What better way to celebrate the lifting of restrictions than with a really special lift, in a helicopter ride over London! This was a trip that my friend James had originally organised for a few of us 3 years ago, to celebrate his 40th birthday. But it was postponed a few times thanks to the weather, and then of course the pandemic scuppered it completely, so it felt like it would never happen. But last weekend, not long after James’s 43rd birthday, we finally did it. And it was well worth the wait!
There are various companies that offer helicopter tours, and in our case we used Heli Air, who are based in High Wycombe. So it required a little train journey out of London from Marylebone, and at High Wycombe Station we met the 3rd member of our group, Tim, who drove us to the venue. And once there, we met the 4th and final passenger, Jill, who we didn’t know, but she was in our group to fill the spare seat in the chopper, which was fine by us.
To begin with we all got together in the waiting area upstairs in the hangar, which gives a nice view over the helicopters stored on the ground floor. And after our flight they showed us around down there a little bit as well, so we could see a few of the aircraft close up. They all look interesting, but two of the helicopters are particularly significant. The first is a blue and silver machine called G-SIRD, owned by actor Sir David Jason, who is a qualified pilot (as is his Only Fools & Horses co-star Nicholas Lyndhurst for that matter). And that’s parked next to a chopper called G-PODD, with striking bright orange front and tail sections in addition to green and silver bodywork, owned by Jamiroquai. So they were quite cool to see.
Our helicopter, meanwhile, was a smart black machine with a gold stripe down the side, and we all squeezed into it without any problems. We let Jill sit in the front, as it was also a special occasion for her, and she appeared to have a bit of flying knowledge that she could talk to the pilot about, while my trio were happy to sit together in the back. We all had a good view in any case – James and I were by the rear side windows, while Tim could see straight out of the front from the middle back seat. It was comfortable to sit in there as well – I was pleased that I had just about sufficient legroom, considering I’m quite tall.
Our pilot, Andy, was very nice as well, and of course gave us a short safety briefing before we set off. Everything was done properly there as far as we could tell, so there was nothing to worry about. And during the flight he spoke to us through the headsets we were wearing, to point out various sights and answer any questions. I couldn’t always hear him clearly, as the aircraft is fairly noisy, but I caught most of what he had to say. And we could hear some of the air traffic control chatter through the headset as well.
And the flight was brilliant. It lasted about 50 minutes and took us into Central London, all the way along the Thames to Tower Bridge, then turned around and took us back the other way. So I was able to get a good view in all directions. It was a bit overcast, but as we were flying beneath the clouds that wasn’t a problem. Indeed, it was good that it wasn’t too bright and sunny, so we weren’t blinded by it, though I still wore my green tinted sunglasses to offset any general glare as usual.
It was great to spot lots of landmarks of course, and everything looks incredible from up in the air. It’s strange to see things so small and from such a unique perspective, and you don’t feel like you’re going very fast, as things in the distance pass you slowly. You only really notice the speed when you try and quickly film something passing close beneath you! I think we were going around 115mph at one point.
There was just so much to see, so I’m very pleased that I was able to film the whole tour, and there were only a few little edits needed to tidy things up afterwards. It’s also rather fortuitous that the trip was delayed as long as it was after all, so that I was able to film it on my new iPhone 13. My old iPhone 6 wouldn’t have had the battery strength to last the whole journey, so I’d have had to ration my filming, plus the picture quality wouldn’t have been as good. But here I was able to record in 4K throughout and there was still lots of battery power left at the end of it. I’m impressed that the iPhone seems to have automatically stabilised the footage as well, which I thought I’d have to do later on, given that there was inevitably a fair degree of shakiness throughout the trip (though not in a way that felt uncomfortable).
So here’s an extensive video that I’ve edited from the flight, lasting just over 40 minutes, for those who have sufficient vision to check it out. You can open up the description below the video for timestamps to some of the key sights. While nothing can compare to the feeling of being up in the sky in person, I hope you enjoy seeing London from such a unique angle like we did!