As a photographer who generally stays on the ground, I’ve always been fascinated by the so-called “daredevil Instagrammers” who climb atop bridges and dangle their feet out of helicopters just to get jaw-dropping shots for their thousands of followers.
So when Blade, an on-demand transportation startup that’s been dubbed the “Uber for helicopters,” offered me the opportunity to fly in a doorless helicopter over Manhattan, I jumped at the chance without a moment of hesitation.
Blade’s specialty is in shuttling well-heeled travellers on helicopters and seaplanes between New York, the Hamptons, Nantucket, the Jersey Shore, and Miami. But Blade’s newest flights — which they’re offering for $395 a person as part of a partnership with the aerial photography company FlyNyon — are more about the journey than the destination, with unforgettable sightseeing of events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as well as tours of fall foliage from above. I went on November 13, the night when the supermoon was at its brightest since 1948.
I had never flown in a helicopter before, so riding in a doorless one, at night, with my feet dangling out over the Hudson River, was like jumping into the deep end. Keep scrolling to see what it was like, and learn the tips you’ll need to know when you’re ready to become an Instagram superstar.
I arrived at Blade's pre-flight lounge on the west side of Manhattan about an hour before my 5 p.m. scheduled flight. Complete with comfy couches and a bar that offers various drinks in spill-proof sippy cups, it's a nice place to relax and mentally prep for your flight.
However, if you're flying in a doorless helicopter, you're not permitted to drink beforehand. Blade's customer experience reps will kindly take your order and have it waiting for you upon return.
After watching the safety video, the other four riders and I were suited up in our harnesses, and I began to feel something in the pit of my stomach -- I realised I was 100% nervous.
After I was strapped safely into the harness with my camera and phone, I gazed out at our FlyNyon doorless helicopter, and excitement began to mix with my nerves. As we climbed into the helicopter, Blade assistants fastened our harnesses into our seats.
Before takeoff, our captain asked us what we wanted to see during our 20-minute flight. We were all in agreement that we had to see the Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center from above.
I chose to be the one passenger who would sit on the floor, but I had to sit in a proper seat before and during takeoff. Once we were cleared, the captain announced in our headphones that I was able to move to the floor and stick my feet outside of the helicopter. Unbuckling my seatbelt and moving down to the floor (while in mid-air) was one of the scariest things I have ever done.
Zooming over the black abyss that was the Hudson River, we were at the Statue of Liberty in less than five minutes.
As we zipped down south, my feet outside of the helicopter, I very quickly realised that there were many things about being that high in the city I hadn't even thought about.
First, it's really nerve-racking. If you had asked me before this trip if I was afraid of heights, I would have firmly answered no. However, I now realise that it's a whole new ball game when there's no barrier between you and the ground 1,500 feet below.
Even though I was safely strapped in, my instincts kicked in, and my upper body leaned back, staying as far away from the edge as possible. I also kept my one free hand behind me, hanging on to the captain's chair. I didn't care if he felt my fingers digging in between his back and the plastic -- there was no way I was letting go.
Also, the wind is fierce. To help myself feel more at ease, I kept my feet tucked tightly on the helicopter rail, not dangling out like all my Instagram daredevil heroes do in almost every shot.
Because of that and the darkness, I was unable to get what Blade calls the 'shelfie,' or shoe selfie.
Even with a bright supermoon and over 10 years of photography experience under my belt, shooting conditions were tough. I generally think of New York as a light-polluted metropolis, but photographing at night while zooming through the air is no easy task. This was another moment that made me highly respect the daredevil Instagrammers.
Once I finally chilled out a bit and realised absolutely nothing bad was going to happen, my body started to relax, and I began to fully take in how truly incredible this all was.
We began to head back up north toward the Blade lounge. The 20 minutes had flown by (no pun intended).
I've had the window seat on plenty of flights in and out of New York, I've taken multiple cruises up and down the Hudson, I've taken bus tours, and I've been on the 78th floor of a downtown skyscraper, but nothing compares to this view of the city. This trip was truly unforgettable.
Still, I think you could still get great shots without sitting on the floor of the helicopter, so don't be afraid to request a seat.
Also necessary are a hair tie (for those with long hair) and gloves that work with touchscreen devices -- it gets windy and cold up there quickly.
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