Joe Newkirk can still recall the look on the 9-year-old's face when she gazed out of the helicopter window. The girl, who suffered from vision problems, won an essay contest themed "Live Life in HD." Among the contest's donated prizes—which included a zamboni ride—Newkirk contributed a helicopter experience. As he saw the girl transfixed by the view at 1,000 feet, he recognized how her experienced mirrored his first time in the air. "The feeling you get, it's a feeling of freedom." Hence the name, Freedom Helicopters.
Originally a design engineer for a helicopter manufacturer, Newkirk found himself less interested in engineering parts and more fascinated by how the machines could lift straight off the ground without a runway start or being kicked by a Rockette. After obtaining his Federal Aviation Administration license, he recognized the scarcity of experienced pilots due to the military's increasing retention of helicopter operators. Today, Newkirk and his team of fellow FAA licensed pilots work to remedy the shortage and help people cross an experience of their bucket lists by turning over the controls of Robinson and Bell helicopters capable of sustaining speeds of 130 miles per hour. Backed by training from Newkirk's team, Freedom Helicopters' alumni have gone from zero hours of experience to leading helicopter tours through the Grand Canyon and saving lives as medical evacuation specialists.