In the spring of 2009, Bruce Bullock started coordination with local Seattle TV stations to get some exposure for soaring in the Northwest. Bruce learned that the meteorologist for KING 5 TV, Jeff Renner, was planning a special on summer weather in the Northwest. Bruce contacted Jeff, and volunteered that a sailplane flight would be an excellent venue to describe thermals and the rising air that produces thunderstorms, and Jeff quickly agreed. Jeff set up a scenario where the sailplane would be filmed both from inside the cockpit, and externally from the SkyKing helicopter in formation as a chase aircraft.
Bruce coordinated with the Evergreen soaring DG-1000 group, and got permission to use their DG-1000 for the TV special, and I was asked to give Jeff Renner the demonstration flight. We planned a mid-week flight in April, needing decent weather and an available tow pilot at Arlington.
On April 15th, the weather looked decent and Keith McLean was available to tow, so I headed to Arlington for a mid-day soaring flight. Jeff arrived via car, just as Heinz Gehlhaar, Jim Simmons and I finished rigging the DG-1000, and soon after the SkyKing helicopter flew in. Mark Hansen, the SkyKing helicopter pilot, and I discussed formation and chase planning, and discussed the shots that Jeff would like to see flown for the TV special.
I proceeded to give Jeff a thorough parachute and cockpit briefing, under the watchful eye of the KING 5 cameraman. Jeff would be carrying an HD video camera in the front cockpit, and we set up a wireless intercom system that would hopefully be recorded from the chase helicopter. Since the overcast layer was now beginning to break up, it was time to launch.
Mark Hansen took off with his photographer in the SkyKing helicopter, and positioned himself near our left aft for his preferred chase position. With a positive check of the wireless intercom, I signaled our tow pilot, Keith McLean, that we were ready to launch. Jeff and I climbed steadily to the east, and Keith found a large gap in the clouds that allowed us to climb with the helicopter in chase. As we topped the clouds at around 4000 feet, the snow-capped tops of the Three Fingers Mountain provided a glorious background for our formation in tow. I continued up to 6000 feet, to allow for sufficient maneuvering above the clouds for some great video.
After release, Jeff and I cruised above the cloud tops in smooth air, and I coordinated with the SkyKing helicopter for some tight simulated thermaling turns for the video, while I let Jeff get a feel for the responsive flight controls of the DG-1000. Although the air was dead calm, there was very little sink, so I was able to cruise for a good 10 minutes while slowly descending to some large gaps in the clouds.
Once I found a gap large enough for both the DG-1000 and SkyKing to maintain VFR in the descent, I made a rapid turning descent to a high-speed pass below the clouds along the foothills, providing some great video backdrops of both the ground terrain and the flat-bottomed cumulus. Once below the clouds, there were a number of decent areas of thermal lift starting up, providing an excellent opportunity to describe soaring technique while the video was rolling.
Although SkyKing had primarily stayed in a trail position, Mark then raced ahead to set up some front quarter shots as we headed back to the local Arlington airfield environment. The built up areas around the town of Arlington provided some more excellent background for descriptions of thermal generators.
We had pre-briefed with SkyKing that he would follow me through the pattern and landing. I let Jeff have another hand at flying the DG, then positioned for a normal pattern after circling over Arlington a few times. Mark Hansen kept the SkyKing helicopter in precise formation throughout the downwind, base and final turns, providing some excellent video of the pattern and landing.
The soaring segment rated a full two minutes of the 21-minute TV special, and Jeff later told me it had really added to the special.
Thanks to Bruce Bulloch for setting up this great exposure for soaring in the Great Northwest!