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Booking a Helicopter Ride
Helicopter flights range from the adventurous to the romantic, from quick joyrides to comprehensive tours. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect, what you can see, and what style of helicopter flight might suit you best.
How much is a helicopter ride?
Helicopter rides vary in price depending on the amount of time you want to be in the air and the type of helicopter used for the tour. No matter how much are helicopter tours, they are the best way to view sites unobstructed.
What to wear on a helicopter ride?
Dress according to the season. In the summer months, it is best to wear sunglasses and sunscreen.
What to Expect on Your Helicopter Ride
After arriving at the heliport, you’ll be briefed on safety protocol before buckling up and readying for take-off. Photographers might want to ask about wearing a harness instead of a traditional seatbelt in order to capture shots from as many angles as possible (be advised, not all flight offer this option).
As you soar through the skies, information about the sites below will be provided either through prerecorded headset narration or live by your pilot. Some tours even feature a landing, giving you photo ops from all angles.
One great advantage of a helicopter tour is the ability to sightsee from many viewpoints in the space of minutes. Feel like circling directly above the Statue of Liberty? Or getting up close to her torch? Or swooping low over the water to snap a shot from below her feet? It’s all possible on a helicopter ride.
How Many People Can a Helicopter Ride Accommodate?
It depends largely on the model. Capacity ranges from the slick Robinson R22, which can only take one passenger, to the luxurious EcoStar that can accommodate up to seven. Most helicopters used on tours can seat three to five people. Some tours even offer the opportunity to sit next to the pilot.
It is worth pointing out that not all tours are private, and that passenger seating is usually determined by weight. Therefore, you’re not always guaranteed a seat next to friends or family. To play it safe, book a tour on a chopper that you know you can fill (also, keep your eyes peeled for private flights, available in most major cities).
Flying with the Doors Off
A doors-off flight is the helicopter ride of choice for any serious photographer. And even if you’re not a pro photographer, let’s be honest—could anything be more heart-pounding than soaring with only a seatbelt separating you from the open sky? While these flights do require some extra precautions, your pilot will brief you on all steps necessary to secure your items and ensure a safe ride. Many helicopter models including the Robinson R22 and R44 accommodate this type of adventure.
What Do You See on a Helicopter Flight?
A helicopter ride is an exhilarating way to learn the geography of a new place. It’s also the perfect chance to revisit beloved landmarks from new vantage points. For shutterbugs, capturing photos from the air is infinitely more rewarding than sending up a drone and tapping buttons on a remote. There are more than 5,000 operational heliports in the United States. If you have a specific location in mind, chances are there’s a tour available for you!
Grand Canyon Helicopter Flights
Spanning almost 2,000 square miles, the Grand Canyon could take a lifetime to explore. Fewer than thirty people are known to have hiked all the way through it, a feat requiring many months and extreme planning. Luckily, you can experience the canyon’s sheer vastness with far fewer mosquito bites on a Grand Canyon helicopter flight.
There are two major take-off points to choose from: the South Rim and the West Rim. If you’re already vacationing at the Grand Canyon, lift off from the convenient airport near Tusayan on the South Rim to see the canyon’s most iconic scenery. Those staying in Las Vegas, Boulder City, or Phoenix can be picked up directly from their hotel and shuttled to an airport on the west side of the canyon, from where you fly over the Hoover Dam before heading to the West Rim. Tours from both airports range from a quick 15 minutes in the air to all-day excursions that include canyon landings, Wild West performances, or pontoon boat rides. Helicopter flights are available year-round, which is especially interesting given that the road to the North Rim is closed to the public during the winter season (up in the air is the only way to see it!). Grand Canyon helicopter rides generally take place in an EC130 EcoStar, which features sightseer-friendly wraparound windows. Flights are also available on an ultra-quiet H125, a chopper specially engineered to withstand extreme environments.
Hawaii Helicopter Rides
Take in the stunning scenery of America’s 50th state. Cruise over Maui or Oahu Island and see volcanoes, waterfalls, white beaches, and the incredibly blue ocean from the most dramatic of viewpoints.
Maui Island is composed of two shield volcanoes connected by a low isthmus. A Maui helicopter ride can fly you over all the island’s must-see landscapes such as Haleakala National Park, home of the world’s largest dormant volcano; Iao Valley State Park, once forbidden to all but Hawaiian royalty; and the lush jungle and rocky cliffs of the island’s 100+ miles of coastline.
A helicopter flight over Oahu showcases a combination of landmarks both natural and manmade. Soar over the rim of Diamond Head—the extinct volcanic crater that looms over the city of Honolulu—and swoop into “Jurassic Valley” before you fly past Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. For the daring, Oahu helicopter experiences include a few doors-off options.
NYC Helicopter Flights
The Big Apple has it right there in the name: it’s big. When considering its five sprawling boroughs, notoriously unreliable public transit, and reputation for heavy traffic, the savvy tourist quickly realizes that the best way to see the highlights of New York City is by air.
Moreover, New York City is the most photographed city in the world. Treat yourself to a fresh experience by choosing a helicopter tour. Sure, you know what the Statue of Liberty looks like, but can you imagine what it’s like flying past her crown? And no matter how much time you spend wandering Central Park, you’ll never get the full sense of Frederick Law Olmsted’s master design like you would from the air.
NYC helicopter tour highlights normally include the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and Brooklyn Bridge. Longer tours go deeper into Manhattan and around Governor’s Island.
Both daytime and nighttime flights are available, each with their own pros and cons. A daytime flight offers the best views of Central Park and a chance to see more details of the city in general whereas a night tour lets you see Lady Liberty all lit up against the electric skyline. Whichever you choose, your NYC helicopter flight lets you witness a unique side of the City that Never Sleeps.
Las Vegas Helicopter Rides
It’d be easy to spend a whole weekend (if not longer) in Vegas and never stray from the short path between your hotel, your luckiest casino, and your late-night haunt of preference (they might even be one and the same place)! But the next time you’re in Sin City, shake things up on a Las Vegas helicopter tour.
No need to brave the sweltering desert heat: Las Vegas is the rare destination that is definitively best viewed at night, so leave your sunglasses in the hotel room. Naturally, everything done in the city of glitz and glamor is done in style. You’ll be chauffeured from your hotel to the heliport in a limousine and offered a glass of Champagne before you lift off on your helicopter flight. Your tour takes you over all the massive hotels, each competing for the most grandiose display of neon lights. See scale-model reproductions of world landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Luxor Pyramid. Witness the dancing waters and colored light display of the Bellagio Fountain. In a town as wild as Vegas, a chance to rise above and see the city in her full splendor is an opportunity not to be missed.
Flights All Across America
Of course, lots of other destinations offer helicopter tours, too. Los Angeles is a popular spot with its dazzling combo of mountains, desert, and beach. So are cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago (great for architecture buffs). If you’re keen on natural splendor, check out a helicopter tour over Sedona, Hilton Head, or Niagara Falls. Should you find yourself in Anchorage, there are even helicopter tours over glaciers paired with dog sled rides!
Pilot Your Own Helicopter
Aspiring aviators, you’re in luck. Get behind the controls on an introductory helicopter pilot lesson—no prior experience required! These adventures are offered in many major cities including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Cruising through the air in a helicopter is a feeling unlike any other. When piloting a plane, you feel the forward momentum. A helicopter, by contrast, gives the uncanny sensation of floating in the air. You have total control in all dimensions. It’s a serious rush.
A helicopter pilot lesson begins with a safety briefing and a session in a flight simulator. Once you feel confident in your navigational skills, it’s off to the tarmac. All safety precautions are taken as you lift off under the watchful eye of an FAA-certified pilot. As you soar through the sky, your co-pilot is there beside you to take control of the aircraft in the event you’re unsure of anything. Helicopter flight lessons generally last around 30 minutes.
A Wide Variety of Flights
You’ll find different styles of helicopter flights at just about any destination. Helicopters are versatile creatures: they can offer adventure or romance, total exhilaration or luxury and comfort.
Sunrise or Sunset Flights?
Photographers looking to capture dramatic lighting (or anyone who appreciates the beauty of a picturesque golden hour) should consider a sunset or sunrise tour. These tours uniquely offer the opportunity to shoot during a variety of lighting conditions, broadening your chances of nailing the perfect shot or perhaps creating a compelling photo series.
Thrilling Joyrides or Romantic Outings?
Some helicopter tours are geared to the adventurer: doors-off and hurtling through the sky. Others (especially private tours) are all but designed to end in a marriage proposal, diamond ring not included. To ensure a romantic mood, choose a private VIP experience. And pay attention to the parameters of your tour to make sure you don’t end up drinking Champagne on a mountaintop with your daredevil buddies or screaming for your life above a volcano with the girl of your dreams—unless, of course, that’s your thing.
Quick Excursions or Full-Day Tours?
No matter your budget or how much time you have, there’s a helicopter ride for you. A quick 15-minute jaunt offers a chance to get the lay of the land and experience the thrill of flight. Longer tours let you do some serious sightseeing and often include a landing and photo op mid-flight. Full-day experiences are generally packaged with another activity like a picnic lunch, a Jeep tour, or a horseback ride, depending on what area you’re travelling.
A Flight to Remember
A helicopter flight is often the centerpiece of a long-planned vacation. It can also be a chance to celebrate a special moment in style, or an opportunity to see familiar sights with fresh eyes. Whatever your reason for flying, no matter the destination, you’re in for a treat. The sheer joy of hovering hundreds of feet above the ground in a tiny machine is likely to be the highlight of your year.