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EAA’s Helicopter Tour Program
By Kristy Busse, EAA 1016800, Air Tours Manager
October 2015 - EAA’s Air Tours programs include the B-17, the Ford Tri-Motors, and our Bell 47 helicopter tours. The Bell 47 program does not tour nationally like the bomber or the Tin Goose, but it is still an impactful and exciting tour operation with dedicated year-round volunteers who help keep the program running at the highest of safety standards. We would like to spotlight this fantastic group and share just a peek into what is involved in keeping the helicopter program going.
EAA owns one Bell 47 and leases several additional ships during the week of AirVenture. In this one week each year this fleet will fly over 3,000 riders over the grounds, allowing them to see the convention in an entirely new and impressive way. Riders can choose from two touring options: the Bell offers a five-minute flight at $49 per rider (we can carry two individuals at a time in the Bell 47), or an extended 25-minute option for $525 that allows you to see a larger portion of the grounds including the seaplane base. The $525 option covers both seats in the aircraft. The Bell 47 tour program operates out of Pioneer Airport during the convention week.
The helicopter crew consists of over 15 volunteer pilots and an additional 50-plus ground tour personnel who make this program possible during the convention in Oshkosh. Our volunteers are from all over the country and invest their time and money to travel to Oshkosh for training and the convention to participate in this program that they love. In addition to the annual training pilots are required to attend, they also work hard to oversee and fill several of the crucial operational needs including: helicopter rotation schedule, pilot schedule, fueling needs, maintenance needs, and flight safety on a day-to-day basis in conjunction with air show and air boss needs. Each of these tasks requires great attention to detail, and this pilot group does an amazing job of sharing and managing those duties. The ground tour roles have many responsibilities including, but not limited to: register sales, flight check-in and paperwork sign-up, passenger briefing, loading and spotting the ships, as well as manning the entrance gate to access the helicopters. Both groups work hard early in the morning to set up and prepare for the day as well as tear down and wrap up for the day. There is daily administrative and financial work to be done, as well as helicopter maintenance and cleanup.
This unique group of volunteers dedicates well over 2,600 hours each year during the convention, with many of these individuals clocking in at an excess of 80 hours in that time frame. We have very dedicated leaders in each area of volunteers involved, and their year-round involvement is what allows this operation to be properly prepped and set in place come July. During the convention, conditions can be tiring. The constant volume level and wind conditions add additional challenges to the role, requiring the volunteers to look out for each other at all times, constantly making sure everyone is getting enough rest, water, and food throughout the week.
In addition to AirVenture, EAA’s Bell Helicopter can be seen participating in several other events throughout the year. The helicopter provides rides to all the children and teens that attend our Air Academy camps throughout the summer, delivers Santa to the museum during EAA’s “Christmas in the Air” event, and can be rented for weddings or other special events for a unique and exciting entrance.
Working with these highly self-motivated and talented volunteers is a true joy, and although they do not have the same level of year-round visibility as our mobile air tours programs, they put in a ton of time and are very committed to keeping this program at the absolute top of its game. EAA cannot express how appreciative we are of this amazing group!