More than 29,00 people from 125 countries submitted their favorite HERO9 Black clips for the chance to be featured in the third annual Million Dollar Challenge highlight reel. Only 56 creators made the cut, earning almost $18,000 a piece. 

This series celebrates these creators and their creative processes. We hope these behind-the-scenes looks inspire you as much as they did us. 

Million Dollar Challenge recipient Martin Trotz was flying high long before he learned of his inclusion in the HERO9 Black Million Dollar Challenge. And we mean that literally, Martin is a well-versed aerobatic pilot. Now, he’s flying a little bit higher knowing that his clip made it into the final highlight reel. 

We caught up with Martin to find out what went into landing the perfect shot.

GoPro: Tell us more about your Million Dollar shot—the lighting and the coordination must have taken a lot of preparation and work! We’d love to learn how it all came together. 

Martin: The idea for these videos came up quite a while ago while I was watching aerobatic videos with some other pilots at the airfield one evening. Over time, a few maneuvers and camera perspectives developed.

In order to get the right shots from the desired perspective, we determined that we would need at least two nice looking aerobatic planes and a third plane to house the camera, which would fly fast enough to keep up with the others. We then looked for the perfect camera mounts and angles to show the planes directly from the front.

Once everything was organized, we started observing the weather forecast, because even though the flight scenes alone would be spectacular for sure, they can become perfect with the right light and “cloud setup.” When the forecast finally looked really promising, we met at the airfield for a final brief and to practice all the maneuvers together on the ground. Since formation-flying at speeds of up to 160 knots, and at distances of sometimes less than 15 feet, requires a lot of precision, it is very important that you know your exact position at all times and that you can rely on your wingman to do the same. All tasks were clearly distributed.

We, as the formation leader, carried the camera and were responsible for watching out for other air traffic, choosing the flight path, and ensuring we did not fly into any restricted airspace. We tried our best to perform all the maneuvers at the right angle to the sun to get the most out of every single take. The two other pilots were responsible for announcing the respective maneuvers, focusing on precise movements, and staying in close formation. 

When we were finally in the air, we quickly realized that we could hardly have chosen a better day. The light and clouds were exactly as we had imagined. When all the scenes were filmed, we landed back at our home airfield shortly after sunset and couldn't wait to see all the footage for the first time.

What are your go-to settings for capturing GoPro content mid-flight? 

Since this video was actually our first air-to-air filming with the new GoPro, I used the first minutes in flight to try out various settings. I shot most of the recordings in 2.7K at 120fps to be able to crop some parts in editing and to slow down certain scenes. 

We heard your day job is working as an air traffic controller. Does that mean that aerobatic flying is a hobby? And when did you first get into flying? 

I developed a connection with aviation early on in my childhood since I grew up right next to an airfield. I’d spend my time photographing and filming all the planes. Early on, I knew that one day I would like to be steering those planes myself. Finally, when I was 16, I started to train for my pilot's license for single-engine piston aircraft. I used my very first flights to find out how and where I could mount my digital camera on the outside of the aircraft in order to share all these beautiful in-flight moments. Since the first GoPro was on the market, I have hardly spent a flight without a camera on the wing and have probably tried every possible position and angle.

In order to ease the financial burden of my flying hobby, I used to work in the little tower of our aerodrome on the weekend and developed my passion for the profession of air traffic controller. After graduating from school, the job prospects for working in the cockpit were not good at all, so I decided to study aeronautical engineering and then did my training as an air traffic controller. So today, working at a big airport with all the airliners for a living and flying small aircraft for fun is my best case scenario. 

Do you have exciting stunt plans lined up for 2021? 

The list of ideas for 2021 is indeed already quite full. First and foremost, I would like to finish cutting the entire video that made it into the HERO9 Black Million Dollar Challenge. In addition, during our recent flights, we developed some more ideas for camera angles, settings and scenes.

One of the biggest projects is for sure to accompany my longtime aviation friends Bernhard Diehl (@bernie.climbs.clouds) and Manuel Lange while flying in the German and European skies as part of the “SKYTEXTER” formation. This formation consists of a group of very experienced aerobatic pilots with five modified planes that are operated at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet and use their smoke system to write messages in the sky.

Anything else you want to share?

First of all, we are so grateful that we made the cut for the Million Dollar Challenge, even though this was not our intention at the beginning. Being selected amongst so many submitted clips has shown us that it is absolutely worth pursuing every idea to the end, because you have the chance to be positively surprised. This video is definitely not the end of a project, but the beginning of many more, where the sky for sure is not the limit ;)

Watch the HERO9 Black Million Dollar Challenge highlight reel here.