Many people have “Fly in a Helicopter” on their bucket list. We definitely had! Our dream was to fly high above the Manhattan skyline, ideally on a day with clear blue skies and high visibility. Surely that was not too much to ask?
We made a short video about our experience, if you are more into visuals than the short story below:
Luckily, we were able to tick this adventure off on a beautiful spring morning in NYC. It was Nick’s 26th birthday no less. The experience isn’t exactly cheap, but forget that because it is SO worth it! This was one of the most epic adventures of our lives, and we would never be without it.
We had an early start. Being Nick’s birthday, we wanted a lovely morning without stress. We had a hearty breakfast, one of the great flat whites that they make in NYC, and even had time to enjoy the unbelievable view of Upper Manhattan from our hotel room window just a bit longer than usual. Then our driver arrived, and it was time to go on an adventure!
Most tourists grab a quick 15-min heli ride from the harbour in Lower Manhattan. We had decided not to do like most other people. We specifically wanted to experience flying in a helicopter without big, bulky doors obstructing the view. And we wanted to get up close and personal with all the iconic buildings. The companies operating from the harbour, cannot (anymore) deliver on those requests. Nowadays, this is only allowed if your company operates out of a small private airport in Westchester, White Plains.
It was around an hour’s drive from our hotel in Midtown, but as the calendar said late May, it was a beautiful trip. We might be biased, living in a desert state at the time, but on this particular morning, the trees seemed greener than ever before. In fact, it felt like the perfect morning. It turned out – it was.
Driving out of the city in the morning, traffic wasn’t bad. The forest you go through is beautiful, and we actually had a delightful drive. The 50-minutes or so trip is definitely not something that should deter you from going all the way out there for your flight.
As we arrived at the airport, everything was already ready, and our pilot was patiently awaiting us. We just had time for a sip of water, and a quick bathroom break, before the safety briefing. Right on – we were ready to fly.
There she stood. For those of you interested in helicopters, our ride for the day was a pretty basic Robinson R44 Raven II. It looked beautiful standing there on the landing strip, all lit up by the morning sun, and most importantly, not wearing any doors. It only has room for the pilot + 3 passengers, so we ended up having a private flight.
We were both super excited! Kia had never flown in a helicopter before, and Nick had surely never flown one where the doors were taken off. If you have followed us for a while, you know we are both pretty excited about the whole idea of flying. That’s why we have skydived, flown microlights and rode a hot air balloon. We just cannot get enough of it. Unless it is a commercial flight… In which case we hate it.
As we took off, the smoothness of the take-off was almost uncanny. It felt so effortless. The pilot did a great job throughout the flight, but the helicopter itself was amazing as well. We could communicate with some excellent Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and the holes left by the doors were so huge that we had no issue looking out. It’s important to stress that taking off the doors makes all the difference. You have uninterrupted, panoramic, views of everything going on outside of the helicopter and straight from take-off, this was a very special experience. It would only get better and better.
We started out by flying over the green surroundings of White Plains. From above you could see the luxurious houses in Westchester, with their large swimming pools, and we were still impressed with how green everything was.
To the side, out into the distance, you could see the sea. But better yet, right in front of the helicopter, the epic NYC skyline was moving closer and closer. After enjoying the green landscape for about 10-15 minutes, everything changed. We moved in from Upper Manhattan and first came upon Yankee Stadium. Then the view opened up with undisturbed vistas of Central Park. In its entirety! What an amazing sight. Yes, the sky was bright blue, and we couldn’t have been happier!
The pilot told us again and again how lucky we had been with the weather, and we almost couldn’t believe it ourselves. The city looked absolutely unreal, like something out of a movie. It was Nick’s birthday, though, so was this really that surprising after all?
We took a few passes over Central Park, and with each turn, the helicopter was banking heavily. We sat in the left side of the aircraft. That means, whenever we took a left turn, it felt like we were starring directly into the ground. Or straight into the busy streets of Manhattan rather. It felt crazy the first time, but you quickly get used to it. We proceeded to fly over the channels and the bridges, before heading towards the most iconic skyscraper in the world. Can you guess which one that is?
We “danced” around the Empire State Building, doing a full 360-degree circle. We could easily see people standing at the top, and we got a lot of waves. Feeling like royalties, of course, we waved happily back.
It was unbelievable!
We then headed for One World Trade Centre, or Freedom Tower if you prefer. This part of the city was just as beautiful. What an incredible looking skyscraper. The reflections from the glass-covered facade were out of this world. The pilot had warned us that due to the increased security levels, we might not be allowed close to certain areas. But again, it being Nick’s birthday, we, of course, had no problems at all.
Lower Manhattan was very impressive, indeed. But now it was time to fly around the harbour and out to sea. We were headed for the Statue of Liberty!
Lady Liberty looked stunning as ever. Perhaps more so from this aerial vantage point. We see no reason why you would visit her on the ground when you can experience her from the air. What a glorious sight. Perhaps these pictures will make you agree?
We headed back over the three bridges – do you remember their names? We still do because it is surprisingly easy. Just think of the car brand BMW. First, you have Brooklyn Bridge, then Manhattan Bridge and finally Williamsburg Bridge. This little fun fact will surely help you impress your travel buddies – You are welcome!
After about an hour of flying around over the most magnificent city on Planet Earth, we started heading back towards White Plains. We flew over the beautiful skyline one last time and crossed back again over Central Park. Then, unfortunately, all too quickly, we made it back to the landing strip.
We were not sad that the ride was over. Instead, we were high on the experience, and just psyched to have such great memories always to think back on. For the rest of our lives. This was an unforgettable experience, right up there with the best ones we’ve ever had, and we don’t (even for a second) regret the substantial expense.
The experience was so exceptional that we both took a decision on the spot. Before hitting the bucket, we both simply HAVE to learn to fly. It doesn’t matter if it is a microlight, a plane, or a helicopter. Whatever opportunity arises, that allows us to take a flight certificate of some sort, we will grab with both hands!
If you know of any other unforgettable place to take flight, please share it with the other readers and us! Either here, or on your social media channel of choice. We would love to be inspired by your story, and we are always looking for great travel inspiration.
Company: Wings Air
Location: White Plains, an hour outside of NYC.
Price: 450 USD + 25 USD airport tax per person – but check Groupon. We found a Groupon voucher, wrote the company directly, and they were happy to match the price. We paid 350 USD per person + tax. They also organise a driver for pick-up and drop-off in NYC. It will cost you 200 USD. We suggest you compare that with Uber rates.
Weight limit: 110 kg per person, or 220 kg in total for all passengers
More info: This is a 60-minute shared flight. We were lucky to be the only ones in the heli, but you may be riding with more passengers. You can book day, sunset or night flights and the company also offer guaranteed private flights at a significant cost.
Remember: To bring a neck strap for your phone, camera or GoPro. It’s mandatory. You can also buy one during booking for 20 USD.