From their nests at Plymouth Municipal Airport and Norwood Municipal Airport, New England Helicopter Academy’s Schweizer Model 300 helicopters lift fledgling aviators into the skies for flights ranging from introductory runs to intensive training courses. Combining the choppers’ precise handling with academy president Rick Smith’s rigorous training regimen, pilots-to-be learn to expertly handle real-life flying situations such as landing at uncontrolled airports, flying in inclement weather, and airlifting bananas to King Kong. In addition to serving as mid-air classrooms, choppers also treat students to sky-high sightseeing, with training flights often motoring over New England landmarks including the Cape Cod coastline and cities such as Boston and Providence.
Located just outside Boston, Blue Hill lets aspiring pilots navigate both the busy airspace above the city and the more difficult flying conditions around the White Mountains. A full-scale flight simulator preps beginners before they can receive one-on-one lessons from an instructor in a two-seat Schweizer 300C helicopter, which accommodates both commercial or private flying tracks. The copter also ferries passengers above the city at dusk or carries riders home to the nest where flying machines roost at night.
Since 1985, the FAA-certified team of pilots and instructors at East Coast Aero Club has shepherded citizens from Hanscom Field airport to the skies above Boston for sightseeing, introductory flights, and pilot-certification programs. The crew oversees a 35-aircraft-strong fleet composed of planes by Piper, Cessna, Cirrus, and Diamond, as well as helicopters by Robinson. The company’s entry-level educational program, Learn to Fly, matches pupils up with one of more than 25 certified flight instructors, who teach students how to read each craft's instruments and back issues of SkyMall.
But passengers don't just learn about flight; they also learn about the area around them. Scenic flights afford aerial views of the city, soaring from Hanscom Field over such sights as the Lexington battlefields, the Charles River, and the USS Constitution. Passengers can bring along cameras to capture the spectacular views and document any crop circles they spot in the outfield at Fenway Park.
In Focus: Fair Weather Flying
Home base: Hanscom Field
Services: charters, aerial photography, tours
Selected tours: coastal New England, mansions of Newport, RI
Flyable zone: anywhere in the lower 48 states
Chopper of choice: Robinson R44
R44 vitals: three passengers plus luggage, cruising speed of 130 mph, 300-mile range
Crew: five pilots,
Cumulative experience of pilots: more than 60 years
An FAA-approved helicopter-flight tour operator, Boston Helicopters employs five licensed instructors with combined flight and teaching experience that numbers in the thousands of hours. Fledgling aviators can begin their aeronautical journeys at Lawrence and Marlboro Airports, which serve as home bases for services that range from tours and photography flights to full pilot-certification courses and agricultural applications. The team commands a fleet of six Robinson helicopters, including one R44 and five R22s, and keeps Robinson factory-trained mechanics on staff to ensure their safe operation and to ice down their blades after particularly vigorous training flights.