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Eye in the sky capturing all the action

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Front-row seats: helicopter pilot Michael Franck gets to within 100ft of the America’s Cup racing (Photograph by Ricardo Pinto/ACEA)

When it comes to the best seat in the house for the America’s Cup, helicopter pilot Michael Franck is quite literally top of the tree.

Mr Franck, a third-generation pilot from Oregon, and his team have been sending footage of the island’s trademark turquoise seas and stunning landscape, as well as the dramatic racing, into living rooms across the globe for the past two weeks.

The 44-year-old’s Chicago-based business Elite Rotorcraft takes on movie, television and commercial assignments across the US and just last year the firm was involved in the filming of blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

But capturing the thrills and spills of catamarans flying across the Great Sound at 45 knots has provided a new and unique challenge for Mr Franck, his fellow pilot Aaron Fitzgerald, and the Amis Productions camera duo of Matt Connor and Shane Smart.

“The view we get from up there is pretty unbelievable,” Mr Franck said. “The whole event is a totally unique experience for us, and although we were here for the World Series in October 2016 this is the first time we have done something like this before.

“You get a whole new perspective of how beautiful this island is. It’s gorgeous.

“You don’t get many helicopters over here so being a helicopter pilot is a bit like being a celebrity. We get a lot of waves from the land as we fly from the airport to the Village in the morning and lots of attention in and around the Village; it’s been great.”

Mr Franck has shipped in two AS350 BSE Airbus helicopters for the event and he expects to have both airborne today operating in tandem for the first time as the competition heats up.

Each helicopter is fitted with a state-of-the-art camera controlled by a cameraman from the cockpit and it is the pilot’s job to get as close to the action as safety protocols permit.

“I would say we get to around 100ft of the boats, but we have to be aware of the wind and all the weather conditions so we don’t take their wind or affect their speed,” Mr Franck said.

“These helicopters are top of the range; the industry leader for this kind of filming.

“They travel really fast and are incredibly powerful. They have very few limitations. When we dropped the sky divers on the opening day we had to ascend to 5,000ft, which took just two minutes.

“We can carry around three-and-a-half hours of fuel on board, so we tend to go up just before the racing starts and stay up until the racing is over.”

While this year’s competition is Mr Franck’s first taste of America’s Cup racing, for Mr Connor, Bermuda is the fifth America’s Cup venue he has filmed.

“We do a lot of these sailing events back in England, but being able to film in Bermuda is pretty special,” he said.

“It’s what we do, but the water and the scenery here are amazing. The racecourse itself is also a fantastic amphitheatre for the sport; it helps make the footage we get look great.”

(Photograph by Ricardo Pinto/ACEA)
(Photograph by Ricardo Pinto/ACEA)
(Photograph by Ricardo Pinto/ACEA)