The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

June 10, 2010

Helicopter tours over Gorge available

NEW RIVER GORGE — Of late, a helicopter reminiscent of the iconic one used in the film and television series “M*A*S*H” has been flying above the tree lines of the New River Gorge.

Rick and Heather Johnson, co-owners of River Expeditions, dreamed of offering helicopter tours for quite sometime, but it was always just a dream until Rick found the perfect helicopter online.

After purchasing it — a 1959 Bell 47 G-2, the same model used in the film and television series — their dream became a reality and Almost Heaven Helicopter Tours was born.

“It’s something my wife and I have wanted to do for a long time,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping it’ll bring life back to the airport.”

Almost Heaven Helicopter Tours is located at the airport on Hinkle Road in Oak Hill beside Wild Blue Adventure Co., which offers biplane tours.

But after getting their helicopter and the ground broken for their helipad beside the runway, the question arose as to who’s going to fly this thing?

They contacted Justin Grant, the cousin of Chris Kappler, the pilot of the biplane tours with Wild Blue Adventure Co. Grant, who was living in California at the time helping to fight wildfires, jumped at the chance to move to West Virginia and fly the tours.

Grant has flown Helitack, which refers to helicopter-delivered fire resources, out west for four years.

“It’s a completely different thing,” Grant said about the comparison of flying Helitack and the tours. “It’s a great opportunity to come out here and try something new and see another side of the country. It’s a new experience and I’m looking forward to it.”

The helicopter seats three people, including the pilot, and the bubble canopy allows for an amazing view.

“It offers such a better view,” Johnson said about the bubble canopy. “Everybody gets a window seat.”

The bubble canopy will truly be appreciated once Grant steers the lightweight helicopter over the plateau of the gorge while those seated next to him look in awe as the ground slips away, giving view of the New River winding through the rolling mountains.

Grant said depending on the weather, wind and visibility, he’ll fly around 500 to 1,000 feet off the ground.

Johnson is gearing the tours toward families, he said, adding that the closest place to go on a helicopter sightseeing tour is in Catlettsburg, Ky.

Johnson offers assurance for those a bit wary of strapping into the door-less helicopter.

“It’s tried and proved from the ’40s through the ’70s with millions of hours,” he said about the model of the helicopter.

The helicopter is rebuilt every 1,200 hours, Grant said.

The tours will run 10 minutes in length and cost $60 per person. They will be offered from the spring through the fall.

Tours can be booked at the airport or at the visitors centers in Oak Hill or in Lansing, Johnson said.

Reservations are not required, he added.

For more information, contact Almost Heaven Helicopter Tours at 800-277-7727.

— E-mail:

cjackson@register-herald.com

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