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Eric Peterson, Published September 25 2013

MSUM grad puts eyes in the sky

Moorhead - Bob Mikkelson has floated in front of the Statue of Liberty at night, been in a helicopter over the Kremlin and flown over the Italian Alps.

That has become normal for the Minnesota State Moorhead graduate.

“What I do is not normal to other people,” said Mikkelson, who graduated from Moorhead State in 1972. “It’s my normal, but it’s not normal to others. I feel extremely fortunate.”

Mikkelson is back in Moorhead this week to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award, giving a lecture on campus today as part of the homecoming activities at MSUM.

“I’m very flattered,” said Mikkelson, who grew up in Minneapolis.

Mikkelson is the founder of Winged Vision, which has been specializing in aerial sports broadcasting for 30 years. His company did the aerial shots for last Saturday’s ESPN “College GameDay” show, which originated in downtown Fargo. Mikkelson himself wasn’t able to shoot the aerials in Fargo due to prior commitments. He said the plane used in Fargo was the same one used for NBC’s Sunday Night Football game in Pittsburgh.

Mikkelson is a pioneer in his field. He developed the first successful stabilized camera system for sports aerial video in the early 1980s.

“I’m credited with more than what actually happened,” he said.

Mikkelson took gyro-stabilized camera mounts, used in the military, and combined them with large broadcast cameras and lenses. That combination made it possible to produce stable aerial video, which is now common at many major sporting events.

“That ended up working,” Mikkelson said. “There was nothing like it in the civilian world.”

The first sporting event Mikkelson shot aerials for with that camera system was a golf tournament, the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs in 1986. He shot that event for NBC. Prior to that, the networks used the systems with their own people, Mikkelson said.

The technology has evolved since those first camera systems. In those early days, the lens weighed about 70 pounds and the mount about 150. The entire apparatus weighed about 250 pounds back then, Mikkelson said.

Now they’re contained in 15-inch diameter balls and weigh from 65 to 90 pounds. “It’s changed like everything else in the world,” Mikkelson said.

He does all the aerials for Sunday Night Football on NBC. Prior to that, he also shot aerials for Monday Night Football while it was on ABC.

He’s shot aerials for the PGA golf tour, Olympics and major college sporting events. Mikkelson’s work has allowed him to see and share different vantage points with television viewers.

“Most people never know the fact there are actually words printed on the tablet that Lady Liberty holds,” he said.

Mikkelson said he’s in the air about 150 days a year shooting events. Winged Vision does about 150 events per year with most requiring multiple days of shooting.

His company owns six camera systems, and each system costs about $400,000. Mikkelson has used blimps, helicopters and planes to shoot aerials from primarily sporting events.

Winged Vision has also shot aerials for events like the “MTV Video Music Awards” and the “Today Show.”

“I think it gives people a sense of where they are. It helps establish that,” said Mikkelson. “It’s been very satisfying. I feel very, very lucky.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com