Preparation for next week's Helicopter Association International's (HAI) Heli-Expo is in full swing here in Dallas, TX. I was extraordinarily grateful to be invited by the crew at HAI to photograph the set up and arrival of the helicopters. I was told that this may be the largest Heli-Expo to date. There will be approximately 60 helicopters on the exhibition floor on Tuesday March 7th. Over the next four days, men and women work continuously behind the scenes so that on Tuesday morning at 10 am people from all over the world will enter the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas to what I would describe as a magical world filled with state of the hovering machines and the technology that supports them.
The morning started with a briefing, where the pilots, technicians, FAA, ATC and HAI representatives gathered to cover all the safety aspects of the mass migration of helicopters preparing to arrive at the convention center loading docks. It is incredibly uplifting to witness the multiple factions of our industry coming together as a team for this occasion. Matthew S. Zuccaro, the president of HAI, started off with a short speech emphasizing the importance of safety and professionalism in this task. From there they covered the route into the heliport, ATC frequencies, and LZ procedures. Everyone there played a vital role in the safety of the operation, and this set the tone for a successful day.
After the briefing, we headed out to the loading dock/ helipad to wait while the pilots drove out to Dallas Executive Airport/ Redbird, to begin the day's series of flights. I had the chance to catch up with old friends and meet some great new people. A few photographers from all over the world were gathered here and I was excited for the chance to learn a few tips from the pros!
About 20 helicopters flew in over the course of the next 8 hours. I will hold off posting the best photos for my gallery, but I will show a few sample shots here. It averaged about 1 helicopter every 30 minutes, and I found it just as fun to snap shots of the crews at work, as it was to capture the helicopters on final approach.
At about 10 am the first helicopter arrived. A Bell 407 from the University of Utah, operated by Metro aviation lead the aviation parade.
The helipad at the convention center loading docks makes for a pretty tight landing zone. Yet these pilots made landing here look easy with their controlled and precise approaches into the LZ.
Once the blades stopped turning the pad filled with crews prepping the aircraft to be towed inside.
One of the next helicopters was the tiny two seat Guimbal Cabri G2, which made this tight LZ look large.
During the briefing they cautioned us to be on the lookout for drones. No drones were authorized to be in Dallas Love's airspace during this event. Because drones present an extreme hazard to helicopters, any sighting would shut the landings down until the drone operations were terminated. We didn't see any drones today, instead an R44 attempting to photograph the event shut landing operations down for about an hour. The ingress route into the LZ is very specific and coordinated through both Dallas Love Field Tower and the LZ commanders on the ground at the helipad, this R44 orbited right over the landing site, preventing them from safely allowing the show helicopters to come in and land.
The Flight Line Control or as I call them, LZ command, played a vital role in the safe operations of the helicopter ingress.
Mean while we waited for the unauthorized R44 to clear the area, I headed back inside to see how the show room was coming together. Not all the helicopters arrive by air, many are shipped in by truck, especially the latest prototypes that are still awaiting FAA certification or final touches from the factory.
Operations got back under way, and throughout the afternoon about 15 more helicopters arrived. On landing the operators were instructed to secure circuit breakers and disconnect the battery to ensure no-one would accidentally start up the helicopter once it entered the show floor. One of the next helicopters to arrive was the H130, and I managed to photograph much of the preparation process.
Waiting in between flights on of the LZ commanders and HAI representative, Steve Sparks, finds a spot in the shade. The March sun was bright and we were all exhausted after a day of standing outside, none more so than the hard working flight controllers that made this all possible.
A few more highlights of the day were the Sikorsky aircraft; the Blackhawk and the S92. These two helicopters required the rotor blades to be removed (S92) or folded (Blackhawk) in order to fit through the loading dock door.
The last two helicopters of the day were also the two most anticipated. The wait was worth it, as both the Mi24 Hind (my favorite) and the Chinook were incredible to watch. I will post my best photos in my gallery later, however here is a sample of these two amazing machines. Visitors to this years Heli Expo in Dallas TX will not be disappointed!