A tin toy helicopter

Photographers dream of getting an opportunity to take pictures of animals from above. In Botswana you can book a helicopter in Maun to spot herds moving across the Okavango Delta. Uwe repeatedly mentioned how “we” could have the chance to see the delta from the air, and finally I agreed.

When I imagined this ride I thought of a normal helicopter, constructed of reassuringly thick and reinforced metal alloy. One with three seats in the front, three in the back. I pictured myself ensconced in a middle seat safely far from a sliding door that was propped open for the photographers. We’d be up in the skies for 45 minutes that would zip by.

But, no, the flight was in a helicopter less than half the size I’d expected. When I saw the little tin toy we were going to ride in, my stomach began to flip. Our tiny death trap had no middle seat — and no doors.

Thorvald, the pilot from Iceland. He moved to Botswana so he could fly tourists around in a little tin rotocraft

Okay, so it wasn’t tin.

But it sure felt like it. We were high in the sky, riding in a fragile toy helicopter. A miniature toy constructed out of some kind of light metal that would crush with the slightest wind. A toy without any doors or even a safety bar, for f***’s sake. The only thing between me and a sure death was the seat belt. And my husband had decided to go for it and booked an hour-long flight instead of the 45 minutes I thought “we’d” decided on.

“What do you hope for from your flight?” they asked.

I pointed at Uwe. “He wants to take pictures, and I just want to not faint or throw up.”

My husband was in the back seat in that version of Heaven photographers go to in these situations. I sat in front next to Thorvald with both hands firmly gripping the seat under me. Breathe! I reminded myself, followed very quickly by, Screw that. Just don’t pass out. Thorvald kept circling and banking so Uwe could get the best shots. Each time he banked, my stomach circled right along with the itty bitty ‘copter.

A lone fisherman. His boat was dangerously close to a pod of hippos

I looked down and figured, If this thing falls out of the sky, we’re toast. I might as well enjoy the last hour of my allotted time on Earth – especially if it’s not taking place on the ground. I made myself unclamp my fingers from the seat, and even leaned towards the (nonexistent) door.

The vistas took my breath away. Tracks in the delta as far as the eye could see, made and followed by migrating herds.

Verdant areas where the showers of the last two days had filled pools.

African buffalo, zebras and elephants roamed across the land.

Pods of hippos seen from above looked like floating lily pads.

When I was looking through Uwe’s photographs for this post, for the first time I saw this pic of two men carrying attachable doors across the runway. So there ARE doors if you insist on having them.

I don’t know if I would have insisted if I’d known that ahead of time. As it was, once Thorvald brought us without a bump back onto the earth, I looked at him and said, “Let’s go up again!”

NOTES: ©2023 Jadi Campbell. All photos ©2023 Uwe Hartmann. For more of Uwe’s photos from our trips and his photography, go to viewpics.de.

My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys,  Grounded and The Trail Back Out.

Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts and Finalist for Greece’s 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).

The Trail Back Out was the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival Winner for General Fiction, American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies, Runner-Up for the 2021 Top Shelf Award, 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist, and awarded a 2021 Wishing Shelf Red Ribbon. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.

20 thoughts on “A tin toy helicopter”

  1. Oh my goodness I would LOVE this – everything about it – the flight, the photography, the location. How exciting.
    I chuckled at your response – not faint or throw up, but knew you’d come to terms with it. Always the most excitement lies on the other side of our comfort zone. What a fabulous experience Jadi.

  2. Hi Jadi,
    The photographs are magnificent.
    I think a smaller version of those helicopters are used for cattle mustering in remote parts of Australia. I’ve seen them being used in documentary footage. They are so agile and manoeuvreable.

  3. I don’t usually take to flying very well, but I loved the helicopters (and light observation planes) in Vietnam. The helicopters did have side doors, but they were nearly always left open, so we had plenty of fresh air, which for me was the main thing.
    https://operasandcycling.com/phuoc-vinh-1964/ (scroll down for my first helicopter ride)

  4. Loved the shot of hippos. They look like whales so smooth and gray. I’ve done some helicopter rides and I’m always terrified. I had much the same reaction when I went up in a hot air balloon. Talk about no safety but the quiet and the beauty of looking down soon overcome the fear.

  5. Omg, I must be blind! I saw no hippos near the lone fisherman.
    The photos werenallmstunning, what a lucky couple you are to get to see all that!

    1. Kim, the hippos were just over the border of the photo Uwe took and the fisherman had moved his boat away from them when we circled back around again. But he was so close that the pilot commented on how dangerous it was

  6. Love it! We took a helicopter from Maun into the Delta to our stay at Oddballs Lodge (from where we took our mokoro camping/walking safari). Our DIL had a similar reaction to yours!

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