For this week's First-Person Shooter we shipped a couple of cameras across the globe to Josh, a helicopter pilot in New Zealand who's been flying for over seven years. He works for Milford Helicopters, where he goes on five or more flights a day, usually taking tourists to high mountain tops or delivering workers and supplies to small islands, lighthouses, and ships in the middle of the ocean.
On top of snapping photos of the tourists he brought to Mount Parariki, a summit almost impossible to reach except by helicopter, Josh took a few exposures of his trip while dropping two technicians off at a lighthouse located at the top of a remote point completely cut off by mountains and sea. Later in the day, he also used a different, larger helicopter to lift life rafts back onto a ship's deck. Below, he answered some questions about his line of work.
VICE: What happened during your day? What'd you get up to?
Josh the Helicopter Pilot: After our 90 minute drive every morning, we arrived at the hangar, thoroughly inspected each machine, then pushed them out onto the pad. My first job was to fly two technicians and their equipment out to a lighthouse at Milford Sound for maintenance. The following job was to fly another two technicians to the top of a waterfall where the hydro station for Milford Sound is located.
My next few flights were with Chinese tourists who wanted to land on the glacier. By the time they were finished, the hydro station technicians were ready to be picked up. After squeezing in a quick lunch break, one of our bigger helicopters was tasked with lifting life rafts back to the ship's deck so I rode alongside, since it is easier to take aerial photos when not piloting. The rest of the afternoon was filled up with several glacier scenic flights, and my last flight was to pick up the lighthouse technicians I'd dropped off in the morning. Then we pushed the helicopters away, briefly inspected them for any obvious problems, then set off home.
What kind of cargo do you transport?
A huge variety, depending on the customer. Camping gear for hunters, trap supplies for trappers, tools and electronics for technicians. Sometimes a customer will be doing track maintenance and we will fly bags of plain old gravel on the end of a rope all day.
Where do you normally fly to?
Anywhere and everywhere—the beauty of helicopters! Tutoko Glacier is where our scenics go so we land there most often. Working passengers will always be going somewhere where they have a job to do that cannot be accessed by road. The famous Milford Track is in Fiordland National Park, so a lot of our work revolves around this.
Was it hard to take these photos while you were operating a helicopter in the air?
Harder than I thought it would be. You can free up one hand easy enough, but the shape of the cockpit, plus the people in it, can make it difficult to photograph certain angles.
Has anything strange ever happened to you while you were flying?
A few years ago, I flew from a ship based at sea, spotting tuna schools. A few minutes after take off, I noticed my spotter chowing down on these dried squid. I had had one of them the night before and got fairly sick from it. Against my better advice he carried on eating. Sure enough, thirty minutes later he was keeled over in his seat begging me to go down and hover. We were several thousand miles from land and at least forty miles from our ship, so I did. I hovered six feet or so high, while my passenger climbed out and squatted on the skid to relieve himself over the Pacific Ocean. I'd never been so torn between laughter, concentration, and concern that the rotor wash might pickup 'debris'...
If somebody wants to fly with you how do they do it?
We are based at the Milford Sound airport in Fiordland National Park. You can fly from Queenstown, or drive from Te Anau. The highway is spectacular and people often visit for the sake of the drive alone. Visit our website for more info.