SkyKING was manufactured in 1989 as an Astar, model AS 350 B-1 by the French-based Aerospatiale Corporation and shipped to the U.S. in the spring of 1990. After an airframe and engine upgrade in 2001, it is now considered a Eurocopter model AS 350 B-2. Since being dedicated as an Electronic News-Gathering (ENG) aircraft, it has undergone three separate completions.
The first in 1990, which introduced basic video and audio switchers, a videotape recorder, a microwave transmitter and receiver and the associated antenna system which allowed the aircraft to support live broadcasts.
The second completion occurred in 1997 and introduced the first gyro-stabilized camera to the aircraft. The camera stabilization system is built by another Northwest company, FLIR Systems Inc., or Wilsonville, OR. In addition, the video and audio switchers were upgraded and expanded, as well as a work station added for the photographer. Our ‘photogs’ now could work in the comfort of the closed cabin, instead of hand-holding a camera at an opened door.
The final upgrade was done in the summer of 2007 and introduced the first High Definition (HD) stabilized camera in the Seattle market. Because the HD world is so different from its predecessor, all of the video and audio sub-systems had to be removed and replaced, as well as another new microwave system. Our aircraft is now outfitted with state-of-the-art, high-definition broadcast cameras and television equipment, with a value in the millions.
Technically, SkyKING is the fastest TV news helicopter in the Northwest, having a maximum not-to-be-exceeded speed of 155 kts (178 mph), but the nose-mounted FLIR camera imposes its own speed restriction of 120 kts (138 mph). Therefore, all TV helicopters have the same speed limitation. With the introduction of the FLIR camera, the altitudes that we can operate typically have gone from 500-1,000 feet in the early days, to 1,500-2,000 feet today. The higher altitudes are better, because it reduces the noise signature of the machine while working over a news story. You might also note from the picture, the aircraft has float bags attached to the top of the skids. These are called pop-out floats because they expand into large helium-filled bags when forced to land on the water.
SkyKING’s maximum gross weight is 4,961bs. It carries 143 gallons of jet fuel and is able to fly for approximately 3½ hours between refueling. It was originally built to carry a pilot and five passengers, but with the addition of the floats and ENG equipment, only the pilot and two passengers can now be carried.
MAINTENANCE / BASE:
Cascade Airframe Repair at Boeing Field makes sure the aircraft stays in excellent flying condition. We are proud to say that our association with Cascade Airframe started in 1983 with the purchase of our first helicopter, and continues with our second as it reaches its first 10,000 hour milestone.
When it's not flying, SkyKING is parked on the roof of the KING TV building near the Seattle Center or down at Boeing Field in a warm hanger. But it and its' crew are always on call... 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.