Young men have often found inspiration in the things they have seen in the sky. John James Audubon was thrilled by the birds flying over his head during his childhood in Haiti, and went on to become the United States’ preeminent ornithologist. Homer Hickam’s revelation at Sputnik soaring above his home in 1957 would lead him to work as an engineer for NASA. In that tradition, when a five year old Chris Webb looked up from playing in his backyard one day to see a helicopter, he knew that helicopters and only helicopters must be the thing.
“I’m going to fly a helicopter, too,” young Chris told his mom. That’s not an unusual thing for a little boy to spout off at his mother while she’s trying to do her crossword puzzle, but Chris would go on to make good on his claim. He has been flying since the year 2000, and now owns and operates Minnesota Helicopters which offers commercial flight operations as well as rotorcraft flight training.
“It’s a long road to becoming a pilot,” said Chris. “You’ve got to learn the principles of flight, how to read weather fronts, government aviation forecasts, Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the aeromedical side of things, and how to fly a helicopter on top of all that. It’s like taking eight different college programs at once.
“The experience never gets old, though, when everyday you get to take people up in a helicopter who’ve never been in one before. Even if you’re used to flying a plane, you’ve never felt anything like starting off from a standstill, going straight up to 500 feet, and watching the horizon spread around you the whole time. That bird’s-eye view is just spectacular, and completely unique — I’ve taken people up who’ve lived in the same places for most of their lives, and even they can’t pick out their own houses without my help. You haven’t seen the world until you’ve seen it from a helicopter.
“The facial expressions say it all. Sheer fun and happiness — no one ever comes back from a helicopter ride disappointed. It’s great getting to share that thrill that made me fall in love with helicopters in the first place.
“A helicopter ride in and of itself is always a special occasion. We take up a lot of people for their birthdays and anniversaries, and the experience we offer is popular as a Christmas present. We’ve also flown a lot of people to their weddings, dropping down right at the spot where they’re going to take their vows. The brides don’t have to worry about their hairdos getting undone, because we stop the rotor before we open the doors.”
Minnesota Helicopters has seven flying machines. Their Robinson R44, a four seater, is their most economical and popular choice for an outing, although they’ve also a Bell 206L LongRanger that can seat seven (it has a jet turbine, and accordingly is more expensive to operate). If you’d like to learn how to fly a helicopter yourself, then their two seat Robinson R22 is just the thing to start your journey. Chris’s company has everything it needs to fully certify you as a private or a commercial helicopter pilot, so you’ve only yourself to blame the next time you are stuck in traffic. Visit minnesotashelicopters.com for more information on taking a tour or learning how to fly.
By David Scheller