The original plan was to use a laptop for the helicopter control console. The laptop would run a program that sends commands to a wireless serial link and displays video from a wireless video link (via a pcmcia video input device).
After some further thought, I've decide it would be better to use an R/C controller. This would be easier to hold while walking and less conspicuous (which may be a big deal when filming in difficult or shady locations). The R/C controller provides finer control than a keyboard and has built-in trim controls (for making extra-fine adjustments).
Also, the R/C controller provides simple, reliable, long-range radio transmission (which would be questionable using an inexpensive wireless serial link).
In order to do this, the airborne microcontroller will need to decode the signals from the R/C receiver and translate them into commands to send to the motors and servos. (The mapping between the controls and the motors/servos is simple but not direct.) Preliminary research suggests that this will be fairly easy.
(It's amazing how complicated and expensive R/C controllers can get. This one costs $2200.)
For the video display, I've ordered a small 12V LCD TV that I'll attach to the transmitter. This will be more reliable than feeding the video signal through a laptop.
The only disadvantage of not using a laptop for the control console is that the laptop would have been able to display status info coming down from the wireless serial link. Perhaps I'll still use a wireless serial link for debugging.