The adventures of private helicopter ownership

Two pilots share how owning a helicopter has allowed them to explore and enjoy unique experiences, from nature expeditions to time-saving trips.

By: Jen BoyerPosted on: March 5, 2024

With your own helicopter, the sky is no longer the limit. The world opens in a way it never has before, offering a unique way to explore and experience it. Whether you’ve always dreamed of being a pilot or of using your pilot skills for your own adventure, or you want to learn to fly so you can set off on your own expeditions, there is so much you can do with a helicopter.

Ralph Van Woerden grew up in the Netherlands and, as a kid, watching helicopters spray fields sparked a desire to be a helicopter pilot one day. He immigrated to British Columbia, Canada, and while the path to become a professional pilot was not in the cards for him, he learned to fly for fun many years later.

Ralph Van Woerden Photo

“I got my license so I could at least say I did it, but after I had it, I wondered what I’d do next to keep flying,” Van Woerden shared. “With the help of my instructor, I found a business partner. We got together and bought one of the school’s helicopters.”

That helicopter was a two-seat piston Schweizer 300CBi, and it opened a whole new world for him. Now no longer constrained by the flight school’s time and limitations, Van Woerden began exploring the mountains just north of his home in Chilliwack, British Columbia, and the province’s coast and islands. He’s since traded that aircraft for a newer Schweizer 300CBi, which he owns with his son, and shares his adventures on Instagram.

“We have so much nature here, we can land pretty much anywhere other than official parks and reserves, within the limits of the helicopter,” he explained. “While it’s not a turbine, the 300CBi can still get me to a lot of places I want to go and doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as a turbine would.”

Van Woerden purchased an external aftermarket basket for the aircraft that allows him to carry extra cargo. He regularly takes the aircraft camping and fishing in the mountains. He also uses his helicopter to visit friends with property where he can land.

Ralph Van Woerden Photo

“I can visit friends quicker than I could in a car, and we’ve even taken longer flights to Alberta,” he shared. “Now, those flights take longer than an airline would, but you get to see so much more. You’re not as high as an airplane. We fly through the valleys and it’s much more beautiful and relaxing. And if we need a break and find somewhere nice, we just land there. Having a helicopter on these long trips makes you slow down and really enjoy the experience.”

Matt Lombard started flight training in his early 20s with aspirations of being a professional helicopter pilot. However, the sky-high cost of renting a helicopter to build his flight time led him to consider helicopter ownership once he had his commercial license.

Lombard purchased a used Robinson R22 Beta II in April 2023 and has since flown 120+ hours exploring the area around his home outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Since he lives in a fairly rural area, he’s been able to use his helicopter to save time and simply have unique experiences.

“I live in the middle of nowhere and while there aren’t mountains, there are some great places to visit that would take an hour or more to hike to,” Lombard explained. “There are a couple of great spots that have a little elevation, and I can fly up there to watch a sunset for example in a few minutes rather than hours of hiking. I’ve also found some great secluded spots where humans haven’t been in a very long time. It’s very peaceful to fly out there and experience these places.”

Lombard also uses his R22 to save time. Midwest grocery chain Menards is a two-hour drive from his home. The store has a large lot where he can safely land, and he’s flown there several times to stock up — storing his bounty under the seats for the flight home. He’s used his helicopter to pick up and take a pizza to the Mississippi River for a picnic, to catch a drive-in movie, and to have lunch at various restaurants.

Like Van Woerden, Lombard has visited friends who have lakeside property, again saving driving time, and he’s even done a little charity work — delivering Santa for a gift giving event. He’s shared his adventures with his more than 470,000 followers on both Instagram and YouTube combined.

Matt Lombard Photo

Recently, after a police officer retired from his 27-year position as a resource officer at a local high school, Lombard landed in the school’s field to provide the officer his awe-inspiring final departure in front of the student body — a helicopter ride back to the police station. Lombard shared that he can’t, however, offer tours due to his insurance and federal regulations, which has been a letdown as he was hoping to offset his costs with paid tours.

“Owning the helicopter has been a lot of fun,” said Lombard, who has also been training to become an A&P mechanic. “I bought the helicopter to build my time and will hopefully sell it for about what I paid for it; although, now I’m not sure I want to sell it. There are so many things about owning a helicopter that people don’t tell you. Having a helicopter has really changed my mind about what I want to do for a career. My dream was to be a tour pilot, but that’s changing after this experience. We’ll see what the future holds.”