LINDEN, NJ - I recently had an opportunity to take my first helicopter ride over New York City. Actually it was my first helicopter ride ever. I have been photographing New York City from ground level (or slightly above) for several years now and I love the NYC skyline at night. So when my friend and fellow photographer Jennifer Khordi told me about Heliflights Helicopter Tours, I jumped at the chance. Honestly I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I didn’t really have a fear of flying but it had been many years since I been in anything other than a car when it came to transportation. Heck, I can’t even remember my last amusement park ride.
After a brief safety overview, we donned our life vests, secured our camera gear and headed out to greet the chopper. Even though it was April, it had been a cold, windy day and the evening was turning out to be even colder. This would be important later since we had made the decision to fly with the doors off. “Doors Off” means just that – no doors on the rear of the Helicopter. We chose no doors to avoid glare on the inside of the windows that would result from flying at night. Anyway, filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation I had not experienced in years, we got strapped in and moments later we were airborne.
I will say the first few minutes were a little unsettling. Jeff and his co-pilot were obviously very skilled and the take-off was quite smooth. But it did take a few minutes to adjust to the fact we were essentially floating on air. Definitely different than flying in a plane, but once we were underway the adjustment was pretty quick. And by the time New York City came into view (Linden Airport is seven minutes by air from the City) I almost completely forgot any uneasy feelings and really began to enjoy the ride.
NEW YORK HARBOR AND STATUE OF LIBERTY
Since we were coming from the South, the first thing we saw was New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. What an awesome feeling! The Statue is one of my favorite photographic subjects and now here we were approaching Her from an angle I had only seen on television. Jeff took us around the Statue twice – once so I could get some shots out of the right side and once so Jennifer could get them on the left. (He would repeat this with all the major landmarks to be sure we both had an opportunity to get great photos.)
After the Statue of Liberty we set our sights on Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center. At that point I began to notice just how cold and windy it was in the back of the helicopter. Without the doors, the air was rushing in at a good 60-70 mph. This created two problems: first it was hard to steady the camera for good clear shots. Imagine trying to hold your camera steady in a hurricane. Second, it soon became hard to see since my eyes were tearing up from the wind. Eventually I figured out how to prop my body against the inside of the helicopter to steady my shots. And after a while my eyes adjusted and I had less of a hard time seeing. But next time I’ll take swimmers goggles with me to protect my eyes from the wind.
WORLD TRADE CENTER
By this time the lights of New York City were visible. Before I knew it, we were eye-to-eye with the observation deck of the new World Trade Center. Another one of my favorite photographic subjects, the building formerly known as "The Freedom Tower" shone like the beacon of hope it was intended to be. I had to stop shooting just for an instant to take it all in. Due to air traffic restrictions we were not allowed to circle the World Trade Center so quickly moved on to our next location, Mid-Town.
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
In the distance, I could see the Empire State Building. Having grown up in the New York City area, this building always fascinated me. I think I have more photos of it than anything else in my portfolio. As we approached, I could see the lights were red, white and blue. We found out later this was to celebrate the US Olympic Committee. (For those who don’t know, the Empire State Building lights are different most nights – the colors are meant to commemorate various notable events and organizations.) Jeff ended up doing four circles around this legendary structure – two to the right for me and two to the left for Jennifer. At one point we were so close I felt like I could reach out and touch the spire. Just awesome! Once again I had to stop shooting for a moment to take in the sheer beauty of what I was seeing. I felt very blessed indeed.
Soon we were on the move again, first doing laps around the Chrysler Building and then down the East River to the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Even though I had seen many pictures of NYC from the sky, there was something different about experiencing these beautiful landmarks from above in person. Being used to the hustle and bustle of the City streets, there was a magical quality to being so high up above it all. Jeff slowed his craft as we got to the Bridges letting us take in the scene below. Even at more than 100 years old, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge are both breathtaking structures. It was also a little crazy to see my feet dangling off the side of the helicopter, 1,500 feet above the streets below, with nothing but a seatbelt to hold me in. After a quick circle around the Bridges and Lower Manhattan, we were headed back out to the Harbor. A bonus loop around the Statue of Liberty and we were on our way back to Linden Airport.
"DID YOU SEE.... !!!"
The other thing I want to mention is that it’s very loud up there. Even with headsets on, it was difficult to communicate. So other than pointing and occasionally poking each other, Jennifer and I had not been able to speak during the entire flight. Which meant once the engine shut down and the headsets came off, there was a lot of “Did you see the…” “Were you able to get the….” “I couldn’t believe how beautiful the… was,” etc. After almost 45 minutes of exchanging notes like that, it was time to head out. Jeff and his crew had been gracious hosts and I was grateful to Jennifer for including me on this trip. As I made my way home, I kept going back to the beautiful scenes I just witnessed. Also, the adrenaline was still going so it would be hours before I would finally fall asleep. All in all it was an evening to remember.
Do you have any doubt that I will be doing this again real soon? I don’t…
You can see all the photos from my flight here. Let me know what you think! And if you are interested in taking a flight, I am arranging another one real soon and would enjoy the company. Thanks HeliFlights for an amazing night!
Keywords: Empire State Building, Jennifer Khordi, New York City, Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center, helicopter, helicopter flight, lights, night, ride
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