Anyone who has had the pleasure of a helicopter flight will vouch that it’s an experience like no other. Seated in a cabin where the controls lay within arms reach (but don’t touch!), you’ll have a 360 degree view of your surroundings. And by surroundings, it’s not like a commercial plane flight where shortly after take-off, the view is great for the first 1-2 minutes and then identifiable objects fade to nothing.
No, it’s not like that. You’re taken up to the optimal vantage point for viewing buildings, landmarks and the nature ahead – whilst remaining immersed in the rustle and bustle of what lies below. And the versatility of occasions which a helicopter flight can facilitate is vast. From tourists checking out a new town, to marriage proposals and anniversaries, any excuse for a helitour is a-okay in my books!
I remember being pretty nervous going to my first helicopter flight – it was the Mt Coot-tha HeliTour. I’m not big on heights and I was expecting comparative adrenaline to what I experienced when I skydived. I arrived at the operator’s office and had a chat to Brett – the pilot, on the walk out to the chopper. This was obviously not his first rodeo, and he put any nerves to rest. He ran through the mechanics of the chopper and then we got some pre-flight snaps; a jolly time was had by all. We hopped in and Brett got the chopper going and started speaking in tongue – pilot speak. He received takeoff clearances and then we were airborne and headed toward the city!
Similarly to a convoluted French romantic comedy in reverse, I segment a typical helitour into 3 stages:
Much like many flying experiences, I can confidently say the early moments of a helicopter flight are my favourite. You might be thinking, ‘How immature. What on earth does that heading mean?’ – let me explain. This utterance was not born from my guiltless vocabulary, but from the mouth of the elderly chap I was sharing my first flight with – effectively a very animated stranger. As we started gaining air after some low-level gliding, through the headset I heard a distorted holler, followed by a broken ‘Oh Yeeeeahh BABY! Woooaaaggh!’. I turned my head to check what all the ruckus was, and what I saw was a bloke grinning ear-to-ear – he could’ve even been crying, I will never know…
But I think it’s a nice anecdote for the early stages of flight. The ‘fun’ part – exhilarating and exciting. There’s just something about gliding at low-level.
After the stage where someone in the cabin breaks out into a sequence of snorts and tribal calls, you’ll ascend to a few hundred feet. This is where the trip gets more ‘beautiful and inspiring’, as opposed to exhilarating. Maybe even spiritual depending on what you’re into. Go on, go full tourist mode and get the camera out – you know you want to. You might regret not capturing the view.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about their inclination for helicopter flights, and it’s interesting to see that people are most scared of this part of the flight. I suppose a reactive aversion to the idea of being on a seat hundreds of feet above ground is not entirely irrational, however it is incredibly liberating. In fact, most people who step into a chopper in a terrified state of mind begin to feel an overwhelming calm at this point – you’ll be amused at how quickly your agitation disappears. Remember – you are in the hands of a pilot who has done this time and time again – and then some. Any question or potential concern you have can be answered by them at any point during the flight.
On the note of handling nerves, sometimes it’s best to put the camera down and take everything in. It can be difficult for a fear of heights to take hold when confronted with such wondrous movement and beauty. It is rare to see the world from this point of view – savour it.
The ending of the trip is unfortunate – all good things must come to an end. You’ve gone out and had a unique and thrilling experience – seen what you came to see. You may or may not have confronted a fear and you’re on cloud nine… then you see home base. As you descend, you’ll probably want to go jump on the next flight back out – I know I did.
Some people expect that it’s required to come in their best full-body jumpsuit with two sets of undies, steel-cap boots and a bullet-proof vest. NOT NECESSARY. If you’re in Australia, chuck on some ruggers, a singlet and some pluggers if you must. In summary: just wear comfortable clothing. The cabin doesn’t get uncomfortably hot or cold. So warm clothes (jumper etc.) are a good idea if it’s a cold day, and vice versa when its warm. Also, a pair of sunglasses is sometimes a good idea as the sun is generally quite bright; albeit not a necessity.
FACTOID: If you’re going to be taking pictures, it’s a good idea to wear solid dark colours. They will help minimise reflections from the window of the helicopter. That is unless you enjoy silhouette reflections from a window in your pictures; I’m personally not a fan.
Weight is a factor to be accounted for on a helicopter trip, so generally speaking the less ‘stuff’ you bring the better. On a joyflight, this isn’t such an issue as luggage and other items are not of importance. Realistically, you shouldn’t need more than just a camera, wallet and phone.
On a helitour you won’t be going through security clearances, baggage checks, customs, random strip searches or any of that nonsense. It’s a matter of arriving at the airport and hopping on board. The pilot will give you a brief rundown on safety practices of the aircraft and take some happy snaps of you with the chopper, then you’re off.
From the moment you put on the noise-cancelling headphones, you will be an ear in the dialogue of the surrounding airspace. You’ll also communicate with your pilot through these headphones so don’t hesitate to ask questions. They will know a helluva lot about the area, so as they say in school, ‘no silly questions’!
Taking aboard a helicopter joyflight may be the most breathtaking thing you do this year, maybe ever! Remember – take pictures! But don’t sit behind the camera for the entirety of the flight, particularly if you’re nervous about flying. An experience like this is rare and you’ll regret not being in the moment. Flight safety is of utmost importance to the operator, so you can be assured the pilot has got your back.
Feel free to share any helicopter stories you’ve had in the comment section. I love hearing about readers flight experiences!
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