My Dad Is A Pilot And Now I’m Producing a Documentary About Helicopter Pilots

Truth bomb: helicopters aren’t as dangerous as Hollywood makes them look like.

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of helicopters?  Is it movies like Blackhawk Down? Or maybe Chris Evans as Captain America pulling a helicopter from a rooftop? In general, films that have a helicopter often include them also being blown up.  I mean, there is even this website called Exploding Helicopters and a podcast with the same name, and the host says there are at least 750 films that feature exploding helicopters. There must be a real interest in the topic since the podcast has 137 episodes.  There are over 60 movies with helicopters exploding just in the 2020s, and it’s not even just action movies. Somehow helicopter crashes are also seen in comedies, go figure.

Growing Up Seeing Helicopters

I have a different idea about helicopters.  The first time I saw a helicopter I was 3 months old.  My dad had just gotten back from a deployment in Kosovo and landed his helicopter at the airfield at the military base in Germany, where my mom, with little chubby cheeked me, met him. Obviously, I have no actual recollection of this.  But I have other memories because my dad was a helicopter pilot.  The multiple holiday parties in which Santa arrived in a helicopter, or the air shows and fly-ins over the summer. Telling classmates my dad rescues people in the mountains while living in Colorado. Or the visit-you-parents-job-day where I spent the day on the base in Sweden. He eventually went from being a pilot to running a maintenance program at West Point and a leadership position at Sikorsky/Lockheed around the world, and leading a team building the next helicopter for the President of the United States. 
For me, helicopters have always been that cool machine my dad works with, and why we moved around the world. 
And today, I work together with my dad at Coptersafety, a helicopter simulator training facility here in Finland. I meet a lot of pilots from around the world. And ironically, I feel like I understand more of what my dad did as a pilot since starting to work here, than I did as a kid.  I want to share that understanding and knowledge with others, and make a film that helicopter pilots can resonate with, and shows the real aspects of the life of being a helicopter pilot.  I want to show people that helicopters are actually pretty safe, and don’t blow up in real life as often as they do in movies.  So I decided to make a documentary film about helicopter pilots who train at Coptersafety combining the rotor industry’s most important factor – safety – with the actual lives of helicopter pilots.

From A Film Idea To Execution

Since the initial idea of doing a documentary film about helicopter pilots, I’ve been a busy bee making it happen.  Within the first two months of 2023, I pitched the film internally to our team, hired  No-Office Films for the production team, and wrote a treatment with them. Then I flew to Atlanta to pitch the film and brought on two industry-leading companies to the project, and confirmed three pilots from different organizations to tell their stories.    And then real work started in May.  The biggest challenge so far has been scheduling. Pilots have very different schedules, even within the various sectors of helicopter operations. It can be challenging to make their schedules work with the film crew.  We’ve already completed filming at the Copterafety’s facility, capturing the pilots in the helicopter simulator, as well as the main interviews. Now we are headed to Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway to finish production.  You can follow me on Instagram to see some behind-the-scenes footage on my stories, and of course to stay tuned for the documentary short film to launch.  instagram.com/isabellapresnal Disclaimer: with any large aircraft and machinery there is always a risk of an accident.

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