One day in L.A., a helicopter changed television news forever.
- By Stephen Joiner
- Air & Space magazine, May 2009
Courtesy John Silva
(Page 4 of 6)
On the Telecopter's undercarriage, technicians attached a flashing red "On The Air" beacon, visible for 30 miles. The whop of a helicopter and the dazzling light brought Angelenos bolting outdoors to wave; then they dashed inside to watch.
Up in the goldfish-bowl cockpit with no doors, it was "very noisy, very hot," Morby says. Preflight sometimes included packing temperature-sensitive TV equipment with dry ice. And that "hand-held" camera required shoulders and back too. "It actually weighed about 25 pounds," Morby says, "which got heavy after a few hours."
If the rotor's wood blades absorbed enough moisture, the rotor would become unbalanced, transmitting a bossa nova beat through the drive train and into Morby's live shots. To steady him, a camera seat was fabricated from bedsprings.
One problem the team avoided: boredom. "Sixteen years, 13 emergency landings," Morby says. Nothing they couldn't walk away from, though one close call could have dropped them in the Pacific.
Once a revenue flatliner, local news became a cash cow. During the Telecopter's first four months, KTLA sold a record $500,000 of advertising. Procter & Gamble spent another $250,000 specifically to sponsor Telecopter coverage.
In 1959, the project's success earned an upgrade. Telecopter number 2, a Bell 47J2, offered greater interior space, as well as increases in lift and range. All equipment was interior-mounted, obviating extravehicular troubleshooting.
Other channels began conceding KTLA's advantage. Minutes after an Orange County train wreck, Scheer and Morby were above the action. Three live airborne newscasts were already wrapped before a Channel 11 truck rumbled up. As the Telecopter circled above, "the crew got out and just stood there, looking up at us," Harold Morby says.
At some historic moments, the Telecopter was the only vantage point that was available.