If you look to the skies Sunday night over Atlanta, you might see an interesting airplane circling downtown with its specialized camera focused on the shiny new Mercedes-Benz stadium. The little aircraft will be shooting those cool aerial pictures of the Packers-Falcons NFL game you'll see on TV.
Yes, we said a plane. NBC choose not to use a traditional blimp to capture the glimmering skyline of Atlanta and the exciting moments of the Falcons game, but instead have dispatched a fascinating Italian-built airplane modified specifically for aerial observation.
The Partenavia P.68 first flew over the Italian countryside in 1970. The six-seat, twin-engine airplane was originally built for private/business use and for training. It was later modified by a German company, which replaced the nose with a completely transparent covering.
The P.68 Observer was born. This version basically resembles a helicopter cockpit attached to the front of an airplane.
The Observer variants were built and marketed for observation and law enforcement purposes and . Several of these aircraft are flown in the United States by state wildlife or fish and game departments. But one specific aircraft has the unique role of capturing stunning high-definition aerial footage to capture the sweeping cityscape that surrounds a football stadium.
Once the NFL-watching plane is airborne, a trapdoor opens in the belly of the plane and a gyroscopically stabilized camera is mechanically lowered to protrude below the fuselage with an unobscured view of the landscape below. The camera operator is then presented with a suite of production equipment including a joystick and monitor to manipulate the lens for the perfect shot.
The cameraman must also communicate closely with the cockpit crew to coordinate a flight path that provides the ultimate angle to capture dramatic footage of the stadium and surrounding skyline. In addition to finding the sweet spot in the sky to satisfy the camera, they must navigate the dark skies dodging the high-rise rooftops (and only after receiving previous authorization to fly in the restricted airspace surrounding every professional football game in the United States).
As you watch the game Sunday night and see the wide shots of downtown Atlanta and its new state-of-the-art stadium, just remember this high tech little airplane is up there making the magic happen.