PC21

PILATUS PC21

This was a two day shoot commission to provide some new images of two recent additions to the Pilatus aircraft fleet. Day one would be a two ship portrait of new PC21’s in French Air Force (Armee d’el Air) livery, photographed over the Swiss Alps, prior to their delivery to the squadrons in France.  Day two would be a photo shoot of the new PC24 jet (test aircraft 003) over Berne, Lake Lucerne and the Alps. Later a PC12 would join the formation for a two ship portrait over the Pilatus plant in Stans.The cameraship would be a Shorts Skyvan, which would offer a great rear view perspective. The pilot Philip Artweger, was a highly experienced operator of the Skyvan, very familiar with dropping skydivers out of the back of his aircraft!.

The briefing was held at the Pilatus HQ, and included Pilatus Test Pilots Moritz Gasser (PC-21), Reto Obrist (PC-21), Marc Michel (Skyvan), Philip Artweger, myself , plus Jerome Zbinden the marketing director from Pilatus. Jerome had prepared very clearly objectives and defined flight paths over the Alps for the shoot. Jerome wanted a shot of the PC21 flying over the Brusio Viaduct just as the Bernina express from the Rhaetian Railway starts its climbs up the spiral. Next was the Rheinschlucht, or Ruinaulta rockslide canyon, then the Alps in general.

But to get to the locations we had to fly over the Alps, and this meant above 10’000 feet. Normally this would be no problem for an aircraft and its passengers. But we would be in a Skyvan kitted out for skydiving, meaning there were no seats, except Philip and Marc who would be seated up front in the flight deck. My position on the other hand would be down the back, on the floor with the cargo ramp wide open. So two things immediately went through my mind. It would be past 10 in the morning by the time we got airborne, so turbulence would be a big problem over those massive peaks, and it was going to be bloody cold! The Brusio Viaduct shoot was tight. In the shot we had to include the valley walls, the aircraft, the train, the spiral, and the village. All at the same time in the same frame!

This meant that we had to be in communication with the The Rhaetian Railway train driver. For this, Jerome would be at Pilatus, talking with the driver, and would be monitoring the web cam at the spiral. So no preassure at all! The climb over the mountains as very turbulence and I found myself a few times on my  back on the floor of the Skyvan, much to the amusement of Reto behind us. But it was fun though no chance of any pictures. When we got lower into the valley it was a lot more stable. We did one pass over the site before the train arrived, just so we could see how it would pan out and to see what problems there might be. I had alreday worked out the right distance away from us for the PC21 and was happy with the positioning, any closer to us and we would see our shadow on his nose. 

The first pass made me aware of the problems with me facing aft, I had not taken into account that I could not see ahead of me. So the first I saw of the viaduct was when it raced by just beneath me. I could have easily missed the shot. So I asked Philip to give me a count down from 10 to 0 as we approached the viaduct, which worked perfectly. 

I took three or four shots over the viaduct and that was it.  Grateful thanks to; Moritz Gasser, Reto Obrist, Marc Michel, Philip Artweger., Jerome Zbinden and all the crew at Pilatus Stans.