NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — NewsChannel 5 is the only local station with a dedicated helicopter to help you navigate the roads, understand the forecast and view Middle Tennessee's biggest stories from above.
It's no small feat, says News Operations Manager Mark Martin.
"You can imagine how incredibly complicated it is to maintain a helicopter, have pilots on standby at all times... but the benefit to our viewers has been incredible," he said.
On Tuesday the station debuted brand new technology to enrich the footage you see from the helicopter every day. It's called SkyMap and it's been in the works for more than a year.
We were testing the technology when tragedy struck our area. And as many of you cleaned up after the tornado outbreak on March 3, 2020, so did Mark Martin.
The hangar at John Tune airport, west of downtown Nashville, was one of the first casualties of the Davidson County tornado. It collapsed and took Sky 5 with it.
"My heart sank seeing Sky 5 on its side like that," Martin recalled the damage after spending hours navigating roadblocks and downed power lines.
Now, more than a year later, NewsChannel 5 is debuting a brand new helicopter. The powerful, 4k camera mounted to the front has a few battle scars but was somehow undamaged in the rubble. And it's back with SkyMap on board.
SkyMap's biggest feature is an exact mapping overlay. That means roads, exits, schools and businesses along with other points of interest are all visible.
"You're looking down at roads but what roads are those?" Martin explained the aerial shots without SkyMap. "You can't [always] tell... but now we can show them."
SkyMap also has features to highlight, mark and track any issues on the roads. A speedometer shows how fast or slow traffic is moving.
"If there's a car in the woods, typically a viewer wouldn’t be able to see... now we can highlight it," Martin said.
When we're on the way to breaking news we can tell you how long it will take to arrive, and you'll be able to see the destination on the horizon.
Martin's duties include flying in Sky5 as the photographer on weekdays, and he knows better than anyone how the features can help in daily coverage. Like the tool to measure.
"When we've got traffic backups it's almost like laying down a ruler and showing how long the backup is," Martin said.
Outside of traffic and weather reports every weekday morning, you will also see SkyMap during the biggest news events as they happen.
If there's ever a large demonstration or protest, SkyMap will help map out the streets and show you the destination. It can also count the people taking part. So we can bring you more accurate coverage in real time.
Additionally, a "before and after" feature uses Google Maps to show the impact of a disaster on our community or a new development in our ever-evolving city.
"Which is great for Nashville on the rise," Martin said. "We can show 'that was a vacant lot, OK now there's a building there.'"
It's all possible thanks to augmented reality and a determination to bring Sky 5 out of the ashes and soaring to new heights. Right alongside the neighborhoods impacted across Middle Tennessee.
"Sky 5 has always been able to get the shot," Martin said, "but now with SkyMap we're gonna be able to tell a much better story with traffic, news and weather."
It's the latest move to bring you local coverage more elevated than ever before.