If you happened to be glancing up at the sky in Westland yesterday and noticed a suspicious helicopter buzzing around in circles, don’t worry. It wasn’t a cop chopper searching for nefarious evil-doers. It was just a goofy photographer and a very lost pilot, using their iPhones, GPS and the Metro Airport tower trying to find their way.
“Okay, there’s the Kmart; our target’s gotta be right across the street.”
I think we both uttered that phrase a couple times, the pilot and I. We were searching like crazy — as the gas was dwindling and the sun was setting — for a solar array that was supposed to be right there, like a blue light special. A quick phone call to my good buddy Ryan went something like this, “Dude, I can’t hear a thing you’re saying, but could you look up that address again and text it to me?”
Moments later, the proper address came through (the original was missing a digit) and we buzzed a few miles down Cherry Hill Road and snapped our subject.
Yes, after four paragraphs I should probably back up and start from the beginning. Ryan Wood and I formed part of a photo team up at the Midland Daily News that seriously rocked. Along with other great photogs through the years like Justin Rumbach, Elli Gurfinkel and Meegan Reid, we covered Midland County and got our little neck of the woods recognized nationally. Soon, each of us were dragged away from the tiny newspaper, lured by more fame and more fortune, but we’ve remained friends ever since. That’s enough of the beginning.
Ryan now works for an electrical contracting company, or so he says. I think it may be some sort of secret government consortium, but anyway. He needed photographs of different solar panel arrays around the Detroit area and asked if I could help him out. The best way to do it was from the air, so he called his pal Sky King here. Since I’m a geek about solar energy, I was happy to help him out.
I’ve ridden in helicopters before, one time delivering Robert Ballard’s first underwater photos of The Titanic to my newspaper out on Cape Cod. But this was the smallest craft I’ve ever flown in. Take a tight office chair, smoosh another one right next to it, bubble wrap them and there you have our flying machine. At one point I was teaching pilot Alan how to use his brand new iPhone, while balancing a GPS unit on my knee as he was listening to the tower and I was trying to keep my own phone and lenses from slipping to the “floor.” I was his navigator and spare eyes, spotting other aircraft, church steeples and an antenna farm. It was a blast!
I’m not sure exactly where these photos will be used, Ryan was a bit cagey on that detail. And if you see a big empty box on this page, you’ll know someone somehow redacted the images. But being up in the air, skirting rush hour traffic and whooshing from Waterford to Westland at 100 miles per hour was an incredible high.
We were safe and warm in the frigid January air. Life was tremendous and I felt a new perspective ripping through me. Then the following exchange took place:
“Hey, do you know what road that is?” asked pilot Alan as we flew past a major intersection.
“No man, sorry, I’m all turned around up here,” I answered.
“Me either,” he responded.
Well, I’ve always heard you have to take risks in life. It’s true, even if it means flying with a nice, funny pilot who’s not so good with directions.