Aerial filming with the Military
Filming in Fast Jets
Sgt Gordy Elias, Senior Photographer, RAF Combat Camera Team
I cannot over emphasize the importance of planning. It's up to you what you want to achieve, the pilot needs a plan. It is no good just jumping into the back of a fast jet and hoping for the best. Discuss in detail exactly what you want; if a manoeuvre or formation is feasible at all, the aircrew will come up with the best and safest way to perform it. If you have a series of manoeuvres make sure everyone is aware and have a list of manoeuvres jotted down on your knee-pad and the aircrew have the same details.
Reflections inside fast jet cockpits
Do not wear the white flying gloves they reflect like hell. Dark green gloves or if you can get them black gloves (as worn by Red Arrows aircrew) are best.
While it is understood that the ground-crews give the canopies a good clean as part of their ‘turn-round’ procedure, it is worth asking them to give them an extra special clean, because the canopy may as well be classed as the last element of your lens.
Choice of lens
If your lenses are fixed focal length, remember you can bring the other aircraft into you. You don’t need great telephoto lenses. Normal angle lenses or even wide angle are fine. If however, you are flying in helicopters performing air to air; work on the assumption that the nearest the subject helicopter is going to get to you is x2 rotor widths, (considerably further away than close formation in fast jets).
An understanding of what sort of effects pulling G has on your body and equipment is vital. You must appreciate that if your camera weighs say 5lbs, if you pull 2G then the equipment will physically weigh 10lbs, if its 3G it will weigh 15lbs, (x4G = 20lbs) and so on. Eventually it can feel like you are taking photographs with an anvil! Also beware of pulling G while turning your body to get the shot, the only thing you will be pulling is A MUSCLE!
Make sure the pilot is aware you need to know if any sudden G force is about to come on, particularly negative G, you don’t want your camera flying through the canopy or hitting the canopy’s Micro Detonating Cord (MDC), that would really spoil your day!
While flying in fast jets do not have your camera strap around your neck. If the worst came to the worst and you had to eject, your camera strap would act like a guillotine and take your head off! Take the strap off completely before even walking out to the jet. If you do need to eject, throw the camera in your foot-well before pulling the black & yellow handle, this just could save you losing a leg or two.
Ensure you have a full understanding what Foreign Object Damage (FOD) means and its relevance. Make sure all your equipment is secure at all times.
Video from fast jets
This can be particularly tiring. The main difference is you can put your stills camera down on your lap anytime you want between shots, not so with video. It’s not quite the same putting the video camera down on your lap, unless you want ‘footage’ of your feet! Sustaining a turn of only 2 or 3 G while videoing will sap your strength quickly and dependant on the length of your sortie can exhaust you. Even if it is a particularly leisurely flight and you don’t immediately feel the effects, you will the following day when your muscles rebel.
Enjoy your flight!
Aerial Filming with the Military
This article on Flying with the Military was compiled with the help of
Flt Tigs Douglas-Sim, Media Communications Officer, RAF Lyneham
There are occasions when film makers want to fly with military aircraft, either as transport to an area which is controlled by the armed forces or to film the aircraft itself.
Contact the Media Office
Generally, you will find the Royal Air Force helpful and they will usually do their very best to fulfil any reasonable request you may put to them. All filming requests should be presented in the first instance to the Station Media Office which you can find from the main switchboard or sometimes from the station’s website. For example, if you wish to fly with a Hercules Squadron, then you will probably be contacting the media office at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire
Be as clear as you can about what you want to achieve. Is it air to air, ground to air, do you want to film the aircraft landing or taking off, what environment or country are you thinking of, do you want to film tactical operations or manoeuvres, in fact it's the same checklist as for civil aerial filming.
Then it’s a question of budget. To hire a military aircraft solely for your own tailor made filming trip is possible but the costs may be prohibitive. For example a C130J Hercules will cost you around £ 10,000 per hour or a Puma helicopter around £ 3,500 per hour.
If you’re flexible with your wish list and don’t need to film immediately, it may well be possible to be included in an existing scheduled operation in the near future. Because the operation is already booked as a military sortie, you’ll find the cost of joining in is far more acceptable, even to the point of making a reasonable (substantial) donation to the RAF Benevolent Fund. Military sorties are usually planned up to 4 months ahead so your RAF contact will be able to let you know if a suitable operation is coming up.
The RAF can carry civilian passengers and are not subject to the same AOC as civil aircraft so the public transport or aerial work rules do not apply. With civilians on board, regulations dictate that the aircraft will not fly below 500ft.
You’ll need to be insured and able to show that your production insurance covers your crew for flying in military aircraft and the RAF will want to see proof of this. A typical insurance premium for operating in a war theatre is around £ 5,000 per person per week. Although the RAF have a duty of care, you or your equipment will not be insured by them.
Combat Camera Team
One way round the low flying and insurance issues is to use a camera operator from the RAF’s Combat Camera Team. The 500ft minimum no longer applies as there are no civilians on board. There is a fee for this service and this varies depending on what you require. Military camera operators are experienced in all sorts of aircraft and scenarios and will probably do a very good job on your behalf. They’ll also be able to show you examples of what they’ve done before to give you an idea of what can be achieved.
Almost always, they will film hand held from a shoulder mounted camera which means you won’t be able to use long lenses. The RAF have their own cameras although you can supply your own camera kit if you wish. Don’t forget you will have to insure it!
There is also a substantial archive available which might just give you what you need. See: defencenewsimagery.mod.uk, British Defence Film Library, Imperial War Museum