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KWTV Outfits New Skynews9 HD ENG Helicopter with Fujinon HDTV ENG-style Zoom Lens

Griffin Communications” Oklahoma City television station News 9 KWTV recently acquired a new state-of-the-art Bell 407 helicopter equipped with Fujinon”s HA42x13.5BERD HDTV ENG-Style zoom lens. Mounted on the nose of this new helicopter, called Skynews9 HD, is a customized Flir Ultra Media HD camera enclosure, designed by Flir Systems, which houses a Sony HDC-F950 1080i HD ENG camera with the Fujinon HD zoom lens.

While Flir Systems customized and integrated the Flir Ultra Media HD enclosure, KWTV had input on the choice of equipment, including the HD lens. “We chose Fujinon based on the positive experience we”ve had with our other 17 Fujinon SD ENG lenses, which are used daily in our news gathering operations,” says Rob Krier, vice president and general manager for KWTV-TV, which is locally owned by Griffin Communications, in Oklahoma City.

Prior to purchasing the new Fujinon HA42x13.5BERD HDTV ENG-Style zoom lens, KWTV already had 17 Fujinon lenses, including 16 Fujinon A18X7.6BERM SD zoom lenses, which are used for daily electronic news gathering; and one Fujinon A13X4.5BERM SD zoom, which is used for electronic field production (EFP).

The Flir Ultra Media HD enclosure is comprised of five gyrostabilizers, which keep the HD camera and lens completely stable during flight. The size of the enclosure also affected the station”s lens choice.

“This Fujinon lens was the most lens we could actually fit into the small enclosure, which is approximately 24″x18″,” says Greg Ward, news operations manager for KWTV. “In any aircraft, weight and space are critical concerns. This ENG-style Fujinon lens is compact and lightweight enough to fit within the Flir enclosure, but it still gives us the greatest effective focal length so that we can get really ‘up-close and personal” with the many tornados that pass through here in ‘tornado alley.”

“With some HD lenses with comparable focal lengths, if you zoom in, you start to see vignetting or optical aberrations around the outside edges of the picture. And it”s hard to keep the lens crisp from its minimum focal length to its maximum focal length,” continued Ward. “But this Fujinon HD lens stays true from the center of the picture all the way out to the edges with very little roll-off or distortion. This lens also gives us a very bright picture and wonderful color.”

Designed for use with the 2/3in. HD video camera format, the Fujinon HA42x13.5 lens offers a 42X zoom ratio with a 2X extender. It has a focal length of (1X) 13.5mm-570mm, and (2X) 27mm-1140mm. This compact lens weighs less than 12lbs., and performs extremely well in low- and changing-light conditions.

With the station”s pilot, Mason Dunn, at the controls, Ward has been the chief ENG news photographer onboard the SKYNEWS9 HD chopper, although he is actively training others to operate the HD camera and lens system.

“The way that Flir designed the system, we have an outboard controller that is tightly integrated with the camera and Fujinon lens in the gimble,” Ward explains. “We can operate them by remote control using the joystick and zoom controls on the controller, which is located in the backseat, and watch what we”re capturing on several HDTV monitors inside the helicopter.” The live HD signals are relayed via microwave back to the station.

This state-of-the-art helicopter is also equipped with onboard Global Positioning Systems (GPS) street mapping to pinpoint the exact location of storms, fires, or crime scenes. “With the clarity of this Fujinon HD telephoto lens, our Skynews9 HD helicopter has actually tracked suspects on the run during high-speed pursuits, and even followed them to houses where they tried to evade police, which helped local law enforcement authorities find and capture them,” Krier says.

As one of the most watched CBS affiliates in the country, KWTV plans to upgrade its station infrastructure to native 1080i HDTV, including its live newscasts, within the next two years. “It was easier and more cost-effective to go straight to HD for this helicopter”s camera and lens than to have to backtrack and upgrade the gear later on,” Krier says

During “May Sweeps,” KWTV scored a 17.9 rating in the late news timeslot, making it the number one news station in the U.S. for late night news. “This new Fujinon HD lens greatly enhances our newsgathering capabilities so that we can keep Oklahoma viewers better informed of breaking news and severe weather conditions,” Ward says.