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Helicopter paintball. It sounds scarily awesome, but it’s legal and safe and it provides Independent Helicopters in upstate New York a unique marketing opportunity while raising money for a national charity.

Independent Helicopters, at Stewart International Airport and Saratoga County Airport, was profiled in the April 21, 2015, edition of Flight School Business.

Independent CEO Heather Howley’s company has provided the “helicopter” portion of “heli paintball” for a charity event since 2012. Participants buy tickets for the opportunity to ride in Independent’s Robinson R44. As it hovers over a paintball field, two passengers in the back can rain down paintballs on moving targets. (One passenger up front can observe.)

It’s all conducted according to the federal aviation regulations, with a safety briefing for everyone so that participants know what they can and cannot do, Howley said. “They go through a safety briefing [to know] where they’re allowed to shoot and what they’re not allowed to shoot,” Howley said. The people on the ground “are not allowed to shoot back at us.”

“They shoot for five to seven minutes,” Howley said. “I have more fun than anybody else because I love flying them.” The annual event benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “We donated over $1,000 with one event,” she said. This year, some of the proceeds from a second heli-paintball rally to be held in May will go to the Marius Ivascu Aviation Foundation, which funds a scholarship for a person between the ages of 17 to 33 enrolled in a flight or maintenance training program.

On more traditional channels, Independent participates in a variety of social media: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Howley makes sure to share lots of photos. “People seem to enjoy the aerial photos we share,” she said.

Howley said she has tried “lots of different things” to advertise and market the flight schools. “I’ve done some radio advertising around the holidays,” she said. “I don’t spend a lot on advertising anymore—I did initially, but it didn’t do much for us.” The company’s website is undergoing a redesign this year, she said.

In the end, social media and word of mouth—assisted by Independent Helicopters’ providing the “heli” for heli paintball—are what continues to work for the company.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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