Christina M. Hinke


Published in the Gateway Guide, a travel magazine. (Click on link below to read story)


Balloons, helicopters and biplanes...
Aero-tourism lets visitors view Garden State from the sky

Spring 2006


by Christina M. Hinke
for Gateway Guide

With the Gateway area of New Jersey close to New York City, the Jersey Shore, and the northwestern rural Skylands Region, air tours offer one of the most exciting ways to see the various views that the state has to offer.

Helicopter Tours

For a bit of speed in the air, a helicopter ride may be the answer. Many companies offer rides around Manhattan, near the Statue of Liberty, and along the New Jersey coastline.

Liberty Helicopters flies out of Paulus Hook Pier off Hudson Street in Jersey City, across from lower Manhattan and at arm's length from the Colgate clock, with two other locations in Manhattan.

The company offers three sightseeing excursions. A five- to seven-minute tour of Downtown costs $69 per person; a 10- to 12-minute ride around the Statue of Liberty to the Upper West Side runs $119 per person; and a 15- to 17-minute flight around the Statue of Liberty and north to Yankee Stadium goes for $186 per person.

American Helicopters at Monmouth Executive Airport in Farmingdale, N.J. flies a Bell 47, the helicopter used in the television series M.A.S.H. The bubble-like window displays a wide-angle view of the New Jersey shore and the inner-coastal area, where the company tours at about 70 to 80 m.p.h., a nice slow ride.

"It's like a magic carpet ride with no wind in your face," says Tony Lucchesi, owner and pilot of American Helicopters, which offers tours for $265 per hour for up to two passengers. "I had a woman in September here. Her granddaughter bought her a trip for her 65th birthday. She was a regular housewife/grandmother type. When she saw it she said, 'Oh my god, what a sexy helicopter.' "

Lucchesi added, "On the way, she was talking a lot, but on the way back she was quiet. I looked over and she's crying. She thought it was a spiritual experience. She thought it brought her close to God."

If inland is more your speed, then KD Helicopters flies out of East Stroudsburg, Pa., over Pennsylvania's Bushkills Falls, the Shawnee ski area, and the Appalachian Trail and Indian grounds. Wolves are even part of the sightseeing tour. The Lakota Wolf Preserve in the mountains of the Delaware Water Gap in Warren County, N.J., cares for packs of Tundra, Timber and Arctic wolves.

Half-hour helicopter tours are $175 for two, or $300 for four people. They also operate an airplane expedition at $125 for three passengers.

Hot air ballooning

Then, there's the sightseeing option that'll make you feel like a kid. Warren and Hunterdon counties are a New Jersey hot spot for balloonists.

"On a Saturday or Sunday, you can see seven to 15 balloons in the air," says Giulia Iannitelli, part owner and crew chief of Balloonatics & Aeronuts in Phillipsburg, which offers rides for $410 per couple or $250 per person. "There are a lot of balloons in the area."

It's easy to see why. A palette of forest green, icy blue, barn red and burnt sienna are speckled along the open views of the farmlands, river, streams, valleys and rolling hills of the area.

"The views are much greater than in an aircraft. We can fly from above the treetops to 5,000 feet," says Jon Radowski, owner and chief pilot of Above & Beyond Ballooning in Clinton, with trips priced at $295 per couple.

Balloons fly as fast as the wind blows. Rides typically last about 45 minutes to an hour, and only occur at sunrise and about two hours before sunset, when the winds are at their calmest. Ballooning is also unpredictable, the destination unknown. Navigation is by ascending or descending to catch different wind directions.

"We simply go where the wind takes us," says Mike Zemlachenko, owner and pilot of Hunterdon Ballooning, which offers tours at $530 per couple.

"Every flight is a bit of an adventure," says Tom Baldwin, owner of "In Flight" Balloon Adventures, with flights at $500 per couple.

"Sometimes, when we're going over the Delaware River, we do a splash and dash," says Iannitelli. "When the wind is low, the pilot brings the basket into the river and splashes into it."

Once the balloon touches ground, the timeless tradition of popping the cork off a champagne bottle follows, and usually hors d'oeuvres are served.

Some go even further. Have Balloon Will Travel will cook a hot breakfast before takeoff (it's included in the $495 two-person fare). Co-owner Sue Kell will serve freshly baked blueberry buckle or pancakes with mimosas, or - if her garden is overflowing with peppers - she'll make quiche.

The ballooning experience begins with the crew inflating the balloon, with the help of the passengers. The sightseers load into the basket, which is higher than hip level, giving "a secure feeling, like eggs in a basket," Radowski explains.

When the balloon lifts off and drifts through the sky like a feather in the wind, "it becomes completely still," explains Tom Robbins, owner of A-Lot-A Hot Air in Clinton, which offers tours at $195 per person. "It feels like you're on the ground. There is no sense of movement in the air."

Airplane tours

New Jersey pilot Dominic Del Rosso, 71, is the owner and pilot of a 1947 classic antique Stearman biplane. The Stearman was used in World War II as a trainer for pilots. The two-seat, leather-trimmed open cockpit of Del Rosso's banana-yellow-winged, bright blue biplane lets the wind blow through a passenger's hair on a sunny day.

He usually only flies the plane in the warmer months, starting May 1, but he says, "I'll fly in any weather for a couple hundred dollars extra."

He will take customers to the Keyport Bay area in Monmouth County ($75 for 15 minutes), north to the New York Skyline ($300 for one hour), or along the Jersey Shore ($375 for one hour and 15 minutes) and anywhere in between.

Del Rosso also flies a 1995 Maule airplane. Its windows extend floor to ceiling, and even a skylight is located above the cockpit. The openness of the four-seat cabin captures the essence of the sky as you fly over the idyllic inter-coastal waterways and the titanic Atlantic Ocean. Flights range from $45 to $350, depending on the number of passengers and length of the tour.

Millstone Valley Flight School and Aerial Operations both fly the high-wing Cessna 172 plane, which carries three passengers. Garrett Flight School flies a low-wing Piper PA 28 151. Both planes are different from the Maule in that the windows are shorter, much like the windows of a sedan.

Millstone Valley offers $150 hour-long tours of the New York skyline or a sightseeing trip along the Delaware Water Gap.

Garrett offers a 15- to 20-minute ride around the Monmouth County shore for $70 and a one-hour tour to New York for $140 for up to three people. Aerial Operations tours New York City and also offers a second tour that goes over the George Washington Bridge, north along the Hudson River, and over West Point. Both tours are $150 per couple or $195 for three.

"The kids love it," says Ron Elijah, owner and pilot of Aerial Operations. "I tease them and let them take the controls of the plane, but I'm really flying it."



Liberty Helicopters
Paulus Hook Pier, Jersey City, N.J.
Downtown Manhattan Heliport. Pier 6 and the East River, NYC
VIP Heliport W. 30th St. and 12th Ave., NYC
(800) 542-9933

New York Helicopter
Downtown Manhattan Heliport. Pier 6 and the East River, NYC
VIP Heliport W. 30th St. and 12th Ave., NYC
(631) 777-3733

Helicopter Flight Services
Downtown Manhattan Heliport. Pier 6 and the East River, NYC
VIP Heliport W. 30th St. and 12th Ave., NYC
(212) 355-0801

KD Helicopters
East Stroudsburg Airport in PA
(908) 362-6277

Pegasus Global Helicopters
Linden Municipal Airport
1101 West Edgar Road
Linden, N.J.
(908) 862-7982

American Helicopters
Monmouth Executive Airport
(732) 233-3383


Balloonatics & Aeronuts
7 Harmony-Brass Castle Road
Phillipsburg, N.J.
(877) 4FUNFLY

"In Flight" Balloon Adventures
Launch area at Spain Inn Restaurant
Asbury, N.J.
(888) 301-2383

A-Lot-A Hot Air
Launch area at Hunterdon Hills Playhouse
Clinton, N.J.
(908) 996-4233

Above & Beyond Ballooning
Launch area at Hunterdon Hills Playhouse
Clinton, N.J.
(908) 208-1869

A Beautiful Balloon
179 Intervale Road
Parsippany, N.J.
(973) 335-9799

Have Balloon Will Travel
57 Old Belvidere Road
Phillipsburg, N.J.
(800) 608-6359

Hunterdon Ballooning
111 Locktown-Flemington Road
Flemington, N.J.
(908) 788-5415


Aerial Operations
Edison, N.J.
(908) 646-5630

Del Rosso's Blue Baron Biplanes
Monmouth Executive Airport
Farmingdale, N.J.
(732) 591-0588

Garrett Flight Center
Monmouth Executive Airport
Farmingdale, N.J.
(732) 938-9333

Millstone Valley Flight School
Somerville, N.J.
(908) 526-2822

Top image courtesy of Liberty Helicopters; Bottom photo by Ruth Taylor, edited by Ron Radowski.

©The Hudson Reporter 2006

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