San Diego County

SkyRanger 7 Pilots Blazing News Trails in the Sky

You see the views of San Diego County captured by SkyRanger 7. Now, meet the courageous pilots who track down those scenes every day

NBC Universal, Inc.

Imagine what it would be like to get paid to fly over America's Finest City.

That's reality for pilots Maddie VonBokel and Tara Signore, of Heli Inc. They fly NBC 7's SkyRanger 7 and challenge stereotypes every day as they cruise the skies of San Diego County covering breaking news.

Everything from traffic, wildfires, protest -- anything that happens in San Diego is under their watchful eye.

"I take a sense of pride when when we go up, you know, because it kind of feels like we're looking over the city and watching San Diego," said Signore, who pilots the airship in the evenings.

The year 2020 was a year like no other. It was a year full of "firsts" for both pilots.

"The day that [protests in] La Mesa happened I was packed fullof adrenaline, for sure," Signore recalled. "I think I had said earlier that day to one of the guys here that it's San Diego, we're not gonna see anything crazy and then it got crazy."

VonBokel, who pilots the helicopter in the mornings, has only been in San Diego for a year.

"Seeing fires like that is completely new to me," Vonbokel said. "So it was really cool to see all of the different aircraft that work the fires and see how all that actually plays out."

The pilots behind NBC 7's SkyRanger 7.
Tara Signore, left, and Maddie VonBokel, right, the pilots behind NBC 7's SkyRanger 7.

Both credit their grandparents for getting them interested in aviation, and from a young age both knew the path they wanted to take.

"I always wanted to be a pilot from since I was a little kid," said Signore. "I set off at 18 to go fly airplanes."

"This year will be 10 years since I started my training," said VonBokel. "I started right out of high school "

In the aviation industry, what Signore and VonBokel do is called electronic news gathering, or as the pros like to call it, E.N.G.

"It is interesting because it's multifaceted," VonBokel explained. "You've got a lot of different angles to think about as the pilot."

Both pilots are accompanied by their photographers who control the camera. The pilot helps the photographer get the right shots and lighting, while piloting the aircraft, and talking to air traffic control.

Clearly, flying a helicopter takes both hands, both feet and all your senses.

"They always joke that it's like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time," Signore joked. "So if you can do that, plus juggling, you'll probably be cut out for it."

"I think it's a pretty known in the industry that women have a little bit more finesse," Signore added.

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