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Air-to-air photography

One of the many interesting projects during my years in NAC was the air-to-air photography flights. In August 1962, our management recognised the need for new photographs of our aircraft for a range of promotional material to help stimulate sales. Prior to this time, NAC had few good photographs because of a fire at head office which had destroyed its historic photo library. The change of aircraft livery meant that the few remaining photographs were out of date. The early 1960s was also a new era for international tourism which provided an opportunity to promote inbound travel and NAC’s modern domestic services throughout New Zealand.

We decided to update our sales and public relations programmes to counter the attractions of other operators. New photographs would be taken with typical and attractive New Zealand backgrounds and these found their way into magazines and newspapers in New Zealand and overseas. sales displays, television commercials and inflight magazines. The flights were mainly integrated with required flying by Friendship, DC3, Viscount and later Boeing 737 during training and after overhaul.

Over several weeks prior to each flight, I planned the best route from Christchurch Airport over the Canterbury foothills to Mt Arrowsmith to Mt Tasman, Tasman Glacier, Mt Cook, Mt Sefton, Lake Ohau, Benmore, Timaru, Ashburton, Banks Peninsular and Christchurch City. We planned to operate these flights to get the best light on the aircraft and background scenery and we flew up to about 10,000ft in the Mt Cook region to get the best scale of the scenery.

To overcome reflections from the glass in the windows, these and some emergency escape hatches were removed for clear vision. I had a microphone and earphones to communicate with the pilots of both aircraft to coordinate manoeuvers along the route and to relay progress to the cameramen. Over specific landmarks we performed ‘racecourse circuits’ sometimes in different directions to get a variety of photographs. The flights were of course subject to weather conditions and on occasions these were delayed and then rescheduled for another date.

We commissioned Guy Mannering and Pat Dolan from Mannering and Associates, who had done excellent photography for NAC Engineering at Christchurch. Guy was no stranger to aerial photography as he had already photographed gliders over Mt Cook. We needed large format colour negative and positive film, so they used 5 x 4 inch cameras with lenses slightly wider than normal to provide a pleasing perspective. In addition we invited cameramen from the National Film Unit to take 35mm film for stock use in television and for other movie requirements. Pat and Guy were mainly using slow 50ASA colour film in difficult light conditions with shutter speeds as fast as possible to counter vibrations from the aircraft. Camera filters were not screwed onto the lenses before flight so as to counter any pressurization later in the flight which would have made them difficult to remove.

Guy Mannering, Pat Dolan, Tony Williams (National Film Unit cameraman), Richard Williams (NAC) directing the filming and Brian Shennan (National Film Unit cameraman), 1973

Filming from a DC3 with the windows removed was noisy and cold despite the cabin heating but this was forgotten when photography was underway with the other aircraft in close formation and the landscapes passing by below, Photography decisions had to be made very quickly and we had to plan ahead to update the photographers on upcoming sequences. From time to time the cameramen needed to change lenses and film and this gave me an opportunity to take photographs with my own 35mm camera. Each aircraft type that we photographed had its best classic angles, and we maximized on these whenever possible. The high speed airflow outside the open window positions was fairly clean, nevertheless cameras were kept back just inside the cabin so that a variety of angles could still be achieved.

Before we flew to the Mount Cook National Park region I warned the National Park rangers of our intentions that two aircraft would be flying low over the mountains. They in turn alerted any climbers in the area. On one particular flight we saw huge avalanches coming off Mt Tasman and Mt Elie de Beaumont, possibly caused by engine vibrations from our aircraft. The photographs and film we took on these flights were dramatic against the clear air over the Southern Alps.

On one occasion, a person in South Canterbury phoned the Control Tower at Christchurch airport and told them that two aircraft were seen to be in trouble and flying together. The control tower operator allayed their concerns and told them of the photographic flight.

NAC Viscount over Waitemata Harbour, 1966

We operated about twelve NAC air-to-air photographic flights over the years and the material was much admired. A few of the flights were over Marlborough Sounds, Kaikoura Peninsular, Wellington Harbour and Auckland. The flights were successful due to the enthusiasm of many individuals - pilots, line engineers, flight operations, air traffic control and meteorological staff, and involved very careful planning and precision work by all those concerned.

TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) first Lockheed Electra ZK-TEA

Following the NAC merger with Air New Zealand, I arranged and managed more air-to-air flights involving Boeing 767/300 and Boeing 747/400 over the Seattle area filming from a Lear Jet and later a Boeing 747/400 photographed from a Boeing 737 over the Southern Alps.

Photos courtesy of the Walsh Memorial Library MOTAT


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