Imagine being in a comfortable leather seat. You’re all buckled in and ready to go. Then an engine starts up slowly and augments into a steady pulsating rhythm. A propeller starts to turn violently above you and suddenly, you’re rising above the ground as Ottawa, Canada’s beautiful capital, stretches out before you. You are shielded from the wind and from up here, you can see all of Ottawa’s greatest assets, from the majestic and twisting Ottawa River to the iconic front lawn of Parliament Hill. If you book a helicopter tour with Héli-Tremblant, this is exactly the type of experience you can expect.
Operating out of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum – located just east of Ottawa’s downtown core – Héli-Tremblant offers tours in a bubble Robinson R44 helicopter. This small helicopter can accommodate up to three passengers along with a pilot and with its large, crystal-clear bubble front, you can be sure that everyone will get a great view. A camera on one of these tours is a must!
As we took off vertically from the museum’s tarmac, I was surprised at how much ground the Robinson covered in a short amount of time. Before I knew it, we were soaring above the Casino du Lac-Leamy – its buildings and staple water fountain shining in the sunlight – and then we were flying over downtown Ottawa. What I find particularly fascinating about this helicopter tour is that you are at a height of only 1,500 feet. From that vantage point, it’s easy to recognise and to see Ottawa’s beautiful landmarks clearly. You definitely get fantastic bird’s eye views of the Parliament Buildings and of Ottawa’s downtown core.
And if you’ve never been to the city, there’s no need to worry. Each passenger receives a head set on the flight, which allows them to communicate amongst themselves and with the pilot. As we flew smoothly along, Héli-Tremblant pilot David Brioude acted as our tour guide, pointing out important Ottawa sites to us such as the Canadian War Museum, the Rideau Canal and the Prime Minister of Canada’s residence, to name a few.
Brioude said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism that a helicopter tour is a “great way” to see the city. “Even if you’re a native, from Ottawa, it’s a different way to discover your own city,” he said. “So it can give you another perspective.”
From the Aviation and Space Museum, Héli-Tremblant offers tours ranging from six minutes in length to a more extensive 30 minutes. According to Brioude, most first-time helicopter passengers opt for a 10-minute tour but oftentimes, once they start enjoying the flight, 10 minutes ends up being too short. “For 95 per cent of our passengers, this is their first time in a helicopter. So they don’t know what to expect,” Brioude said. “They’re a bit afraid at first and after the take-off, they’re completely comfortable with us in the helicopter.”
Rather than the 10-minute tour, Brioude recommends Héli-Tremblant’s longer flight experiences that take guests over Ottawa’s scenic downtown core as well as the luscious Gatineau Park. “On these flights, you really have time to enjoy the ride,” he said, adding the company’s 20-minute flight is particularly popular during the fall season when Gatineau Park explodes into a rhapsody of fall colours. “You can enjoy the colours even more,” Brioude said.
Located just 15 minutes north of Parliament Hill, Gatineau Park covers 36,131 hectares (361 square kilometres) of land and is home to many plant species as well as wildlife. The park also houses the Gatineau Hills, which are a breathtaking sight when the trees’ leaves start to change colour as Ottawa’s colder weather approaches.
Personally, having experienced a Robinson R44 flight, I have to say that it is an effective way of seeing the city. Though I have lived in Ottawa my whole life, this tour made me acknowledge the city’s natural beauty and reminded me of Ottawa charms I had forgotten about such as the steaming Chaudière Falls and the gentle, cascading Rideau Falls.
Héli-Tremblant offers various sightseeing tours, but they also offer an experience for the more serious aviation enthusiast. If you want to know what being a helicopter pilot is like, Brioude suggests signing up for the one- hour Introductory Flight experience. This flight requires 30 minutes of on the ground instruction, learning how a helicopter flies, before taking it into the air for half an hour. “We discover all the aerodynamics of the helicopter; the different controls, some of the theory, to understand how helicopters fly and why they fly,” Brioude said. “After that, it’s a 30-minute ride in the air where the co-pilot will actually be able to take the controls and try to fly the helicopter.”
Brioude noted that a Robinson flight is a unique Ottawa experience that people need to try “at least once in their life.” He added that over his years of experience as a commercial helicopter pilot, he hasn’t had a passenger be unhappy that they went for a flight. “They were all pretty excited and happy with the flight,” Brioude said. “This is really a unique experience that everyone needs to try.”
Héli-Tremblant’s different helicopter experiences range from $200 CDN to about $479 CDN, for the more intense Introductory Flight experience. To book a flight, you can contact Héli-Tremblant or visit the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s website.
For Brioude, flying helicopters is a passion. He noted that in his opinion, a helicopter flight is the best way to get from point A to point B. “You can land almost anywhere,” he said. “It’s an enjoyable flight. It’s smooth and the fact that you can control such a machine is great!”