Honestly it never really occurred to me there was something terrifying about Flying in a Helicopter with the doors off. I just figured I would get better Pictures. It was one of these situations where things start to dawn as it gets nearer. When Friends and Family start calling you crazy. When at the Hanger You are constantly asked “Are You Nervous?”, “How are you feeling”and “Just stay calm and try and Enjoy it”. It all starts to add up. You will be perched on a tiny seat, suspended in a bumpy Helicopter 2000ft above New York City…Oh C***
In Our FlyNYON Review, we take a look at this company who are the only ones to off New York Helicopter Tours with the Doors Off. This thrilling and unique experience offers the chance to really see New York from a unique perspective. But it Doesn’t come cheap and is not for the faint-hearted so we grabbed our cameras and jumped aboard to see what it is REALLY like to hang half out of a helicopter above the concrete jungle of NYC!
Who are FlyNYON and What are their Helicopter “Tours” about.
When researching our latest trip to New York we came across FlyNYON on Instagram. Posting amazing shots of New York Iconic landmarks from incredible angles and just knew we had to experience this.
FlyNYON offers the incredible experience of flying in a Helicopter over Manhattan without the doors on the Aircraft! Why? Well, the big issue with helicopter tours is the view out the windows are often partly obscured and this makes photography and sightseeing less enjoyable. Without the doors, you are getting a full uninterrupted view of the city.
The Other BIG advantage of these tours are they are classed as Photographic operations and as such fall outside of the very restricted flight rules imposed on the sightseeing operators. This is all very complicated but the upshot is most helicopter flights have a set route to fly that stays over the water at all times. FlyNYON’s flights can operate over Manhattan giving incredible close-up views of the Citys best landmarks.
The Routes offered by FlyNYON simply blow the other operators out of the water. But at what cost?
Unfortunately, these are not Cheap Flights! The Doors off start at $219 per person and you will be sharing your helicopter with someone else. While the Doors on flights are better valued, they run up against some serious competition with the Manhattan-based outfits that don’t require a trip to Kearny and don’t incur the same loss of flight time flying two and from Kearny.
- Doors Off – NYC Classic – 30-33 Mins – $499 Per Seat
- Doors Off – NYC Experience 16-19 Mins – $219 Per seat
- Doors On – NYC Intro – 12-15 Mins – $129 Per Seat
- Doors Off – NYC VIP – 24-27 Mins – $219 Per Seat
- Doors Off – NYC Gran – 36-39 Mins – $369 Per Seat
It is Worth mentioning FlyNYON offers Many discount codes on their flights. We follow them on Twitter and we constantly see 40-60% off codes offered throughout the year. We are not affiliated with NYON in any way so can’t offer the code ourselves but make sure you follow them and only buy when there is a good offer on. We have seen 60% around Black Friday and the Holidays and 50% is the most we saw at other times of the year.
They also offer some good discounts when flying off-peak. in total we paid
$495.00 for two seats on a Classic Doors Off! That’s $247.50 each. Not bad for a $499 list price. That was
One of the best ways to Describe the flight is with a video. We recorded the whole thing on our Go Pro in 4k so you can see the full flight from engines on to touch down. We have sped up the slightly less interesting bits.
As you can see from the above video. It was quite an experience, however, the actual flight is only part of the day and it does little to explain what it really feels like. So read on for our full review on what Flying over New York in an open-cabined Helicopter is really like.
Getting there is the biggest issue, and it takes a good hour on Public Transport and possibly even longer in a cab. And if you don’t get there 1hr15Mins before the flight they cancel it!
This all adds quite a bit of stress to the pre-flight process. We got to Penn station NY 2Hrs45Mins prior to our flight giving us a good 1hr30 to make the journey. We took the NJ Transit to Penn Station Newark and then Hopped in an UBER for the connection to Kearny. It was $10.50 (Two trips) on the NJ Transit and the Uber was around $7-8. In total, it took us around an hour so we were in plenty of time to relax at the Hanger
If you are not an Uber User you can get a cab to pick you up from Newark Penn Station Instead and can arrange for one to take you back there too to avoid the LONG cab journey from Manhattan.
It is worth noting that FlyNYON Offers a full transport service from most Manhattan Hotels. While this is costly it probably isn’t too bad compared with a cab and the bonus is they will NOT cancel your flight if you are late as the Onus is on them to get you there. We opted to take public transport to you understand what is entailed.
With about 45 mins to go, we were called into our briefing. Here you watch a short video and then a quick question and answer session on the upcoming flight. This is mainly from a safety point of view. Explaining how the flight operates, the safety and restraint systems, and what you are and are not allowed to take with you.
You are allowed two photographic devices and this included your phone. They must both be securely attached and you can not take selfie sticks or anything you can extend out of the cabin. If you are taking your phone they will provide a Wrist grip for you to attach the phone to. Clothing and shoes must all be securely fitted. So, no slip-on shoes, or hats. Essentially you are not allowed anything that could fly out of the cabin…because it WILL.
Any Valuables and loose items are stowed away in secure lockboxes and then you are fitted with your climbing harnesses. In the Helicopter, you have two harnesses. A standard Car style 3 point and Climbing Tether with Quick release. The Tether does very little to stop you from falling out of the helicopter, it just stops you from falling very far. We were required to have a couple of goes at undoing the quick release by touch alone just in case we needed to in an emergency.
It is during these briefings and being constantly asked if we were ok and not too nervous that the nerves did start kicking in. It was also around this time one of our fellow cabinmates began kicking off! He believed he had booked a private tour and the fact he would have “strangers” in the helicopter with him meant he had been misled! From our point of view, it was very clear we would be in a mixed occupant cabin and can’t for the life of us think why he believed any different. He really was very unpleasant about the whole thing and went as far as saying if he had known he wouldn’t have booked. Not wanting to upset someone we were about to be in an open cabined aircraft with we didn’t antagonize him too much.
Once all fitted up we were led to the shuttle for the final hop to the Heliport. Here we would be introduced to our Pilot and given our
Helicopter, Seating Position and View
One of the things most people worry about is the seating in the Helicopter. As we said one of the Gents in our helicopter was under the illusion he would have the chopper to himself and his companion. But most people who have read even a little on the FlyNYON Site know you will be in a shared cabin.
This means there is the issue of who gets what seats.
They Claim that seats are automatically assigned by computer bases entirely on weight. We don’t believe this and it is simply an excuse to avoid confrontation about who is sitting where. It makes no sense to assign seats solely on weight and balance as this would spoil the flight for most people. I was with my wife Katie and He was there with his companion and the two other sharing the flight were solo riders. It only makes sense to keep me and Kate together, him and her together, and the Solo riders fitting in the gaps, such as upfront. This is exactly what happened so in our minds there is human intervention at some point.
As a pilot myself (Fixed wing), I know the importance of weights and Balance, I also know there are tolerances and you do not need perfection.
The Layout of the Bell 206L Long Rangers used can be seen above. As you can see it’s three
I was assigned the Outside left, with one of the Solo riders opposite me. The Outside Right was given to grumpy’s Female Companion. These three are all excellent seats. The Grump guy himself was stuck in the right-hand rear-facing seat. This is the worst seat and actually has a solid unremovable part of the helicopter between him and the outside. Basically Doors On. We do hope this was a last-minute change by the Crew to “Accommodate” his attitude but who knows it might just be Karma.
The big issue with all this is there is absolutely no way to know, impact, or alter this assignment in any way. You don’t even know how many people will be in the helicopter with you. The minimum is 3 but as we were at an “Off-Peak” time and every helicopter leaving
Once in our assigned seats and securely tethered to the helicopter the Pilot jumped in and began firing up the engines and negotiating with Air Traffic Control. This is when you truly begin to appreciate the precarious nature of your current predicament. You start to look down and think
You are perched right on the edge with seemingly very little to stop you from falling out. Yes you have a 3point belt on but it’s not tight and doesn’t provide the feeling of security. And while you are strapped into a climbing harness that is securely tethered to the aircraft, It too provides no feeling of security. YOU CAN NOT FALL OUT, but I was having a hard time convincing the primitive part of my brain of this fact.
Too late now as the Chopper lifted off and we were away on our trip of a lifetime over New York City.
Wind Wind Wind
It is impossible to talk about this flight without mentioning the WIND. Everything we have read had stated the wind up there is brutal. It really can’t be stated strongly enough though. It was a pretty calm day with low winds on the ground but up in the air, you are brutally beaten by the wind. Wind Strengthens when aloft but this was something else. It is the downdraft from the rotors being forced into the cabin and it literally takes your breath away. Operating a Camera, moving your head, even just keeping your eyes open can be impossible when it’s at its strongest.
This does not help the feeling of impending doom of death by free fall. And for the first 10 mins of the flight, I was pretty useless. The Camera was getting fired off plenty but exactly what I was shooting and the chances of any of it being any good were pretty doubtful. It is essential you have your settings right (see below) before liftoff as the thought of fiddling with the camera settings was right out. It took a while before I even had the guts to alter the Zoom length!
As the flight goes on this fear settles, the wind and the drop become more normal and you begin to enjoy it. The feet start hanging out the cabin for selfies and by the time the chopper rolled back to the Heliport I had my foot out the Cabin nonchalantly resting on the skid pan like some hardened Air Cavalry Vet…well sort of!
Route Around Manhattan
The FlyNYON Website suggests there are no Set routes and the Pilot will plan your route based on the requirements of the passengers on the day. This is simply not true. First, really, we all want to see the same things so there are likely to be few requests other than the NYC Highlight reel. And secondly, from what I could tell from the ATC Chatter we went pretty much where ATC would allow us.
While we had zero say, Had we being given the choice I am 99% sure everyone would pick exactly what we saw. Our route was inverse of what you usually hear about but still hit all the big New York landmarks. The Flight began with us heading alongside the I-9 towards Manhatten. We then flew up and across the Hudson and into Central Park. Here we were at a fairly high altitude and had sweeping views of the park and the City Behind.
After Circling a couple of times to give both sides the best view we descended slightly and headed to mid-town for close-ups of the Empire State, Chrysler, and the Sprawl of high rise buildings.
Next up we headed downtown past the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge. Here we ascended for a high-altitude view of the Island. This really is the Money Shot. The sort of view that made everything all worthwhile. This will probably be the best Photo I will
It’s important at times like this to try and
We then headed down to get up close and personal with the Freedom Tower, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Wall Street, and the Downtown Area.
After Circling Downtown for a While, The Pilot requested a low-level descent into the Statue control Zone. This meant we were cleared to fly low and close to the Statue of Liberty. Down at only a few hundred feet and we made a couple of passes of the Statue which were really thrilling as you could feel the bank angles as the chopper turned. Of Course, getting to see the Statue from this perspective was really awesome.
And that was it! We peeled away from the Statue and headed back to Kearny. I was sure we were short in time, It flew by so quickly, but the Go Pro was rolling the whole time and it showed a good 32 Mins in the Air. The Flight back was pretty great as we flew low over the docks and
The Buzz around the place was very different than the mood before. We Guess we were not the only nervous Passengers. Now everyone was a Buzz about the incredible experience they had just gone through.
The Bus back to the Terminal took an annoyingly long time but when it finally arrived we were very glad to get into its heated cab. Our flight was early November and it was unseasonably warm at 61 DegF (16 DegC) but still at 2000ft with the wind howling it got a bit nippy. Any colder and you would quickly be very cold indeed. There are Cold weather policies on the Website and we suggest you check them out if you are flying Autumn/Winter/Spring
Back at the Hanger we were relieved of our Harnesses and reunited with our valuables and then that was it we were free to make our way back to New York. We simply reversed the trip with an Uber to Newark Penn and then NJ Transit back to Manhattan.
Photography Tips and Gear
I was in ten minds about what kit to use. I was taking my trusty travel Canon 100d (rebel 100) but what lens was driving me quite crazy. I finally Narrowed it down my 11-20 f.28 (Tokina at-x 11-20mm f/2.8 pro dx) or my 17-50 f 2.8 (Sigma 18-50mm f2.8 EX DC). It is essential to have a fast lens as with all the vibration and wind fast shutter speeds are pretty important. A 2.8 Aperture was going to provide this. So the only question was the Zoom Range. Did I want to the Extra reach or the ultra Wide angle?
I didn’t feel 17mm would be wide enough but really wanted the extra reach the 50mm gives. This is my go-to lens for 90% of situations and I normally resolve the lack of wide-angle with a simple Panoramic/stitch job.
So I was torn. I kept this Dilemma up, right until an hour before the flight. Still undecided I simply asked the Camera Guy at the FlyNYON camera desk. He was pretty adamant the wide lens was the best option so I
bowed to his wisdom and took the 11-20mm.
Was he Right. Yes, No Question.
Photography from the wind-strewn open cabin was extremely difficult. There is no way I would have pieced together anything resembling a Pano. A lot of the time we were probably moving too fast for a good pano anyway. I shot a lot in HDR (AEB)and even with this fast shutter repeat, I didn’t get a consistent shot angle. This meant I would have probably missed most of the best wide-angle shots that I think are the best looking.
I did miss the extra range and could have got a few excellent shots with a tighter angle but these would have been few and far between and as such the wider lens was the only choice.
Of Course, I should have Taken two bodies and two lenses, but I didn’t have a spare and didn’t want the expense of renting one. And still, the time whizzed by so fast and the opportunity for shots so short I would still have spent 99% of the time with the wide.
Getting good shots in the pressure cooker was an issue. For the first half of the flight most of my shots we not only hand-held but single hand-held. The other gripped firmly on the fuselage, holding on for dear life. While the was
With this in mind, I opted for Aperture Priority mode. Full Auto would have required me to alter settings on the fly. AP meant I could just have the aperture wide open and the camera would take care of exposure. This led to super-fast shutter speeds to try and counter the endless buffeting of the wind, the motion blur of the helicopter, and my shaky one-handed shooting.
While I don’t regret the AP setting I do regret sticking to 2.8 throughout. Some of the focus is softer than I want due to the narrow Depth of Focus the 2.8 incurs. I still love my shots but wish some parts were crisper. I think with the light available I could have got away with a narrower aperture.
Basically Taking shots in the Air is hard I think I would need several trips to master this, Having no idea if I will ever experience this again I wanted to ensure 100% I would have at least decent workable shots. I believe I achieved this.
Light is So important on these trips. And really our luck ran out here. It was very flat. While we had clear skies over Manhattan the sun was obscured by some high alt cloud and this made the whole city dull looking. With so much of the
Our flight was at 3 pm which in November was close to sunset. I had gambled on this time as a compromise between the more expensive sunset flight and still
Video Wise was a simpler question. Kate would simply film the entire thing on our Go-Pro Hero 7 Black in 4k from the Middle seat to try and capture the essence of the flight experience. This meant some heavy editing as we didn’t want to feature our unwitting Chopper-mates on the video too much.
Overall this was an experience of a lifetime. We do so many incredible things on our trips, We always try and do and see the best things available on our trips and always push the boundaries, but this was still right up there with one of the best and most unforgettable experiences.
There are a few irks with the way seating is assigned and the wind and terror do detract from the enjoyment a little, but without these RAW elements, the experience would be nowhere near as thrilling. We wish the Heliport was closer to manhattan but this is an Air Traffic Control issue.
There were many times in the flight where you had you just kind of pinch yourself and realize you really are perched on the edge of a helicopter looking directly down on manhattan with nothing between you and the abyss. These are the things that will live with you forever. And hassle, issue, or expense has to be worth it!
Of course, the extreme nature of this should not be understated. I am not an easily scared person. I have flown planes, dived with sharks, ridden the biggest rollercoasters, etc. I am accustomed to heights and flying. And still, I was pretty terrified! For some, this would be a completely unacceptable experience. We are still a little unsure how Kate would have coped without the security of the middle seat.
For those after a little less terror, FlyNYON offers doors on flights. However, the hassle of getting to Kearny may make these less appealing when there are many other operators offering flights from Manhattan. Check our Article on New York Helicopter Flights here.
But for the Thrill of Doors Off flights FlyNYON and their Kearny Heliport are the only option and well worth the pilgrimage!
Have Your Say
Have you flown with FlyNYON? What did you think? Was it as awesome as we make out? Did you have any issues? Just let us know in the comments below. Or if you have any questions about getting there? What the flight is like or anything else you can think of just fire away below and we are happy to help.