Island Timing

It was June 2015 and I was proposed a dual purpose trip, sponsored by Sikorsky and Vertical magazine, to visit National Helicopters down in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago. Sikorsky was hoping to capture some in-flight photos of the first S76D model to enter service. Vertical magazine was asking for an article to showcase the operator and the aircraft.

Arriving at the airport in Trinidad and entering customs, I sensed something was up. When the customs inspector asked what my business was on the island, and I mentioned I was there to visit a certain name at National Helicopters, it was if the VIP light went on over my head. They even carried my bags to the waiting town car at the curb.

Anyway, everyone at National Helicopters were total pros and seemingly happy to see me. The Sikorsky contingent; the marketing and sales folks, were also very welcoming. We discussed the 'plan' for what we'd hope to accomplish over the next few days. At the conclusion of the meeting, it seemed were all off to a fabulous start.

Over the next day or so we managed to do a couple air to air photo shoots with the S76Ds; a single aircraft shoot followed by a two aircraft formation. Back at the base, in looking over the photos I had, I wasn't terribly happy. There were some beautiful frames, especially the two aircraft in formation. But I knew we could do better and I knew lighting was the key.

So on the afternoon of our last day, we were brainstorming over lunch, ideas to improve the imagery. I hatched a plan to launch aircraft an hour before sunset in the hopes of capturing the aircraft during the 'golden hour.'

The plan seemed like a great idea until we walked out from lunch and realized a nasty rain storm had rolled in. It was pouring harder than I think I'd ever seen it rain. Driving the short distance back to the airport we drove through flooded intersections and cascades of water flowing down streets and sidewalks. Back at National Helicopters, we stood quietly in the open hangar watching the downpour and the lowering cloud deck, believing Mother Nature had indeed dashed our plans.

The chief pilot and ops officer finally walked over and asked if I had any suggestions to salvage the afternoon. These are one of those time where, as a photographer and a fairly experienced helicopter pilot, I did have a proposal, but I was doubtful anyone would go along with it.

I confirmed the tops of the cloud layer was just a few thousand feet. We also had no lightening accompanying the rain and both aircraft and flight were IFR capable, (to fly in instrument conditions). I suggested, if we could get above the cloud layer we'd likely find some clear, calm air and perhaps some epic late afternoon lighting.

The two pilots and operations agreed on a plan. They each filed flight plans to depart IFR, going in opposing directions, then climb up through the cloud deck and 'meet' in the clear air above.

Anyway, when my aircraft popped up through the cloud deck and I saw the puffy clouds and the late afternoon light I almost wanted to cry. Not because of how beautiful it was, (which it most definitely was), but because the other aircraft went the wrong direction, away from our rendezvous point!!

So, we ended up pissing away about 15 minutes revising the plan and arrange a new meet-up. But we finally did and we were treated to just a few minutes of some spectacular light.

It was hard to choose which image(s) were my favorite. But this frame, from a series where we fell back in trail as the storm was breaking up, letting the S76 seemingly driving off into the sunset, was an instant favorite.

Nikon D800 w/ Nikon 70-200 VR II @ 1/50sec / f4.5

Vertical magazine story - https://verticalmag.com/features/overtropicalwaters/