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Published: December 14th 2010
Thomas at the Airport Terminal
All loaded with cameras, Thomas waits for me at the Albert Whitted Executive Terminal.
I got a phone call from Thomas, my friend and fellow photography enthusiast, the other day. He has had a pet project going for some time. He is documenting the iconic St. Petersburg pier and pavilion. The City Council has, as if they didn’t have other pressing matters to attend to, voted to tear down the structure and replace it with something much cheaper and certainly of less service to the community. Thomas’s project is to save a photo and video record of the pier so that some day in the future others can look back and wonder what it was like in the good old days.
He had been filming yesterday; he went on a sight-seeing helicopter ride over the city, the yacht basins and pier. He wanted to reshoot the video segment and wanted to know if I wanted to tag along. Anyone who knows me already knows my answer, a resounding yes. We would meet up tomorrow at ten in the morning. The sun would be high enough in the sky and not shine in our eyes and yet the shadows would be there to add depth and definition to the scene. Weather was forecast to be
The R-44 Awaits
Flight and ground crew await us on the tarmac.
good; fair weather cumulus clouds otherwise clear skies and good visibility, winds light and variable; a good day to fly.
Thomas stopped by my house and we drove together to Albert Whitted Airport and the recently added Galbraith Terminal. Safari Choppers occupies a small zebra-stripe themed kiosk at the left of the main entrance to the executive terminal. We were cheerfully greeted by their receptionist, Monique. We were soon joined by the manager, Vance, the photographer Richard, and pilot, Tom. Thomas explained his flight requirements and a price agreed upon. The flight would be covered by their Over St. Pete, $29.00 per person flight offering.
After a safety briefing, we were escorted to the aircraft, a Robinson R-44 Raven, adorned with its zebra stripes, waiting at the edge of the tarmac. Thomas was seated left front with an open door (removed for photographic purposes), I was in the left rear. With seat belts snugged, the pilot started the engine and slowly brought the rotor up to speed. We received a clearance from the control tower and the helicopter lifted off, turned and departed along runway 7.
for scenes from this flight.
I have had rides
Runway 7 Departure
Departing runway 7 and turning crosswind gives a view of the north side of the downtown area of St. Petersburg.
in a number of helicopters over the years. I had a short flight in a Bell Model 47 – the H-13 Sioux, a deployment flight in a Sikorsky H-34, a lot of combat mission hours in the Bell HU-1 Iroquois, and some transport flights in the Boeing Vertol CH-47 Chinook. What I remember were fun and exciting rides albeit laden with web gear, my medic's gear, a steel helmet and an M-16 rifle, and in a high noise level and a very high vibration environment. My previous helicopter experience left me unprepared for the R-44, a small four-place helicopter designed for the civilian market. I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet it was and the smoothness of the ride. I was favorably impressed by the aircraft. If I were of a poetic bent, I might say that helicopters have learned to fly and no longer have to beat the air into submission.
Departing runaway 7 takes you out over Tampa Bay. We made a gentle turn to the left keeping the St. Petersburg pier and pavilion, the main subject of the flight, the center of our turn. From there we headed on a westerly course over downtown St. Petersburg.
Departing runway 7 and turning crosswind and the view of downtown St. Petersburg looking northwest.
It was a good view of the city center and its high rise buildings. There was a bit of marine haze but we could clearly see Lake Maggiore to the south and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge beyond. A long lazy turn brought us back on a parallel course with runway 7 and the start of our second loop around the waterfront and the center of the city.
Even though it was a quick, short ride, we had ample time to get some extraordinary photos of the city, the pier and pavilion. We even managed to get in some just plain old sightseeing along the way. It is a new helicopter and the Plexiglas was clean and clear; no scratches to cause flares. The camera was able to focus through the Plexiglas and the circular polarizer was able to cutout most of the reflection. Thomas’s seat at the open door gave him an unobstructed view and his video footage came out spectacularly.
Albert Whitted Airport is convenient to the greater St. Petersburg area. There is adequate free parking at the terminal. It is quick and easy to get a helicopter flight around St. Petersburg. Pay the fare, a quick
South of the Pier
South pof the pier looking west over the Vinoy and Municipal Yacht Basins, downtown St. Petersburg.
safety briefing and then it is “load and go” for an exciting ride. It was a smooth ride; the pilot was easy and confident on the controls.
For more information about Safari Choppers, see their website at http://safarichoppers.com/ . They advertise Friday, Saturday and Sunday “Over St Pete” rides from the Hangar Restaurant at the Galbraith Terminal - check calendar on their website for these and other flight offerings. From their website,
“Safari Choppers is offering helicopter rides every Friday and Saturday Night 6pm – 9pm, exclusively at The Hangar Restaurant for the special price of only $29pp + tax! Treat your family and friends to a St. Pete Adventure they won’t forget!
You can customize a special adventure for: Weddings – Birthdays – Anniversaries – that Very Special Date – Valentine’s Day – Aerial Photos – Group Tours. You are limited by only your imagination. Your tour will be something you will remember for a lifetime!
Reservations will be honored, otherwise first come, first served.”
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