Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11/08 Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

Guest-blogger Sam here. Today we did a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon with Maverick Helicopters. This is something I've been thinking about doing for years, and was one of only three (!) must-have items that I wanted to do on this trip. I took a helicopter tour of downtown Chicago back in the 1980s -- my only previous helicopter experience. None of the other passengers today had been up in a helicopter before. Unlike my Chicago experience, our pilot today did not leave his door open (although I did ask him if I could roll down a window)…

This very cold morning started at 9F but the clear, sunny skies promised a nice day for flying. And the 6.0L PowerStroke fired up on the first try (after about 15 seconds of glowing). Having accidentally left my snow brush and ice scraper in California, I had to send Juliette to the kitchen to get a spatula so I could scrape off the ice-covered windshield. At 8:15 we pulled out of the Williams KOA en route to the Grand Canyon Airport 60 miles away in Tusayan for our 9:30 rollcall. We arrived in plenty of time and grabbed some extra breakfast.

As our names were called, we met our pilot and headed out to the waiting American Eurocopter ECO-Star EC-130. Our fellow passengers included a couple from Michigan and a mother and daughter from New York. After a brief safety and equipment overview we strapped on inflatable yellow PFDs, climbed aboard, and fastened our four-point harnesses. We were seated in a configuration of the pilot's choosing, based on our bodyweights as measured beforehand. Juliette sat in a forward middle seat and I was in the slightly raised aft row on the right. We all wore headsets with mics so we could all hear and be heard at any time.

The pilot fired up the Turbomeca Arriel 2B1 turbine engine and in a moment we lifted off smoothly (video) and headed out from Grand Canyon Airport. We flew 400 feet above the snow-covered treetops of the Kaibab National Forest for a few minutes. The pilot did a bit of narration and answered questions. We approached the 5,000-foot deep Canyon and then, with obvious excitement in his voice, the pilot said "this is going to be cool!" and… it was, indeed. The ground dropped away and we were past the edge of the South Rim. Magic!

A relatively rare full coat of snow covered the highest mesas, and some puffy clouds hung below the Canyon's rims. As the Colorado River came into view, we could see rafters. Yes, that's a year-round activity.

During the rest of the flight, I took pictures and just enjoyed the smooth ride and the amazing view. Juliette and I both agree that this was an awesome way to see and appreciate the Grand Canyon. Words don't do it justice. Watch some in-flight video here to get a sense....

Here's our whole photo album from today.


  1. that seems like pretty awesome. did the pilot do any real steep banks? i remember what you describe regarding 80s helicopter rides

  2. Doug, the pilot did a couple banked turns, and approached close to the North Rim before pulling up and turning, but nothing crazy or scary. I would have requested more maneuvering but wasn't sure the other passengers would have been on board, so to speak.


  3. Including Juliette???
    By the way the photos are incredible!