TV Engineer Who Brought the Helicopter to News Dies

By Kevin Eck Comment

John D. Silva, the man who invented helicopter coverage for television, has died.

Silva was the chief engineer for Los Angeles station KTLA when he convinced station executives to give him $40,000 to outfit a rented Bell helicopter with a TV camera for news coverage.

Working in secrecy with Hollywood special effects shops and engineers from General Electric to find or invent technology small and light enough to fit on a helicopter, Silva and his small team broadcast their first signal on July 28, 1958 to Los Angeles viewers who would eventually come to equate a helicopter shot with a high-speed chase.

In an interview with Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine, Silva said he came up with the idea while on the freeway. “I was on the Hollywood Freeway one morning and it hit me,” he said.  He told the Archive of American Television, “If we could build a news mobile unit in a helicopter we could get over it all, get there first, avoid the traffic, and get to all the stories before anybody….It’d be a wonderful thing.”

“I never thought about being a pioneer,” Silva told Air & Space. “All I ever wanted to do was get us there and get the picture — before the competition got it.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Silva died in Camarillo, CA, of Pneumonia complications. He was 92.

You can read the interview Silva did with Air & Space by clicking here.