I was thrilled and privileged this morning to be invited by The London Helicopter to take a flight over our beautiful city on the day that MD Chris Mann and his welcoming team launched the UK’s first online helicopter sightseeing service from Battersea and Redhill.
With attractions like the London Eye and now The Shard vying to lure tourists with ever more spectacular viewing platforms, the suggestion seems to be that the higher up you go, the more breathtaking the experience becomes.
Go too high up over central London - as you do when you come in to land following one of Heathrow's flight paths - and you may as well be flying over any other major city in the world, except for the distinctive shape of the Thames snaking far below you like the montage used for ‘Eastenders’.
But at the lower altitude of 1,000 feet, this new service achieves the Goldilocks Factor. It’s ‘just right’ - not so high that you lose definition of the major landmarks and not so low that you’re obscured from putting the City layout into perspective. It’s far more intimate and gives you a much wider scope, taking in as it does Greenwich/Docklands to the East and Putney/Wetlands to the West.
That’s not to belittle the fixed panoramic locations - as this service is meant to complement what’s already on offer by providing tourists with another option to bring London into line with the likes of New York, Las Vegas and Capetown - although I have to confess to feeling a little smug as I flew over those people below with inferior vantage points to mine.
And it’s not just for tourists …
Do you think you know London? I thought I did. I’m just about an authority on the sights when it comes to showing overseas visitors around and would go so far as to say that I have a better grasp of the roads and suburbs than I did of my native Brisbane. Yet I was amazed by just how close places are in Greater London from the air - at one point I had three Premiership football grounds in view, with the Wembley Arena and the Olympic stadium in the distance. A glance up the river from the Houses of Parliament and I could already see Canary Wharf looming large.
And if you’ve never been up in a helicopter, as I hadn’t until today, take comfort that it feels quite natural to take off and land in something that is essentially a familiar car cabin environment that flies. Despite having bungee’d in the past, I once had a bit of vertigo looking down from the London Eye but felt none of this in the chopper - it somehow seems to cradle you by being suspended under the power source rather than being thrust forward in a giant metal cylinder like in a plane.
Loved it - a ‘must do’ for Londoners and tourists alike.