Monday, March 19 , 2018, 2:02 pm | Fair 63º



Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours Wows with Aerial Excursion

New tour agency takes flight, offering passengers a bird's-eye view of the city's picturesque backdrop

Beneath the whirl of helicopter blades, a group heading out Tuesday on an aerial tour of Santa Barbara’s coastline strapped into their seats with cameras ready.

Stearns Wharf and the downtown Santa Barbara area are visible during a demonstration flight Tuesday by Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

“Here we go, ladies,” said Dan Casey, chief pilot of Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours.

On Tuesday’s flight demonstration tour were employees of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission — in other words, people tasked with deciding whether to recommend the new business venture to the multitude of visitors who ask, “What should we do?”

The aircraft, a Eurocopter AS350 A-Star, lifted off from near the SB Helicopters Inc. base at the Atlantic Aviation Building at the Santa Barbara Airport with Goleta Beach Park in its sights.

“We’re just thrilled to be up and running,” Casey said to his trusting passengers.

This is the first week Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours has offered flights, nearly a year after Casey and fellow pilot and company president Brad Hasse met and came up with the idea for the yet-to-be-tapped aerial-tour niche.

The helicopter, which has room for six passengers, smoothly sailed at 75 to 100 mph over UCSB, and past the beach and coastline to the Pacific Ocean, where Casey spotted and pointed out several hundred dolphins swimming about midway out to the Channel Islands.

Fliers wore headphones and used small microphones to relay their amazed expressions.

Picture-taking ensued as the copter’s bird-eye view showed State Street, Stearns Wharf, the harbor and the Riviera.

“A good way to see town, huh?” the smiling pilot said.

Invoking the tour customization option, a passenger requested taking an aerial peek of Oprah Winfrey’s Montecito estate.

The Clark Mansion, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Montecito and Old Mission Santa Barbara were other points of interest.

The tour lasted about 20 minutes, but fliers commented that there’s no better way to see so much in so little time.

Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours uses a Eurocopter AS350 A-Star aircraft. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

“That was great!” one said.

Hasse said the tours were a way to get the business’ name out there, since the aerial excursions — costing $200 to $550 per person — are also already available seven days a week for the public to book online.

The Santa Barbara coastline tour is the shortest of four featured tours at 30 minutes. Other tours include Santa Barbara County wine country and Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch (45 minutes), the Channel Islands National Park (45 minutes), and a best-of-the-best option, which is a 70-minute excursion combining the highlights of all three.

Customers can also call in a customized tour, Hasse said.

“It’s the perfect place to do it,” he said, noting that both he and Casey have decades of flying experience combined.

Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours is also planning to add a charter services option to the Los Angeles area and beyond in six to eight months, pending Federation Aviation Administration approval.

Hasse said the tour is for locals as much as for visitors, who might like a chance to see the hotel-sized mansions behind the high gates and trees.

“You fly over them, you see everything,” he said. “We’re trying to get the word out that this is a great opportunity to see Santa Barbara in a new way.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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