As I learned many years ago in the Boy Scouts to always Be Prepared, you must plan for the unexpected before venturing out on a trip. It does not matter the mode of transportation or where you are going; maybe it is a road trip a few hours away, or like in our case, a 7,000+ mile helicopter trip around the contiguous United States. Spontaneity is great fun, but for safety, plans must be made.
Building upon the skills taught in the Scouts, the training I received in the United States Navy, and my experience as a civilian paramedic, I know you can never be too prepared. Even the best laid out plan will have the unexpected happen.
With all this in mind, months before the trip departure date, I begin planning and strategizing. Here is an (almost) complete list of the gear we are bringing with us; some of the equipment is for the YouTube video productions, and some of it is for the crew's safety.
Some of the gear was given free or discounted from sponsors; some we paid full retail price for. Either way, no matter what, all of the gear listed was chosen by us for its usefulness and NOT because the companies paid us. If we received free or price-reduced gear or we were paid to use said gear, that was just a bonus. Also, whenever possible, I included affiliate links below as this lets our sponsors know we referred you, and also, in some cases (like Amazon links), we get a few dollars when you purchase something. So kindly use those links; it helps to pay for this trip and future trips.
Being the boss, Steven gets some of the cooler stuff to use. Here are his specific items.
Brushing up on FAA helicopter flight rules before take off, Steven has his copy of The Private Pilot Study Guide by Brian Rutledge, Helicopter Online Ground School.
Starting at the head, Steven will wear a custom-made EVO 152 aviation helmet from Evolution Helmets. Enclosed in his helmet is a Bose A20 aviation headset with noise cancelation and Bluetooth connectivity. This was a nice additional upgrade feature available from Evolution when they manufactured the helmet. Overall the helmet and Bose have worked well; however, he has had multiple issues with the noise cancelation feature. He tried Bose support, but they were unable to provide support because it is installed in the helmet, so he contacted Evolution numerous times for support and has heard nothing in return. 😡 Might need to switch brands! Recommendations?🤷
On his left leg is a pilot kneeboard, with an iPad Mini 6 (Wi-Fi + Cellular, 256GB - Space Gray) & Apple Pencil. Connected wirelessly to the iPad is the Sentry Portable ADS-B Receiver. Overall, Apple's recent update to the Mini is an excellent option for pilots to run Foreflight. The only issue is most kneeboards currently on the market do not fit the iPad Mini 6 very well; the current one keeps hitting the power button. Hopefully, a manufacturer will develop an updated iPad Mini 6 based kneeboard soon. Additionally, it would also be nice if Foreflight had more helicopter-specific features; it is geared towards fixed-wing pilots.
While most of the trip will be flown in the daytime, every pilot should have flashlights with them. Steven has two; the first is used during flight, a Streamlight 61125 ClipMate 70 (thanks to Brian Rutledge, Helicopter Online Ground School for this recommendation), which can switch between two modes of white (bright & dim), and two modes of red light. The second light is for pre-flight inspections, the Smith & Wesson M&P Duty Series RXP. Both can be recharged via USB, so no need to bring extra batteries.
Because the trip will contain multiple overwater flights, including a 1.5-hour flight over the Gulf of Mexico, all flight crew members will wear the SWITLIK X-Back Basic Constant-Wear Life Vest (guests will not fly with us when over large bodies of water). This vest provides the crew with an inflatable vest for water landings. Additionally, it has pockets for survivability gear should we need to land the helicopter unexpectedly in an unpopulated area.
Each crew member and any guest flying on the helicopter will wear a Bose A20 aviation headset with the same noise cancelation and Bluetooth connectivity as Steven, just minus the helmet.
As with any trip, you must bring snacks and drinks with you. The problem with helicopter trips is you are very limited on space and weight--not to mention limited on potty breaks. As much as they crew would love to pack cases of iced coffee in the helicopter, that is just not an option. So the next best thing is packing espresso-infused CLIF Bars to provide an extra pick-me-up and much-needed human fuel. Each crew member will get a box of Espresso CLIF BARS. Each bar has 65 mg of Caffeine Per Bar - Made with Organic Oats - Plant-Based Food- Kosher.
To maintain hydration, the crew will mostly pick up bottles of water along the way, and maybe if the crew is lucky, a case of Blackberry Vanilla OLIPOP might get packed. The water is a perfect option to have for the single-use packages of KOKOS from MyMedic, a delicious & hydrating blend of vitamins and minerals for exercise and on the go. 4.5g per sachet. Dissolve in 16oz of water.
Because you can never be too safe, packed in the helicopter is a MyFAK Large Pro from MyMedic. This fully stocked yet nicely compact emergency first aid kit provides the crew with critical life-saving gear when seconds count. As you know, Steven is a Paramedic, but you may not know, the camera operator Travis is an EMT, so on this helicopter is a full ALS EMS response crew. 🚑 🚑 Because this is a three-person crew, a few extra items were added to this kit, including x3 Recon Medical Tourniquets, x3 LifeStraw Personal Water Filters, and a bunch of ChemLight glow sticks.
We all know spills, messes, accidents, etc., will happen; for this reason we will make sure to have multiple rolls of Scott Blue Shop Towels easily accessible during flight. Steven always has a roll of these in his flight bag for use during pre-flight, etc.
We have five GoPro HERO10 Black cameras for in-flight video and audio recording, each recording to a SAMSUNG EVO Select microSDXC 512GB card. They are suction-cupped to the helicopter using Nflightcam Ultimate Action Camera Cockpit Mounting Kits. One of the cameras uses the Nflightcam Helicopter Intercom Cable for GoPro to plug into the onboard audio intercom system. This allows us to record conversations in the helicopter when people speak into their Bose A20 aviation headset microphone. Because we are recording in multi-cam, we only need one camera to have clean audio; the rest can have background audio only used for multi-cam sync; thus, we only need one of the audio interface cables.
This is the primary camera used for all interviews, both in-flight and on-ground, and is operated by camera operator Travis. This is a complex rig with a lot of connections and adapters. It took about 3-months to get everything "just right." Here is a list of the major components. If enough of you are interested in a complete breakdown, let us know, and Steven will write a dedicated post about it.
The primary camera used for video recording is a Sony a7 III with a FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS Standard Zoom Lens. Some slightly newer models are available, but we already had this camera at the studio, and it is still an excellent camera.
An Atomos Ninja V Atomos Ninja V 4Kp60 10bit HDR D Portable Monitor/Recorder is mounted to the rig's side, giving a preview monitor of what is being shot. Additionally, the Atomos serves as the primary recording device for video from the Sony a7.
Plugged into the Sony is a Rode VideoMic NTG On-Camera Shotgun Microphone with an Auray WSW-VMNTG Custom Windbuster for Rode VideoMic NTG to keep the audio clean from any extra wind. In most cases, we will only use this audio for syncing purposes because . . .
For ground interviews, the Zoom H6 All Black will be the main audio recording interface for multi-channel audio with four phantom-powered XLR outputs. Plugged into the XLR connectors are three Sennheiser AVX receivers, one for each of the three microphones. Two ME 2-II Omnidirectional Lav Mic (one for Steven and one for interviewees) and an MMD 42 Omni Handheld Mic for quick Q&A session interviews. Each of the individual microphones are recorded at 24-bit /96kHz audio as their own individual audio file onto a 128GB SDXC card using the Zoom H6.
Then, finally, the entire rig is powered by the GVM V-Mount Battery with D-Tap. This allows for a single battery to be charged each night without worrying about batteries in each device.
Because we are recording on the GoPros and Sony camera almost continuously throughout the day, we expect to rack up a lot of video footage each day. With this in mind, we have 22 (yes, you read that correctly 22) of the LaCie Rugged Mini 2TB external hard drives. Is this overkill? Well, probably, but Be Prepared. The plan is to dump each day's footage onto a hard drive dedicated to that day of shooting and USPS Priority Mail it back to the office after each day of filming. Fingers crossed the Post Office manages to get all 22 back to us, safely and in working condition.
Travis edits video on DaVinci Resolve Studio 17, and Steven edits on Final Cut Pro X. Each of them have their own 2021 Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, Apple M1 Pro chip with 10‑core CPU).