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
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.
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!
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.
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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Turbine Beaver ready to fly on Lake Union just north of Downtown Seattle
Those of you who live in the Seattle area got quite the treat on Tuesday. Almost to 60 degrees and sunny (not your typical February 2nd kind of weather). It was a perfect day to take a scenic seaplane ride over Seattle in a Turbine Beaver with Kenmore Air.
Mary Kirby, who writes the awesome Runway Girl blog, was in town for the Boeing 787 interior tour and we both got the opportunity to tour the city from above and it was an awesome trip. We were both excited about being able to fly on a seaplane, “There is something about a seaplane that makes me giddy,” Kirby told me after the trip.
About half way through we noticed a familiar looking plane in the sky, one with unique wings. It was ZA002, the second Boeing 787 above Seattle. Luckily the pilot is an aviation fan as well (how could a pilot not be?) and he turned the plane so we could all get a better look. Unfortunately my camera wouldn’t focus on the Boeing 787, but I did get a few blurry shots. “Seeing the Dreamliner from a seaplane might be one of the very best vantage points in the world. In short, I was in heaven,” Kirby told me when asked how she felt about seeing the Dreamliner flying for the first time.
Seeing the Space Needle from the air is always amazing
It is amazing to see Seattle from the sky. The town is really beautiful and seeing her from the air gives a unique perspective. Sure I see Seattle flying in and out of the airport quite a bit, but it is a different experience being in a smaller plane.
If you have always wanted to check it out, but weren’t sure, this is the perfect time! Kenmore Air is having a Valentine’s sale where you can buy one ticket for the scenic tour at normal price and get another half priced.
Kenmore Air doesn’t just do scenic tours. They also have quite the network of flights around Washington, but I will cover that in a future blog!
SEE REST OF MY PHOTOS OF THE FLIGHT ON FLICKR
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The main area of the Future of Flight. Up is the Starship, to the right, the front end of a B727, on the bottom, a B727 cockpit.
One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is its connection to aviation. Just about 10 miles north of where I live, is the Future of Flight (FoF), which is right next to Paine Field in Everett. The FoF was opened in December 2005 with collaboration between The Boeing Company, Future of Flight Foundation, Snohomish County Public Facilities District and the Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field) with the idea of showcasing the future of commercial aviation. Even though Boeing is a supporter and offers their Boeing tour from the same location, the FoF does not limit their displays to only Boeing products, but shares the past, present, and future of all commercial aviation brands. The $23 million project attracts about 175,000 visitors from 175 different countries every year. This was all too tempting to pass up and I was invited to check out what they have to offer first hand.
The Airline Reporter himself inside the cockpit of the Boeing 727 with all the buttons and lights.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Sandy Ward, Marketing Director, and Ed Kaplania, Projects Manager (and aviation genius). For about the next hour and a half, they would be my tour guides showing me all the wonders of the FoF. The first thing I noticed was they had a Beechcraft Starship hanging on their ceiling; it was then, I knew I was going to fall in love with this place.
My favorite part of the visit was the cockpit of a Boeing 727-200. I was amazed with all the switches, buttons, lights, and fuses. I probably sat in the cockpit for 30 minutes. I felt like a 12 year old kid, having to flip all the switches and getting satisfaction from the tactile feel of each switch’s throw. Outside of the cockpit there is a virtual tour of the new Boeing 787 “glass cockpit” What a stark difference! The FoF plans to add a physical “glass cockpit” to put next to the 727’s so visitors can see first hand the vast difference. Although the newer cockpits are much more advanced, need only two (well really one) people, and have far fewer switches, there seems to be some connection lost between the pilot and plane.
Use computers around the FoF to build your own airliner. The program told me the wings were too small on this one, but I didn't care.
Around the main floor there are computer monitors where visitors can design their own aircraft (see pic to the left). They can choose fuselage size, wing size, materials, etc. As you change each option, the program tells you how many miles the plane will fly, the passenger load, the fuel efficiency, etc. I was quite entertained trying the different options and it took me a while to realize I was actually learning things about how the design affected the stats of the aircraft. I was very happy with my end result (can hold 451 people in a 2-class layout and go almost 19,000 miles — which I know any plane that can go over 12,000 miles is pretty useless, but whatever, it looks awesome). After you are happy with your design, you are able to print off a copy in the gift shop for free.
There are a few high tech and static displays that allow you to explore the workings of a jet engine (I got to climb into one, kind of scary). One is able to explore the difference between the rivet/panel approach to the old Boeing 707, versus the smooth, single panel approach to composite materials. There is a mock up of the interior of the new Boeing 787, as well as one from a 767. You can spend a few hours reading about the histories of all the commercial jets, which is almost what I did.
Yes, you can see two Boeing 787's from this view.
Then to top it off, there is a roof-top viewing area that overlooks Paine Field. To the left, one can see the hangars where all the magic happens. Straight ahead is a Dream Lifter that flies the Boeing 787 parts around the globe, and to the right are new planes (including the Boeing 787) ready to fly. They also have the traffic control on speakers, so you can hear what is going on. Unfortunately it was rainy, cold, windy, and getting dark, so I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to catch a glimpse of a takeoff. When it is clear out, one can see the Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, and Mount Baker while watching airplanes taking off and landing. Yes folks, this is pretty much aviation nerd heaven (only if they had a cafe up there).
For those who like aviation shopping, have no fear — there are two options: first you have the Future of Flight gift shop, with some aviation and northwest themed items, but you also have the Boeing gift shop, where I could easily spend a few grand without thinking. I contemplated not going into either (to stop the temptation of spending money), but how could I refuse? Luckily I walked out with only one model of a Alaska Airlines Boeing 737; it took a lot of will power.
If you like aviation and you are in the Seattle area, you need to check out the Future of Flight. It is a growing collection with many new exciting features planned. Guests also have the ability to take the Boeing Tour, which I hope to return and take soon. Don’t worry, when I do, I will be sure to let you know how it goes!
SEE THE REST OF THE PICTURES HERE.
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