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Posted December 14, 2011
Dispatch #10

This is one in a series of email dispatches from Africa written this fall by photographer Michael Nichols to his picture editor, Kathy Moran.

Photo: Wildebeest aerial view
“The tiny micro-copter, our giant tsetse fly, can allow aerial views very close to wildlife—we hope.”

Dear Kathy,

We have now had two successful sunrise flight sessions with the micro-copter, flying 20 meters over gigantic wildebeest migrations. This gives us an image that could be made no other way. Not by helicopter—too noisy and too costly. Not by balloon—too scary and balloons only go where the wind goes. Not by traditional airplane—too fast and too high, and also too scary.

Graphic: micro-copter diagram
Nichols has sent the copter as high as 328 feet and let it roam about a third of a mile from their base.

The closest thing to the micro-copter is my friend George Steinmetz’s “flying lawn chair,” a motorized paraglider. With his “wings,” George can go low and slow, but it’s still very noisy and scary. To date, all his images of animals show them running away. The micro-copter is a big tsetse fly and so far the scariest thing for the wildebeests is the commotion we make preparing for the launch. We will figure this out. I think we are headed for groundbreaking aerial images. Best thing about it is the low impact; we can drive around with the copter on top of the Queen of the Mara (our customized four-by-four). We invested well over a couple of years and lots of Nathan’s time in all of this, but we are seeing it pay off.

Ultimately we hope for a wide-angle sunset view of a pride of lions staring at a field of prey as they awaken from their daytime sleep—sitting on top of the kopjes, the small hills the Serengeti is so famous for.

Previous Next dispatch: “Bad and Getting Worse”

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