The pilots at Sun Aero Helicopters Inc. have been training pupils in the autogiro arts and transporting clients through the skies since 1991. Inside their base at Lansing Municipal Airport, aviators maintain a 12,000-square-foot hangar area and 3,000 square feet of training offices and high-speed computerized flight-planning facilities. Expert pilots impart their knowledge to up-and-coming FBI agents, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and leisure pilots during one-on-one training sessions in Robinson and Bell copters. Pilots also give landlubbers a skyscraper's view of Chicago's landmarks, such as US Cellular Field, the John Hancock building, and the Sears/Willis Tower. When they aren't transporting rally drivers, golfers, and famous wiffle ball players with private charter services, Sun Aero serves national media companies with aerial photography and land surveys.
Sunlight radiates off the pair of 30-foot, brilliant-yellow wings that frame A & M Aviation’s 1942 WACO UPF-7 biplane as it rests on the tarmac at Clow International Airport. A pilot starts the vintage bird's 220 hp Continental engine, and the propellers begin to spin, quickly disappearing into a heart-quickening blur as the plane lurches forward. One of fewer than 80 still in existence, the plane was used as a trainer for US soldiers before they shipped off to fight overseas. Today, after a full restoration in 2003 that returned it to its youthful glory, civilian passengers are transported to those proud days as they sit side-by-side in the biplane’s spacious open-air cockpit behind a windscreen that protects their faces from flying bugs and raspberries from passing beagles. Thanks to the careful executions of the pilot in front of them, they watch the ground slowly pull away as the biplane carries them anywhere within a 25-mile radius of the airport, whether that be a low buzz over the downtown lakeshore or a leisurely cruise over nearby farms, forests, and Midwestern expanses.
Chicago is famous for its skyline, but there's only so much sky you can see from the ground. That's why at Chicago Helicopter Experience, pilots lift passengers from Chicago's first private heliport, to enjoy the view of downtown's busy streets and wide-open views of the city's magnificent architecture. Three types of tours each afford a unique experience, whether it's seeing the sunset reflecting off the Willis Tower or cruising over the nocturnal landscape of the city. Each tour takes place within the state-of-the-art EC130 helicopter, which features plush leather seats, noise canceling headsets, and bubble windows with a panoramic 180° view outside.