Al Marsh

Not a 9 to 5 job

February 1, 2010 by Alton K. Marsh, Senior Editor, AOPA Pilot

Here’s an item from the unusual aviation jobs folder. Cinematographer Michael Kelem has just returned from Antarctica where he flew in helicopters and Twin Otters to film a new documentary, Frozen Planet, that you’ll see in fall 2011 at the earliest. It is produced by the BBC and the Discovery Channel. He previously worked on the series Planet Earth.

Kelem has filmed mostly from helicopters for 25 years, but now he is considering getting his pilot certificate for trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco to visit family. His most recent work was capturing the aerial scenes for The Hangover in 2009 and Twilight in 2008.

Kelem lived with a scientific community of 1,200 people at McMurdo Sound for two months, flying in helicopters for 100 hours and fixed-wing aircraft for 70 to 80 hours. The helicopters are operated by PHI, better known for servicing oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Fixed-wing aircraft were operated by Kenn Borek Air based in Canada, the largest operator of Twin Otters in the world. The series covers the animals and climate of the polar areas.

Twin Otter

The Twin Otter was necessary to cover great distances and capture the scope of the continent. It was a five-hour trip by Twin Otter with one fuel stop to reach the South Pole, and a seven-hour trip to penguin colonies. The colonies have retreated off melting ice sheets. To film, a high-definition camera built for a helicopter was mounted on the nose of the Twin Otter. That allows Kelem to remain inside both the Twin Otter or the helicopter when filming.

During his stay the runway for the Twin Otter had to be relocated 45 minutes from the camp due to the melting of the ice sheet. It was summer when he was there in December and January with temperatures from minus 30 degrees F to 30 degrees F. Ice fog was always a threat, sometimes preventing takeoff, or preventing a flight because it was forecast for the return time. (“You don’t want to get stuck out there in a fixed-wing airplane,” he said.)

While there he filmed an active volcano, Mt. Erebus, at 12,000 feet and filmed mountain ranges made of rectangular columns of rock that are breaking away from a mountain range he saw enroute to the volcano.



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