The creator of the first TV news helicopter has died. John Silva was KTLA-TV’s chief engineer when he outfitted a Bell 47-G-2 with a television camera.
The “Telecopter” went into operation in 1958 — and forever changed TV news coverage, especially in the Southland, where aerial coverage routinely accompanies wildfires, vehicle chases and episodes of unrest.
National Helicopter Services leased the chopper to KTLA. Silva later bought it. Richard Hart is president of the helicopter company now.
He was seven years old when his father Richard Hart, Sr. and Silva built the bubble-shaped aircraft in the backyard of their Farmdale Avenue home in North Hollywood .
“It was a very utilitarian helicopter. It had lots of places to mount boxes and things to hold devices - much more so than today, with the ability to just clamp things on and have a lot of access to hardware," Hart explained “It was an aircraft that carried two people, which could fly for about an hour and a half. It only flew 80 mph at its top speed.”
Even after Silva was able to convince KTLA executives to invest $40,000 on the Telecopter, Hart, said people were still skeptical about the aircraft’s abilities after it was finished.
“But once it went live with the pictures of the [Baldwin Hills] dam breaking and the Bel Air Fire … it became a tool that they really wanted to have all the time.” Hart said.
The Baldwin Hills 1963 disaster footage
Silva won two Emmy Awards, including one in 1974 for developing the “Telecopter.” He died on November 27 in Camarillo from complications of pneumonia. He was 92 years old.