The Dawn Patrol 01

Uluru – Northern Territory June 2016 (12 photos)

On the second morning of my trip, I was assigned to patrol the skies over Uluru at dawn.

Above, you can see the helicopter I flew in.

Have you noticed? Only the pilot’s door is on. All the others have been removed.

Our pilot, Annika was a bit too slow to run out of the field of view of my camera.

The Dawn Patrol 03

Moments before takeoff, I was filled with a sense of uncertainty. On the ground, the temperature was practically 0C (32F). The window of the helicopter was completely fogged up by the body heat of us occupants.

Draco: Surely, you can’t be serious? You can’t see where you’re flying.

Annika: Yes, I can. And don’t call me Shirley.

I checked my seatbelt for the tenth time. A quick wipe of the windscreen and we took off into the perfectly clear skies of that morning without problem.

The Dawn Patrol 04

“This is Romeo Foxtrot. Shall we dance?”

The Dawn Patrol 07

“Roger that. We got your six.”

The Dawn Patrol 08

Watching the dawn from about 1000 metres (0.62 miles) up is a spectacular sight. It almost made me forget the windchill as the cold air displacement from the rotor above blasted through the doorless cabin. It was below freezing inside the cabin.

I remembered my rules of training:

1. No lens hoods, lenscaps or other loose items that could fly out, hit the rotor and cause a sudden plummet back to the Earth.

2. One lens only. No time to change lenses – remember rule 1.

3. Watch the shutter speed. It must be fast enough to allow a still capture of the view despite the down force of the rotors, the vibrations of the helicopter and the shivering of my hands.

The Dawn Patrol 09

Annika: Smell that? You smell that?

Draco: What?

Annika: Uluru. Nothing else in the world smells like that.

Draco: I love the smell of Uluru in the morning.

The Dawn Patrol 10

In the distance is the lesser known third monolithic icon of this region: Mount Conner.

Mount Conner is a flat-topped and horseshoe-shaped inselberg/mesa, part of the same vast rocky substrate thought to be beneath Uluru and Kata Tjuta. It can easily be confused with Uluru, since it can be seen from the road to Uluru and Kata Tjuta, when approaching from Alice Springs.

The Dawn Patrol 12

We turned around and my strafing run began.

The Dawn Patrol 13

Do you hear it?

“The Ride Of The Valkyries” echoed in my mind. The prelude to Act III of Die WalkΓΌre, the second of the four operas by German composer Richard Wagner that comprise The Ring of the Nibelungs (German Der Ring des Nibelungen) rung clear and vivid as I started shooting.

The Dawn Patrol 15

Uluru is actually somewhat triangular in shape. The golden light and the long shadows make for a spectacular view.

The Dawn Patrol 16

“I love the smell of Uluru in the morning.”

The Dawn Patrol 17

Having secured the skies over Uluru, we turn our attention to Kata Tjuta next.

Leica Etcetera, Photography Etcetera

I love the smell of Uluru in the morning


114 thoughts on “I love the smell of Uluru in the morning

  1. Absolutely incredible photos! What camera/lens did you use? As well, the post is really well-written. The writing style brings out just how surreal and magnificent this experience must have been.

  2. What a thrilling adventure! I’m sure after this view you thought the discomfort and apprehension was nothing compared to the treasure you found at the end of this search!

    • My fingers went a bit numb, as did my nose but as you rightly surmised, that paled into insignificance compared to the grandeur of the view. It was a lot of fun. πŸ™‚

  3. Such clarity in these shots, Dragon. Very crisp and smooth as glass. That was a lot of shaking and vibrations you had to deal there. You did very well. Reading your comment to Snowtoseas, you worked your Leica and telephoto lens very well. Judging from the shot of the two pilots, I’m guessing you were pointing at the doorless door – great view πŸ˜€

    • Thanks. I had a briefing on how to shoot from a helicopter and it helped me a lot. There was a big temptation to lean out a little to get a better field of view, but that rotor was mighty close to head level so I chose not to. πŸ™‚

  4. KG says:

    Oh.My.God! That was amazing. Especially with that weather conditions. Very very beautiful photographs, LD. πŸ™‚
    Annika will learn to run faster the next time πŸ˜‰

    • Thanks, KG. You can see how flat the landscape is and the views out to the horizon were fantastic. We’re only allowed to fly past, not over Uluru but I’m not complaining.

      Yes, Annika will know better for next time. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you very much. I was smiling the whole time I was up there. It’s a fantastic view and awesome experience.
      The reference to Apocalypse Now just seemed so “natural”. πŸ™‚

  5. Spectacular, spectacular, spectacular photos Draco
    The shots of a lifetime, I would imagine.

    Now, are you able to describe a bit in words what Uluru does smell like in the morning, and if the scent is different from the skies than ground level??
    Very curious about that.

      • Yes – I imagine that its kind of an “outback” smell, which is quite different from the east coast salty sea tinge to the air. I also imagine that “the smell of Uluru” is poetic licence, with “the smell of Uluru” meaning “the earthy smell of the outback mixed with a visual image of Uluru”. I dont imagine that Uluru itself would have a specific smell, but then who knows? Perhaps the Anangu people.
        Still mesmerised by your superb photographs.

        • Poetic licence is good, Draco. Sometimes I take things too literally, especially late at night when I first saw this post. πŸ™‚ It was because your pilot asked you did you notice the smell, I thought she had some inside knowledge!

  6. Gorgeous images, and isn’t it wonderful when the world offers you a different perspective to capture? You also did a wonderful job of telling us what you were experiencing inside, not just what you were seeing. Beginning to end….lovely.

  7. WOW! Amazing! I’m speechless, so I read everyone’s comment and found out that their comments do express my feelings too πŸ˜‰ Deeply appreciate your beautiful photos! They make my day.
    Have a great day.

  8. Pingback: Daily Post Photo Challenge: Squirrels on Fences in the Morning – Sumyanna Writes

  9. Great shots and the movie references are cool πŸ˜‰ When I was in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon all doors were on so I didn’t need to follow rule 1 but will remember them for any future aerial forays.

  10. isabellaesthermariarose says:

    Your photography never ceases to amaze me. These photos are stunning, and so beautifully lit. How on earth did you manage to keep the camera still enough to take such wonderful images, when you were flying in a helicopter without doors, in sub zero temperatures. That’s what I call dedication!!

    • Thank you so much. The golden dawn light just lit up Uluru beautifully. It also meant there was plenty of light to use fast shutter speeds. A cloudy morning might have been a bit more problematic in that regard. It was a lot of fun up there despite the cold.

  11. Above and beyond! I admire all the effort you took for this Uluru series, from the lights, dawn, on the ground, up in the sky… to the smell of this majestic place. In awe, say the least.
    Thank you, Mr. Dragon!! πŸ™‚

    • It was quite the trip, Amy. Lots to see and photograph for a remote outback environment. Mostly we photographed in the dawn and at sunset but the views are magnificent in all weather conditions. I’m glad you can enjoy it. Thank you.

  12. LB says:

    Thank you for introducing me to this amazing place and geologic formation. I’m just back from doing a bit of research and reading about Uluru (your photos are better than most, FYI). I’d have been in heaven flying in that helicopter over this incredible landscape. It’s been years since I’ve been able to fly in one, and I have such great memories of flying over national forest land. I never flew over something like this, though.

    • I’m glad to introduce Uluru to you. It’s a classic icon in Australia that’s well worth a visit if you get the chance. It towers over the surrounding desert. no wonder it has such significance to the local aboriginal people.

      There’s a special sensation flying in an open helicopter. I loved it as you no doubt have as well.

  13. My goodness, what an experience, Lignum!
    I am going to venture to say that it was definitely worth braving the cold for.
    The scenes you captured are simply breathtaking!
    Beautifully done.

    • Lisa, it was definitely worth braving the cold from before dawn to experience this. Although I may not have thought that before actually getting up in the air. πŸ™‚
      The views were so grand and rewarding. I only wish I had longer in the air.
      Thank you. Have a wonderful day ahead.

  14. LaVagabonde says:

    A secret agent deserves no less than such an adventure. πŸ˜€ What an unforgettable experience that must have been.

  15. And I love your photos of Uluru in the morning! Wow what an adventure .. No doors you are kidding? Love your commentary .. It was climbing this beauty years ago (dark ages) when I realised that I was scared of heights! Hmmmm

  16. Hey Mr Draco .. And I love your photos of Uluru in the morning! No doors in the helicopter .. You must be kidding! Loved your commentary. It was climbing Uluru years ago (dark ages) that I quickly realised I was scared of heights .. great post πŸ˜ƒ

    • Apparently the first out-cropping before the chain of the climb starts is called “Chicken Rock”. I assume you made it to there?

      Thanks, Julie. The seatbelt was very sturdy so any trepidation soon departed after the thrill of being up there took over. I even almost felt like leaning out of the cabin, but didn’t. πŸ™‚ It was fabulous way to see Uluru.

      PS. I got both comments.

    • Better to find out at the start than get to the top and have a major panic attack. Apparently a tourist last year had to be rescued by helicopter from the top.
      I hope you made it down without problem. πŸ™‚

    • You may think that, but I suspect once in the helicopter, you’d have too much fun. In reality the absence of doors doesn’t affect your safety unless the pilot starts doing loop-the-loops. πŸ™‚

  17. These are fabulous shots and I am impressed by the clarity of your captures.. You have tapped into one of my photographer-bucket list items: I have long thought about shooting from a helicopter, but I’d like a really urban experience. When the time comes, I will hit you up for some advice.
    Good work!

    • Thank you. A couple of low passes would have been great but the local law has to be respected.

      Funny, I was reading today about a tour company that does helicopter flights without doors over NYC, for photographers. I might go to NYC just to do that! πŸ™‚

  18. If you take away the red rock, some of your pictures could have been taken on Mars! πŸ˜‰

    You’re brave going in a helicopter. Never thought about those regulations, but that makes perfect sense. I have heard helicopters can just drop out of the sky if something collides with those propellers. :o/

    Just as I was reading this a helicopter flew by overhead…haha…I got sound effects to your post! πŸ˜€

    • The landscape does have an other worldly appeal. I’m glad I hadn’t heard of those stories of helicopters dropping out of the sky!!! Things might have been different. πŸ˜‰
      Sound effects – perfect! πŸ™‚

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