Up and Away with Niagara Helicopters
Story and video: Anna Rodrigues
Image: Phil Raby
My heart is pounding. A high-pitched scream wants to escape from my mouth but I don’t bother. It wouldn’t be heard over the powerful din of the rotors circling above my head. An attendant extends his hand with a smile, letting me know where I should sit. He locks me in securely with the seat belt, hands me a headset and then the cabin door slams shut.
There’s no going back now. I am afraid of heights. Add speed to that fear and you will understand why I haven’t been on an amusement park ride since I was a young child. In mere seconds though I will be experiencing anything beyond the fastest ride I could ever imagine. I will be flying high on a Bell 407 helicopter. The pilot, Rene Huessy, introduces himself and with a whoosh, I find myself up in the air.
In 1985, a young Swiss pilot named Ruedi Hafen found himself the new president of Niagara Helicopters Limited, a business that had been around for more than twenty years under a variety of owners. The company’s main purpose was training, but Hafen decided to focus more on sightseeing and charter flights. To do this, he began adding more helicopters to his fleet of two and expanding his base of operation. Over the years, Niagara Helicopters has grown to five Bell 407 helicopters, paved helipads, and several hangars all housed in a beautiful, park-like setting that includes an indoor-outdoor snack bar and gift shop. Last year, more than 100,000 passengers from all over the globe flew in the comfortable helicopters and enjoyed discovering the Falls in a completely new way.
The beautiful Niagara landscape stretches out before me as the helicopter soars upwards. My fear of heights evaporates as I listen to the taped commentary through the headset. Below me, a variety of Niagara Falls landmarks, such as the Whirlpool Rapids and the Rainbow Bridge, are recognizable and look extraordinary from this point of view. The nine-minute aerial tour ends too quickly as the helicopter lands expertly where it all began. The attendant opens the cabin door with a smile and I hope he sees how the fear in my eyes, from a few minutes earlier, has been replaced by exhilaration.
-Call for tour group rates and reservations. Parking is free.
-The tours run year-round (except for Christmas Day) from 9:00 a.m. until sunset, weather permitting.
-A certificate of flight is provided to all passengers.
-For less mobile passengers, a wheelchair ramp provides access to the helicopters.