Anyone who has traveled to and from Chicago by airplane at night has sampled a bit of the beautiful city lights. However, you are high up in the air in a matter of seconds and see little, if any, of the downtown area through your tiny window before you are out of city range. On the night-time Chicago Helicopter Experience tour I took, the stunning panoramic view of Chicago lights lasted a full half hour.
If you’ve never flown in a helicopter, you need to add it to your bucket list. I’m afraid of heights, but being in a helicopter didn’t bother me at all. If you’re an acrophobic but have no problem flying in a plane, you should have no problem with a helicopter either.
You’ll be assigned a seat in the helicopter based on your weight relative to the other passengers, a requirement to balance the load for safety purposes. I lucked out with the front passenger side window, although since we rode in the ECO-Star (EC-130), the newest and nicest helicopter that CHE has, and the top helicopter in existence for tours, there was not a bad seat on board.
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The CHE crew sets you up with your five-point safety harness and your headset. The surround-sound stereo headset with a voice activated microphone also allows you to talk with the pilot and the other passengers and quiets the outside noise.
Before you know it, you’re up and flying over the city, high enough for a beautiful panoramic view, yet low enough to identify landmarks below. The CHE tour takes you along Chicago’s lakeshore. My flight was during the holidays, so we were able to see the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. Since the lights along the Magnificent Mile are white, they didn’t stand out from the street lights, but the sheer number of them added to the beauty.
We got another perspective of the city when we flew next to the high-rises. It would have made a gorgeous photo had I been prepared with my camera on a faster shutter speed. As it was, none of my photos turned out. Between it being dark out and the movement of the helicopter, my auto setting blurred everything. So that’s something to think about if you plan to take photos. Unless you’re a professional photographer or advanced amateur, instead of taking photos, you may want to just sit back and enjoy the view. You can have a fellow passenger take a photo of you outside of the helicopter after you land.
Because safety comes first, our trip was the last to fly that evening. The weather changed unexpectedly and became too windy. Should your tour need to be cancelled due to weather conditions, CHE will notify you as soon as possible to cancel or reschedule on the next available tour. If that happens, I would definitely reschedule, if possible, because it’s a fun and beautiful way to see the city, whether by day or by the lights of the night.
About the ECO-Star Helicopter
The ECO-Star Helicopter (EC-130), manufactured by Airbus Helicopters, is the top helicopter used in tourism. It seats six passengers, so if you have a group or a large family, most would be able to go up together. It’s the only helicopter model allowed to fly in the Grand Canyon because it’s the most eco-friendly. The Fenestron Tail Rotor design, which places the tail fan within a duct, reduces noise by 50%. The big wraparound window provides a great view, even for those not seated next to the window.
The Chicago Helicopter Experience flies out of their heliport at 2420 S Halsted in Chicago, which is accessible via the CTA Orange Line (Halsted stop) and the Halsted #8 bus (Archer stop).
Tours are offered seven days a week, year-round, during the day, at sunset or at night, and last approximately 30 minutes. You can also book a private tour. Private tours for two use one of the smaller, more intimate helicopters. Check the web site for tour rates and further details.
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