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Video: KTLA Was The First News Channel To Get A Chopper In 1958

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KTLA was the first news station in the world to get a news chopper, and this vintage video shows the helicopter's first successful test flight. KTLA put its first chopper in the skies in July of 1958. Telecopter No. 1, a Bell 47G2 helicopter, was, according to announcer Jay Elliot, "television's first airborne remote coverage unit—a flying television picture that actually transmits a picture onto your screen while it is in actual flight."

The idea for the Telecopter came from KTLA's chief engineer John Silva, according to the L.A. Times. Silva first managed to talk station executives into spending $40,000 on equipment. The camera equipment weighed about 2,000 pounds, so Silva then had to lighten up the load to under 400 pounds so that the helicopter could even take off. He worked on the chopper in a backyard in North Hollywood to prevent other stations from learning about the project. A transmitter receiver was placed on top of Mt. Wilson.

After a test flight on July 3 during which a faulty vacuum tube prevented the transmitter from working, the Telecopter successfully sent out its first video on July 4.

The test video shows a tip come into the newsroom, which prompts the dispatch of the Telecopter. The pilot, Bob Gilbreath, runs from the station and jumps into the chopper, then takes off and reports to the scene. Soon, you can see aerial footage from over the Hollywood Freeway—a true first for news. John Silva received an Emmy for the Telecopter in 1974. He died in 2012 at age 92.

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[h/t to LA Observed]