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The Joys of Taking Aerial Photography from a Helicopter


A row of Robinson R-22s at Boeing Field

From my previous articles, I think it’s apparent to both fans and occasional readers that I’m relatively obsessive when it comes to matters of aviation photography.

Helicopter spotting is not new; far from it. Friends of mine are pioneers of helicopter-borne aviation photography, but I had never really considered it to be viable in the Pacific Northwest.

Turns out that I was wrong – very, very, wrong.

Continue reading The Joys of Taking Aerial Photography from a Helicopter

Aviation in Seattle: Flying Around With Seattle HeliTours

Robinson R44 helicopter that I flew in.

Robinson R44 helicopter that I flew in.

A lot of people fly only to get from point A to point B. They see it as a hassle and not an adventure. From writing this blog, I think you can guess I am a huge fan of aviation — in any form. To me, flying is still an adventure and is exciting.

As a kid I grew up watching Airwolf (yes, it is on Hulu now) and even looked into flying Dolphins for the US Coast Guard after college (changed my mind). I have grown up flying in small planes, but always have had a fascination with helicopters. I have come very close to flying on a few, but none of them panned out. Flying in a plane is awesome, but you have to keep moving forward to create lift. You can fly by and over things, but you cannot hover. Aircraft also have to follow  stricter rules on where they can and cannot fly.

Flying up to Snoqualmie Falls

Flying up to Snoqualmie Falls

This is where the helicopter comes in very handy, especially for sight seeing. On Tuesday I was given the opportunity to hitch a ride with Seattle HeliTours and see the greater Seattle area from a very different perspective.

I felt like a kid, having the opportunity to fly in a helicopter for the first time. I wasn’t only getting to fly in a helicopter, but in the front seat, leaving from Boeing Field (BFI), where three Boeing 787’s live.  As I pulled up to BFI one Boeing 787 Dreamliner took off, and as I was leaving a second one took off. Even though I still love seeing those wings flex,  what happened on the helicopter ride was even more awesome!

I was being piloted by Greg Baker who is also one of the owners of Classic Helicopter Corp, who runs the Seattle HeliTours. My flight would be on one of their Robinson R44 helicopters. They own three R44’s and three R22’s which are mostly used for flight training. I have to say that the Robinson R44 is one neat machine.

Greg and I were able to get very close to the Space Needle and hover around it.

Greg and I were able to get very close to the Space Needle and hover around it.

First flown on March 31, 1990, the R44 has provided helicopters to people who never could have financial access to them previously. It being a bit smaller than other helicopters was of no concern, she was very stable and the smaller size let me feel more connected to the flight.

The first thing I noticed was the large windscreen making it easy to see forward. During the summer months, the side doors can be removed (picture from their website, not my flight), really connecting a passenger to the flight. Since it was about 40 degress, Baker decided to keep the doors on — which was a good call.

After taking off, we swooped east, then north and got a great view of Mount Rainier. As stated before, I grew up flying in small planes with my father around the Seattle area, but never this close; it was pretty amazing. After buzzing by Seattle we headed east towards Snoqualmie Falls. It surprised me how much open farmland and woods are still to the east of Seattle. We also got to see a lot of crazy-big homes. How do so many people have outdoor pools in Seattle? Anyhow, once we reached the falls, it was breath-taking!

How to describe seeing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from a helicopter. "Awesome" just doesn't do it!

How to describe seeing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from a helicopter. "Awesome" just doesn't do it!

I have driven to them a few times before and have seen them from the viewing platform. Nothing can compare to seeing the falls, hovering from a helicopter. This is not something you can do in an airplane. We hovered for a while, turning around, waving to the poor people who were land bound (they waved back).

Then it was time to head back west, over even bigger homes, the University of Washington Seattle campus, the Ballard Locks, downtown Seattle, and our two stadiums. Being in a helicopter, we were able to get quite close to the Space Needle and the stadiums, which were very impressive.

The flight time was about 45 incredible minutes and of course I could stay up in the air all day. Baker has only been doing this for about two years and loves flying  around Seattle and the northwest. One of his best experiences was flying the helicopter from California, up the coast to Seattle (I volunteer to go next time :) ).

The R44 sits at BFI after a great flight.

The R44 sits at BFI after a great flight.

This flight is great for visitors from out of town, but also really amazing for those of you who live in the Seattle area. Seeing the area from a helicopter is much different than in an airliner flying over or even a small plane. I think it is very much worth the money to take a unique airborne tour of your own city.

Classic Helicopter Corp, does much more than run the SeattleHelitours. They have a flight school where you can learn how to fly the Robinson R44 or R22, help with aerial photography, can charter flights to wherever you want to go, and if you love it so much, they can help you purchase your own Robinson Helicopter (I inquired, but I guess I don’t have enough for the down payment quite yet).

This might have been my first helicopter flight, but I can guarantee it won’t be my last. Hearing that “THWOP, THWOP” noise when we were at the right speed, coming down in elevation, while over looking Snoqualmie Falls will stay with me for a long time , and I very much want to experience something like that again in the future.

Have any of you had experiences with helicopter rides or tours that you would like to share?

More good stuff:
* All my photos from the flight
* Video of the Space Needle
* Video of the stadiums
* Link to Seattle Helitour Options

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