Fred North is an expert in aerial cinematography, having accumulated more than 15,000 hours shooting films and commercials. Recently, he and his wife Peggy published Flying Sideways: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Stunt Pilot.

Tell me about your role?

I’m an aerial coordinator and a helicopter stunt pilot. Usually, it’s just myself and the cameraman in the helicopter, and we send our image live to the director on the ground.

We normally get a script a year or eight months before the shoot, and I check if we can do what they want and suggest other types of action.

I love when directors are wild. I never say no to crazy demands, but offer an alternative. We try not to use fake visual effects and do everything we can to make a connection with the audience.

How many countries have you flown in?

120-130 countries and I’ve spent over 21,000 hours in the air – about two and a half years.

How do you choose a destination for filming?

It’s usually based on the story in the film/TV show, and we also consider places that offer a tax rebate as this can save money.

Tell us about recent stunts?

For Extraction 2, we landed a helicopter on a moving train. During the preparation, we did 80 landings on a decommissioned runway. On the day of the shoot, we only did two landings.

The Fast & Furious films always have high-speed car chases and the audience is always expecting more, so we try to be creative.

I’ve also done a very complex, crazy helicopter sequence in the forthcoming Beverly Hills Cop 4 – when you see the film, you’ll understand!

Is the job dangerous?

Yes but we prep for months to manage and minimise the risk. When I landed on the train in Extraction 2, for example, the director was walking on the top of the train with a handheld camera and was maybe five feet from the tail rotor. If I had pressed my pedals half an inch it would have cut him to pieces.

What helicopter do you operate?

The Airbus H125. It’s extremely manageable and sends vibrations when you’re in a tricky situation so you know to get out of it.

Helicopters are like when you try to catch a bar of soap that falls in the shower. They’re tricky to control. You have to connect with the machine and be one with it. The more hours you do, the more you feel invincible and like Zorro. But even today, I’m not bulletproof. I always have to control my ego.

A lot of helicopters crash because they go into a vortex. A lot of air comes from the rotor and if you land with the wind ahead of you, that air goes behind you so you don’t have a problem. If you land with the wind coming from your tail, however, and go slowly enough then that air comes in front of you and you fall into your own air.

What do you think about drones?

People think they can do the same things as helicopters. They are so far apart for so many reasons.  I fly the camera in the helicopter – it’s on the nose of the machine. The drone, however, is detached – the cameraman is not with the camera.

The difference is huge. You miss out on a lot, lack of spatial orientation, depth field, battery load… There is a place for drones, but it has to be a drone shot and not an aerial shot.

What’s been your most rewarding travel experience?

Each country has its treasures and I love discovering amazing locations – from dunes in Namibia to the jungle in Colombia. Helicopters create an electrifying moment and give you a sense of freedom.

I also spent two months in the deep Gabon jungle when I was filming Tarzan – I would open my door and see an elephant 15 feet from me.

Is it difficult to settle back into reality on land?

I love flying but there’s so much weight on my shoulders that, when I’m done with a sequence, there’s relief and satisfaction.

Why did you decide to write a book?

To offer guidance and inspiration. My kids see fake success on social media – they don’t realise their parents had a life before they were born. I thought it would help explain how I got to where I am.

Young pilots also ask me questions daily on social media, and I wanted to share my experiences.

The book is really conversational and has a sense of character.

That was very important to us. I told my wife from the beginning that I wanted the book to feel like I’m talking. We had three or four different drafts before the final proof.

What’s your advice to young pilots?

To challenge themselves. As soon as you’re cruising, there’s something wrong. You have to create opportunities for yourself.

Additionally, make sure your personality matches the job. I would be a terrible airline or fighter jet pilot, but I’m very good at my job because I’m an instinctive person.

What’s your dream destination?

I’m born and raised in Africa and love it there. People are so welcoming and have huge hearts.

What’s your indispensable travel gadget?

I have a little Japanese bell in white gold – it’s a lucky charm. I’ve had it for 40 years. I’m not superstitious but that gives me comfort. I also always have a skipping rope with me.

What’s your inflight entertainment pick?

I use my iPad to watch things.