I saw a story in an Aviation magazine about flying over LAX and quickly added it to my Bucket List. It did not take long before I was arranging the trip and it is something any Avgeek should put on their “to do” list.
First I talked to Jeannette at Star Helicopters in Los Angeles and booked two days of flying over LAX. They have a special arrangement with the LAX tower that has 4 areas assigned for them to be able to take photos. Two areas on the south side (Runway 25R/L) at 1000ft and down. One transgression area to the north area at 1500ft. Terminal area at 1500ft and one area 1000ft and down on the north of runways 24R/L. The tower appreciates ample notice about flights.
The two days of flying (one hour each day) were in two different time slots. If you have special airline wishes, study the arrival/departure list for the airport in order to get an idea about when the aircraft/airline arrives or departs.
Be aware that to get an arrangement like this you will have to meet with the airport tower beforehand to set up the rules and areas of flight, which is what Star Helicopters did.
My first flight was between 5 and 6pm and I did not study the arrival/departure list. After the safety briefing with my pilot Art we strapped in..or on the R-22 after having removed both doors. The transition to LAX from Hawkthorne airport took about 3 minutes and when we got there we alternated between the two areas on the south side seeing a good amount of traffic on 25R/L as well as taxiways.
We then climbed to 1500ft and went right over the runways to the terminals where quite a few photos were taken, capturing the 6 terminals, parking areas and more. Then descended to 1000ft and cruised north of the runways. There was not much action there,so we went back to the south side and had some more photo opportunities.
We left the LAX area and landed at Hawkthorne with 1 hour on the clock.
Second flight was scheduled between 1 and 2pm the next day. Art and I talked about what to do different and then we were off again. Weather was less windy which made the small helicopter a more staple platform, not that I had any time to think about it.
As we came into the south side an Air France A 380 landed and even if I did not get any tire smoke, some good shots were had. Today was a lot busier and we ended up spending all the time on the south side as there was little action on the north and the terminal photos were done the day before.
In order to get the Asiana Airlines take off photo, the clock for the second day ran to 1hour 12min.
I took 1150 photos during the two days, all on manual and single shot settings, using a 70-300mm Sony G lens on my Sony A77.
There is also a Robinson R-44 available for charter (about twice the cost an hour compared to the R-22) and in that you will have more space (the backseat) and will most likely be able to keep the lens inside the helicopter. I found that on the first day the wind and the slipstream made zooming more difficult because of the force against the lens. On the second day it was better because the wind was less and we hovered more.
If you want to try this adventure at an airport near you, make sure that special arrangements are in place with the tower. If you can find a pilot who has some experience in aerial photography it will be a bonus for you.