As a lifelong aviation geek, riding a helicopter is something that I have always wanted to do. But I assumed that wheelchairs, disabilities and helicopters wouldn’t mix, and that it would be too difficult (or impossible) to arrange. Fortunately, I was wrong!
When Quebec City Tourism, GoHelico and Kéroul heard about my dream, they endeavored to make it a reality. With a bit of help transferring from my power wheelchair to the helicopter seat, I was able to experience a wheelchair accessible helicopter tour over the beautiful landscapes of Québec City, Canada.
Preparing for a Helicopter Tour with GoHelico
GoHelico is located at the Complexe Capitale Hélicoptère, a multi-function center that houses helicopter companies, a maintenance facility, helicopter flight school and even a restaurant. The center is located on the property of Québec City’s Jean Lesage International Airport, a commercial airport with service from major airlines including Air Canada, Air Transat, American Airlines, United Airlines and WestJet.
Upon arrival to the helicopter center, we checked-in with the GoHelico team and enjoyed lunch at Resto-Bar Le Commandant. During lunch, I had the opportunity to discuss accessible travel with Ms. Paule Bergeron of Québec City Tourism who, together with GoHelico, was my host for this experience.
Filled with a delicious meal (the streak frites were excellent!), we then toured the GoHelico hangar and maintenance facility. We saw a number of helicopter models of varying sizes, and eagerly awaited our scheduled departure.
Are helicopters wheelchair accessible?
Helicopters are small aircraft designed to transport people, not cargo. When I accepted the invitation to join this aerial tour of Québec City, I knew that my heavy power wheelchair would need to be left behind. Since my trip was just a sightseeing tour with no intermediate stops, this didn’t concern me. We took off, flew around, and returned to the heliport.
If you are planning to take a helicopter journey with intermediate stops or a destination different from your departure point, arrangements can be made to carry folding or collapsible manual wheelchairs. This is something you’ll need to discuss and clear with the provider prior to booking your trip.
Accessible boarding of the helicopter
Preparing for a helicopter trip is not nearly as stressful as flying on a commercial jetliner. There’s no security screening, no undignified pat-down, no aisle chair and no risk of damage to your wheelchair.
After touring the hangar, we made our way out onto the ramp, where several helicopters were situated on helipads. We would be flying on a Raven R44 II helicopter, with registration number C-GMVO. Manufactured by the Robinson Helicopter Company of California, USA, the R44 is the world’s most popular and best-selling general aviation aircraft of the 21st century. It seats four and has a top speed of 149 mph.
After a short pre-flight briefing from our pilot Frédéric-Louis, it was time to board the helicopter. There are no ramps or jet bridges. I rolled my wheelchair as close as possible to the helicopter door and was assisted in transferring by the pilot and a heliport employee.
It is important to communicate about the help you will need and the best way to provide that assistance. In my case, I requested a lift and told the men where to safely and comfortably lift me. This clear communication ensured a safe transfer. The height adjustment functionality on my power wheelchair (Quantum iLevel) certainly made the transfer easier, but it would have been possible even from a manual wheelchair at standard height.
Once I was situated in the helicopter seat, I was strapped in with a harness for safety, and we were ready to go for take-off! My power wheelchair was taken by a GoHelico team member into the hangar, where it was stored until my return.
Beautiful bird’s eye view of Quebec City
After the engine had been started, the pilot requested take-off clearance from the airport tower. We waited a few minutes due to some arriving aircraft before being given the OK to proceed. Once that happened, we eased into the sky and circled the airport before heading Northeast down the Saint Lawrence River.
Along the route, we took in the beautiful Québec City from an altitude of about 1,500 feet. The clear skies and sunshine illuminated the city down below, and it was a marvelous view.
Flying directly above the city gave us a fantastic perspective and the helicopter’s low speed allowed plenty of time to snap photos and admire the view.
We easily spotted the picturesque Montmorency Falls, which reach a height of 272 feet. The waterfall is effectively the mouth of the Montmorency River, which deposits into the larger St. Lawrence River.
After about 30 minutes up in the air, we turned back toward the airport and prepared to land. Our approach into the airport was stunning. We came in towards Runway 29, before circling around the airport’s passenger terminal building and landing on helipad number six.
I was left speechless.
Once the engine had shut down, the pilot asked, “How was it?”
I was so awestruck by the experience, I don’t think I responded. The ride was over, and we were safely back on the ground, but my mind was still up in the air. Part of that had to do with my almost obsessive love of flying, but it was also because I had just experienced something totally cool for the very first time.
By now, I should know that “impossible” and “too difficult” aren’t phrases that belong in my vocabulary. Just like with zip lining and roller coasters, activities can be made accessible to people with disabilities. And while I know that riding in a helicopter may not be suited for everyone, I believe that the majority of wheelchair users should be able to enjoy the experience. If you’ve been dreaming of a helicopter tour yourself, reach out to providers and ask if they will accommodate you. And, if you’re ever in Quebec, I highly recommend GoHelico for an unforgettable experience!