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Nels Hagenson | My Friend and Pilot

Nels_Hagenson_1 Nels Hagenson | My Friend and Pilot
One of the most wonderful things about living in the British Virgin Islands, away from big city life and the hustle and bustle of the "real world", is the marvelous people you meet.

Over the past 15 years, Nels and Linda Hagenson have become my closest friends on Tortola. We do a lot of fun things together. We once braved the hills of Jost Van Dyke on these ATV's from my friend Frank Mahoney's Sea and Land Adventures in White Bay.

Nels is a retired Air Canada pilot who (with two other partners) owns a small plane here on Tortola. Without Nels, none of my aerial photographs would have been possible. I think it is high time I properly acknowledge his invaluable contribution to this website.

Taking photos from an airplane traveling 60 mph whilst sticking one's head out a very small window that only opens so far, is no mean feat.

Firstly, this little plane was not designed for aerial photography tours. A helicopter would be far more suitable. Sadly, I cannot afford to hire a helicopter.

Secondly, I am a little over 5' 2" and find it difficult to get my body high enough in the seat to be able to get my head out the window. To accomplish this task, I have to perform a couple of contortions, with one leg under me to find the sweet spot. Then, the propeller, landing gear or that pesky strut thingy that holds the wing on, seem to like being front and center in many of my shots. I have about a 4 inch radius in which I can aim my lens ... otherwise, promising photos tend to be ruined ... as you will note in the photo below where I caught the front of the plane. Timing is everything!

Thirdly, I wear glasses and can't see a darned thing without them. Twice, I have almost lost them in the wind while my head was jammed out the window. Thankfully, my croakies saved them on both occasions.

Then there's that neat trick my eyelids sometimes do while performing the head out the window maneuver. They have a penchant for flipping inside out, particularly my left eyelid as it is the one closest to the wind. I'm told it's quite a charming look. :)

Finally, communication between myself and Nels, tends to be a little tricky. As I routinely shove my head through that tiny space, I can't very well wear the headset one uses in a small plane to communicate with others aboard. Nels and I have worked out a hand signal system which generally works pretty well. In order to get decent shots, he has to bank the plane while flying in a straight line so that I can get the right angle on the subject. Otherwise, I can only shoot straight down. It's a neat trick that takes a skilled pilot to accomplish.

Nels_Hagenson Nels Hagenson at the Airport
Saying_Hello_To_Linda A dip of the wings as we fly past Nels and Linda's


Not being a fan of flying, let alone in small planes, I generally look and feel like a dog's breakfast by the time we touch down. However, I am always cheered up when I get home and find I have at least a few usable photos.

So Nels, this is me finally thanking you (properly) for your kindness over the years.

As we fly past Nels' and Linda's place in Soper's Hole, Nels usually does a dip of the wings a few times to let Linda know we will be on our our way back shortly.

Linda, I want to thank you as well because you have been generous enough to part with your husband (usually on beautiful, sunny weekends), just so I could get some shots. Thank you both very much, from the bottom of my heart. You know I love you!

Oh, and thanks to Nikon for making cameras and Nikkor for making lenses that make a rank amateur like myself look pretty good sometimes. I can tell you honestly, it's not talent on my part. It all boils down to good equipment and a lot of luck.



Last updated: Jan 5th 2015
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