Over the weekend I had the chance to fulfill a dream of mine and take a tour of Chicago via helicopter. Almost every location is cooler via helicopter and this was no different. Chicago is an amazing city to begin with but once you get up in the air and see it up close and personal it is a truly unbelievable experience. I've been planning this trip for about 3 years but every year the summer gets away from me and I end up scratching the trip for the year. This year was almost the same story until I finally just booked the trip. I did some research and I found a highly respected and reviewed tour service. I had looked at some of the Groupon deals but they all got pretty bad reviews and I wasn't going to trust my life and experience to a questionable company.
My initial thought was that I would tell the pilot exactly where I wanted him to go but once I saw the tours available the standard downtown tour got me to all the locations I was looking to photograph. When I called to book I told them I wanted to leave between 6:30-7 am they were I bit surprised. I explained to them that I was a photographer and wanted to take pictures in the best light. They warned me that there can be pretty bad haze in the morning but I decided to take the risk and go up anyway.
AM Air Service was the tour service I decided to go with. Pilot Fitz was great and I got to the air field about 6:30 am. The air field was about 30 miles outside of Chicago but he insured me that we will be downtown in minutes. It's been a long time since I've been in a helicopter so the takeoff was a little weird. We headed up off the ground and then tilted forward to get moving. The sensation of flying in a helicopter is so different and foreign from a plane that you have to get readjusted to it if you don't fly often.
Once we were in the air we started cruising downtown at about 130 MPH. We covered the 30 miles in just about 10 minutes. On our way downtown I could see the rising sun. Sunrise was about 6:45 that morning and there were only a few clouds in the sky so I got great light the entire trip. When we got downtown we headed south to fly over McCormick Place and Northerly Island. This is probably the best view of Chicago and I got some photos of Soldier Field along with the skyline and Burnham Harbor.
After passing Soldier Field we headed north along Lake Shore Drive. We passed Grant Park, Millenium Park and got to see the skyline from a unique angle. We flew right over Lake Point Tower and up the lake shore to Wrigley Field. Looking back at the city I was able to get some good shots of the Hancock tower with the Willis Tower in the background. These photos are only available in a helicopter because they can fly so low and get so close to the buildings. I've been up in a small plane before which is also amazing but I felt that we were able to get even closer with the helicopter.
After circling Wrigley Field we headed back to the Loop and went over the Chicago River and pretty close to the Willis Tower. We were so close that I could see in to the glass cubes that hang off the building. After we passed the Willis tower we headed back to the air field in Schaumburg. The entire ride was 45 minutes and was a perfectly comfortable ride around the city. After we got on the ground Fitz told me that they have a night flight that is equally amazing if not more spectacular. AM Air Service will even take the doors off the helicopter in the summer so I'm thinking that I might want to try the night tour next summer. If you get the chance to experience Chicago from a helicopter I you should definitely try it. It's an experience you will never forget.