After touring the Robinson Helicopter factory in Torrance, I hopped in a Robinson R22 for a flying lesson with Bruce Cochran at Pacific Coast Helicopters. Before settling down to practicing the maneuvers and emergency procedures necessary for a Commercial rating we embarked on a scenic tour of Los Angeles, starting with a flight 500′ above the beach towards Marina Del Ray. The Class B airspace for LAX extends to the surface at the coast so Bruce called the LAX tower for clearance through the “Bravo” at or below 150′. Normally the FAA encourages pilots to stay 500-1000′ above houses and people but here it is more important to keep the transitioning helicopters below the jets departing LAX and heading out over the Pacific. By the time we got to the Santa Monica pier we were clear of LAX airspace and climbed back up to 500′ and continued up as far as Malibu before heading east toward the New Getty. The conventional altitude for helicopters is 1000-1200′ above sea level here and the New Getty is probably around 800′ MSL. So we were almost looking sideways at the museum and garden. Then we headed over toward downtown and the Los Angeles Cathedral and the new Gehry-designed concert hall, careful to avoid the police helicopters that are on more or less constant patrol in these areas. Heading south from here we again were required to call LAX and ask for a transition southbound over the 110 freeway at 900′. We finished our scenic tour over the Queen Mary in Long Beach before heading back to the Torrance airport for a little practice into winds that were now gusting up to about 20 mph.
I can definitely recommend this excursion for any helicopter student or pilot. Don’t try it solo, however, because you need to talk to so many different air traffic controllers and know so many local landmarks and customs.
[Pacific Coast Helicopters will take non-pilots on the same itinerary as a sightseeing tour. It is certainly fun for getting some perspective on LA freeway traffic. Lots of monster SUVs going nowhere burning premium gas that is now up to $3.10 per gallon in Malibu.]