Traverse City Helicopter Tours

Elevating your Northern Michigan vacation is Traverse City Helicopters, Northern Michigan’s first helicopter tour company that’s been flying passengers across Leelanau County, over Traverse City and beyond since 2013.  MyNorth’s Evan Perry saddled up with TC Helicopters alongside MyNorth account exec-turned-photographer Drew Warner and videographer Kris Riley for one wild ride.

Tours from Traverse City Helicopters are available for purchase at MyNorthTickets.com:

Buy Tickets Now


I’m adopting a new life slogan: if it’s good enough for Magnum, P.I., it’s good enough for me.  I may need hormone therapy in order to sprout Tom Selleck’s breathtaking mustachios, and I’ll have to overhaul my wardrobe in favor of Aloha shirts, but if those personal style changes are as fun as riding in the helicopter that Magnum used to navigate the skies above Hawaii, then I’ll embrace them with open arms.

Lake Michigan and Glen Lake

Lake Michigan and Glen Lake

The MD 500E is a four-passenger helicopter made by McDonnell Douglas. It’s powered by a 500 horsepower Rolls-Royce engine.  It weights 1700 pounds—which is about a half-ton lighter than a Ford Fiesta.  It’s a paradox that flies, and it’s definitely good enough for Magnum, P.I.

The MD 500E that’s owned and operated by Traverse City Helicopters—and the one in which my two coworkers Drew and Kris and I were about to fly across Northern Michigan—displays a gorgeous, glimmering color palate favored by graduates of a certain university in Michigan: maize and blue.  To mitigate the roar of the helicopter’s capable engine resting behind the cabin, passengers wear Bose headphones with small microphones that facilitate communication within the cabin; the headphones also blast a curated mix of epic string ensembles and arena rock anthems.  All together, it’s enough to make your pupils dilate. And we haven’t even taken off yet.

Ride along with Traverse City Helicopters’ tour of Traverse City and Leelanau County:

The day’s pilot and confidante was Michael Terfehr.  He’s spent the last two decades flying helicopters and jets in Florida, but relocated to Northern Michigan and co-founded Traverse City Helicopters when he discovered Northern Michigan’s postcard scenery and absence of heli-tour services. After Terfehr briefed us in T.C. Helicopters’ hangar lobby at Cherry Capital Airport, we all boarded a golf cart and drove to the helicopter, which was parked nearby on the tarmac.  We admired its wasp-like anatomy against the blue skies above and snapped a few photos. Terfehr shepherded us into the cabin, and with a few words of advice (“Sit back and enjoy the ride.”) we buckled up, affixed our headsets, and waited for the stirring engine and five spinning blades to force us airborne.

I’d never been in a helicopter, so I was a bit anxious about the whole “flying” part of it.  Yet the ride was stable from take-off: we lightly lifted off the ground, like a marionette puppet being pulled from above.  A few pleasurable seconds passed during which I reflected on the very idea that I was now flying. In a helicopter. Unbelievable.

Click the arrows in the gallery’s upper-right corner to expand images; hit “Escape” key to exit full-screen:

We ascended and ascended above Traverse City from the airport, and I couldn’t press my awestruck face close enough to the window that separated me from the warm air outside.  Traverse City transformed from the place in which I work and play—and see from ground level—into a miniature city of Lego proportions.  The bays were a prismatic blue-green (“Wait till we get to Glen Lake,” said Terfehr).  As we hovered 3000 feet above Traverse City, it was still difficult for me to register that I’d been down there only minutes before.

From Traverse City we flew to Leelanau Peninsula, cruising above the cherry orchards and vineyards and farmland at 150 miles per hour.  Terfehr let the helicopter’s altitude drop over Victoria Creek and the wetlands near Cedar, and it became more apparent just how fast we were moving.  Within minutes, we crested a small ridge that had obscured our view of Glen Lake and the Sleeping Bear Dunes beyond.  The view was staggering: the water, and endless forests of the Sleeping Bear Dunes parkland, and the Dune Climb and Manitou Islands.  Terfehr let us drink it all in while we hovered a half-mile above Glen Lake.  I saw somebody jump off a dock into the water.

Boats on Big Glen, with the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Islands at the horizon

Boats on Big Glen Lake, with the Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Islands at the horizon

With our permission, Tehfehr banked the helicopter to its side for a spiraling descent, and we then bee-lined it to the lake shore to the north of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  During the Jurassic Park moment of the day, we hugged the sandy shoreline as seagulls soared below us and a few beachcombers waved.  We turned back to Traverse City, climbing higher.  Above Lake Leelanau, Tehfehr coordinated our landing with an air traffic controller in pilot jargon.  “Be there in five,” Tehfehr over-and-outed.  I couldn’t help but be jealous—that’s a 30-minute drive on a good day!

Our 40-minute tour ended with little fanfare, which is a good thing, because one can only take so much excitement.  Between the very thrill of flying and the panoramic totality of Northern Michigan’s landscapes, I got goosebumps twice over.  But goosebumps never felt so good.

Tours from Traverse City Helicopters are available for purchase at MyNorthTickets.com:

Buy Tickets Now


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