubious of the whole G20 'thing'.

As a part of the charm offensive to get the public (a little more) on side, the media were invited to take part in a flight over Brisbane in a couple of Australian Arm Black Hawk helicopters. Seats were limited, so I fired off my 'yes please' email and landed one of a few set aside for photographers.

This is the story I wrote and the photos I took...

(Above photo - The two Black Hawks follow the Brisbane River as it winds past the CBD)

Part of the Brisbane CBD with the Riverside Expressway in the foreground.

Flying in a Black Hawk is a visceral experience.

I discovered this when the Black Hawk I was in banked sharply, into what seemed like an impossible angle, and I stared out the open side door directly in front of me. All I remember fixating on was the brown surface of the Brisbane River a couple of hundred metres below. No sky, no rooftops stretching into the distance – just river.

I was strapped into my seat, which faced the open door, but this did not stop my fear of heights kicking in. I wedged my foot against the wall, pushed myself back as far as possible and reached behind me, grabbing onto something so tightly I pulled a muscle in my shoulder.

This was my first time in a Black Hawk, as it was for many of the media who had assembled at Gallipoli Barracks in the Brisbane suburb of Enoggera for a flight in two of the world's most advanced battlefield helicopters ahead of the G20 summit in Brisbane next month.

Our flight path took us across the inner suburbs and down the Brisbane River between the city centre and South Bank, where the G20 will be held at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre.

It was designed to let us experience what it will be like to patrol the skies above the city during the few days many of the world's leaders will be in town.

A load master – one of two onboard – moments before take off.

A Black Hawk take off is quite a gentle experience.

You are suddenly aware the helicopter is free of the ground and swaying gently back and forth. Then it tilts forward and gains height. Once it is above all structures, it is free to manoeuvre as it likes.

The ride is a smooth, albeit a windy and noisy one (ear plugs were handed out beforehand). For much of the time, we flew parallel to, and several hundred metres above the ground.

As the helicopters neared the city, they dropped in altitude to allow the media to get photos and footage of the second Black Hawk flying with the city buildings as the backdrop.

Flying parallel to the ground is pleasant. However, from time to time the pilots showed us – by design or not, we don't know – that Black Hawks are extremely nimble and able to make very quick and steep turns at high speed.

In an instant the flight turned from pleasant to sensory overload – especially each time I stared past my foot at the several hundred metres between us and the earth below.

None of this bothered the two crew members – load masters – on either side of the Black Hawk next to where we were sitting.

They, like us, were strapped in but happily leaned out of what passed as a windowless window and kept an eye on proceedings.

This was their work environment. They looked perfectly at home.

One of the load masters watches the other Black Hawk.

Thanks to the open door next to us we were afforded spectacular, uninterrupted aerial views of Brisbane and its surrounds.

I took this as a chance to get as many aerial photos as possible but soon learnt that concentrating on something other than the horizon while being "bounced" around in the back of a Black Hawk is akin to reading in a car or being below deck on a boat in a swell – the tummy gets a bit queasy.

The velocity of the wind swirling in and around the helicopter meant any form of physical illness on my part would have been detrimental to everyone. The crew gave us ear-plugs before take off but there was no mention of sick bags.

With that rather unpleasant thought in mind, I rested the camera in my lap and sat back and took a few deep breaths as I reacquainted myself with the horizon on the flight back to the barracks.

All the same, when the Black Hawk landed and we had taken the last of our photos and footage, I gingerly made my way home where I had a cuppa and a lie down.

The Gallipoli Barracks (foreground) with the Brisbane city centre in the distance.

Construction site at the Toowong entrance to Legacy Way, the tunnel from Toowong to the Inner City Bypass at Kelvin Grove.

The Gabba ground with the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges in the distance.

Stuartholme School in the foothills of Mt Coot-tha.

Many of the buildings lining Eagle Street in the Brisbane CBD. 

Government House with the suburb of Paddington in the distance.

What I remember seeing during one of the several steep turns taken by the Black Hawk.

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If you like the photography in my blogs, it's because I am a professional photographer. My photos don't merely show something, they tell a story. And visual stories i.e. photos, are more interesting than pictures that merely show something. 

If you'd like to know how to turn your images into visual stories, I've published a book that takes a whole new slant on photography and 'translates' the art of taking photos into a language we all understand.

To read more about my book and see some of its 100+ visual examples, please click HERE.

***I use all the tips and hints from my book in every photo I take, including those in Travel With Giulio.

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All photos and text by Giulio Saggin.
© Use of photos must be via written permission

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