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Four fabulous flightseeing toursFour fabulous flightseeing tours

Passenger-pleasers over New York and CaliforniaPassenger-pleasers over New York and California

From glittering cities to powerful waterfalls, from sea to shining sea, here are four air tours every pilot should try.

  • Viewed from an aircraft flying over the Hudson River, Manhattan’s Financial District makes an unforgettable sight. Photo by Daniele Pieroni via Flickr.
  • Aerial view of Niagara Falls, courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The aptly named Rainbow Bridge, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Photo by Saffron Blaze via Wikipedia.
  • American and Bridal Veil falls, courtesy Wikipedia.
  • Horseshoe Falls, with Buffalo in the background, courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The Hudson River and Manhattan and New Jersey waterfronts, as seen from the air. Photo by bvi40902 via Flickr.
  • Circling that icon of freedom, the Statue of Liberty. Photo by Luis Jou Garcia via Flickr.
  • The Freedom Tower of One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and a highlight of Hudson River aerial tours. Keep an eye out for helicopters and other traffic. Photo by Luis Jou Garcia via Flickr.
  • Approaching LAX, southeast-bound at 3,500 feet msl in the LA Special Flight Rules corridor. Photo by wilco737 via Flickr.
  • Catalina’s “Airport in the Sky.” Use a right pattern for Runway 22 and be prepared for possible downdrafts on short final. After touchdown you’ll lose sight of the end of the runway, due to a hump. Don’t panic; you have 3,000 feet! Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge, viewed during a rare closure to install a new median. Photo by Eddie Codel via Flickr.
  • Cross the Golden Gate Bridge by flying north of it. Photo by Louis Raphael via Flickr.
  • Downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. Photo by Imaginem via Flickr.
  • A flyby of AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Photo by Ethan H. via Flickr.
  • San Francisco International Airport. Photo by rulenumberone2 via Flickr.

Niagara Falls Loop: To flightsee over the mighty Niagara Falls, study the FAA’s special air traffic rules, FAR Part 93.71, created to organize the area’s heavy flightseeing traffic. Monitor 122.05 MHz and then broadcast your position and intentions prior to entering the pattern. Remain above 3,500 feet msl west of a line from the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge to the Niagara River Inlet, to a line between the International Control Dam and the U.S./Canadian Border. Fly a clockwise pattern, remain south of Rainbow Bridge, use the Niagara Falls International Airport altimeter setting, don’t exceed 130 knots, and anticipate heavy congestion.

Hudson River Corridor: There’s no city quite like New York City, and you have the opportunity to fly beside its skyscrapers and circle the Statue of Liberty. The FAA has created the New York Special Flight Rules Area (NYSFRA) beneath the Class B airspace and over the Hudson and East Rivers. There is also a published transition route over the Hudson River called the Skyline Route. To fly the NYSFRA, you must complete the FAA’s New York Special Flight Rules Course; print a copy of your receipt and have it in your airplane, along with a copy of the New York Terminal Area Chart (TAC). Also print out the FAA’s kneeboard reference for use in your airplane. Check notams for a TFR in case the president is in town or there’s a Yankees game. (Watch a video of flying the corridor.)

Flying over the Catalina Island Golf Course toward Avalon, Catalina Island. Photo by Crista Worthy.

LAX Special Flight Rules Area: Get a bird’s-eye view of one of the world’s busiest airports by flying the LAX SFRA (study the LA TAC and have it with you). Contact Santa Monica Tower (or Torrance if you’re coming up from the south) and tell them you’ll be transitioning through the LA SFRA. They’ll usually tell you when to change frequencies and then switch to 128.55 MHz and squawk 1201. Fly on the 132-degree radial of the SMO VOR (110.8 MHz) southeast-bound at 3,500 feet msl (northwesterly traffic must be at 4,500 feet). Make position reports as you enter the LA SFRA, midfield over LAX, and as you exit the LA SFRA. LAX Tower will not answer your position reports; however, this frequency is used for the exchange of information between pilots using the LA SFRA. Bonus: Make the 26-mile overwater flight to Catalina for a bison burger at the “Airport in the Sky,” departing the coastline over the Palos Verdes Peninsula. (Watch a video of flying to Catalina.) Or, fly over the peninsula’s coastline, port of San Pedro, Queen Mary, and then follow the L.A. River north below 2,000 feet msl to view downtown, Dodger Stadium, the Griffith Park Observatory, and the Hollywood sign.

Catalina’s famous casino and the Avalon Harbor. Photo by Crista Worthy.

San Francisco Bay Tour: In about an hour, you can fly by landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Treasure Island, downtown San Francisco, San Francisco International airport, several working lighthouses, and more. Study the SF TAC and have it with you. Some routes are shown on the back of the TAC, but a Bay Tour Map is also helpful. Stay out of the Class B unless cleared in. From the south, if east of the Santa Cruz Mountains, contact San Francisco Tower and ask for a squawk code for a Bay Tour. You’ll follow the Bayshore Freeway north past San Francisco International to downtown. If San Francisco Tower doesn’t want to give you a transition through the Class B, start your tour offshore, heading north toward Half Moon Bay. Call NorCal Approach to request a squawk code for your Bay Tour. Head north at your assigned altitude and enjoy the rugged coastline until you see the Golden Gate Bridge. Fly west of the bridge, turn east north of the bridge, and then check out Alcatraz. Listen up and comply with ATC, keep your eyes peeled, and eventually go back the way you came or continue over Oakland and back down toward San Jose. A Bay Tour, whether it begins inland or offshore, is not an official FAA route but something generally understood by San Francisco International and NorCal controllers, who do their best to accommodate aerial sight-seers. Have fun!

Niagara Falls. Left to right: American Falls, the smaller Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls, which straddles the U.S./Canada border. Photo by Robert F. Tobler via Wikipedia.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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