Ontario: An Uplifting Experience
Just before I was about to step foot into one of these flying machines myself the owner, Ruedi Hafen, came in the door so I had a few minutes to spend with him as well. Ruedi is an architect by profession and originally hails from Switzerland. Ruedi joined the company in 1981 and began to provide helicopter sightseeing services. In 1985 he finally purchased the company from the former owners, started revamping all the operations and has been responsible for the modernization and expansion of Niagara Helicopters which today is one of Niagara Falls’ premier tourist attractions.
Rene, just before takeoff in this Bell 407 helicopter
Ruedi is one of those rare people who has truly managed to turn his passion into his profession. Today, the company operates five Bell 407 helicopters and has just placed an order for a sixth helicopter. 16 pilots take customers up into the air and pre-recorded in-flight audio tours are offered in 12 languages. The staff at Niagara Helicopters speak seven different languages. The company’s clientele attracts countless customers from many different countries all over Europe and Asia. For his entrepreneurial success and his community involvement, particularly his participation in police searches and helicopter rescue missions, Ruedi has won numerous awards over the years.
A close-up of the Bell 407
After getting a thorough introduction to the company and its owner, it was now time for my very own first helicopter flying experience in my life. My young pilot Rene, Ruedi’s right hand, took me to the helipad, and we got comfortable in this flying machine as the camera team snapped a couple of pictures of us. Then, with my video camera rolling, I asked Rene to explain the various controls to me. The entire helicopter is full of controls, even the roof panel houses all sorts of switches. Rene explained that in a helicopter the direction is controlled by a disk of rotors and in this Bell 407 helicopter, each blade can be individually controlled. These highly sophisticated and customizable flying machines run in the neighbourhood of $3 million, so they contain a lot of advanced technology.
Some of the hundreds of controls
Finally, all the explanations and safety checks were complete and Rene took off with me. After performing a little dance with the helicopter we lifted straight up and started to fly beside the Niagara Gorge. I was really fortunate to have a picture perfect clear day with blue skies; visibility stretched for miles. We made our way towards the majestic falls along the prescribed route beside the Niagara River. The cities of Niagara Falls, on both the Canadian and American sides, came into full view and I was mesmerized by the column of mist that was emanating from the Horseshoe Falls.
Aerial view of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls
We flew over the Falls and had a good look at them from every imagineable angle, and I thoroughly enjoyed the aerial view of this thundering cascade of water. All the architectural highlights of Niagara Falls, the casinos, the entertainment areas and the hydro power plants were in full view. A helicopter flight allows you to stand relatively still and hover above a destination to get a really good indepth look at the landscape below. From a certain angle I even caught a rainbow stretching out from the mist of the giant waterfalls.
The Horseshoe Falls with a rainbow