We can’t think of a better way to get an overview of our beautiful coastline than on a flyover with Hang Ten Helicopters.
By Sabe Fink
Michael Fowler readily admits he has his dream job. As pilot for Hang Ten Helicopters of Orange Beach, Alabama, he spends most of his days sharing the beauty of the Gulf Coast from a unique perspective. “It’s pretty amazing what we see from the vantage point of 500 to 600 feet above the white sandy beaches and the beautiful clear waters of the Gulf,” he says of their tours. “We point out the geographic features, the islands and dunes and coves, and we show off the diverse marine life as well. We see dolphins and sharks, lots of rays, and great schools of fish.” Some of the favorite sites, he notes, include Ono Island, with its beautiful homes, and the major attractions along the beach, such as the state park, The Hangout, and Flora-Bama.
There are a variety of standard tours that cover a wide range of time aloft and costs. The helicopter can carry up to three passengers, in addition to the pilot, and the tours range from about 5 minutes up to 30 minutes or even longer. “One of our most popular tours,” says Fowler, “is of three Civil War forts: Fort Pickens, Fort McRee, and Fort Barrancas. This tour lasts about 25 minutes and also takes in the stunning old Pensacola lighthouses, Big Lagoon, Johnson Beach, and Naval Air Station Pensacola, home to the legendary Blue Angels. Sometimes we are lucky enough to see them on the ground below us.”
Another popular excursion is the Romance Tour, which Fowler says is “ideal for marriage proposals.” The half-hour ride comes with a chilled bottle of champagne and custom-printed Hang Ten T-shirts as a memento of the special day. The Sunset Tour is another unique experience. This ride goes all the way from Orange Beach to Pensacola and back, and is timed to take full advantage of the area’s amazing display of brilliant oranges and pinks above the blue-green water and white sand beaches.
There are shorter tours, with the briefest one being only about five minutes long. “This is great for first-timers or young children,” says Fowler. “It’s a great introduction to the beauty of the area, and to the thrill of flying. We have lots of people do this introductory tour and soon come back for more.” The most popular offering is the eight-minute ride along the shoreline, which gives visitors a literal bird’s-eye view of the water, the beach, the sea life, and the homes, businesses, and attractions that keep people coming back to the area. There’s also an 11-minute trip, the Lost Key Adventure tour, that focuses on the region’s islands, and others that focus on spotting the sea creatures inhabiting our beautiful waters.
Passenger safety is paramount at Hang Ten Helicopters. “I was fortunate enough to be taught to fly by one of the owners of the company, who is also a powerline/utility pilot,” says Fowler. “I had to prove myself in a ground and administrative role before I was considered for flying. This was to make sure I had the aptitude to fly, and because of the high cost of investment in the training. It also taught me a great deal about aviation as a whole, making me a more responsible aviator.”
In addition, says Fowler, “The helicopter is equipped with inflatable floats on the skids, which can be deployed easily, allowing the copter to land safely on the water. We also have easily accessible life vests for everyone on board.” The tours don’t operate in the rain, if there’s thunder or lightning in the area, or in heavy winds. “We never take chances with our guests’ safety,” says Fowler.
“I can’t imagine a better way to make a living than spending all day flying up and down the beach, sharing our area’s beauty with our residents and visitors,” says Fowler. “It’s definitely hard to beat!”
Hang Ten Helicopters