Paul Wellman

Hell Yeah for Heli Tours

Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours Now Offering Flights

Friday, August 23, 2013
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“Let’s go play in the clouds,” pilot Dan Casey said with a grin as he lifted our helicopter above the Santa Cruz Island mountains, zipping past Painted Cave and breaking through the misty marine layer to see the Forney Cove, outlined below with the amber tinsel of late-afternoon sun. After hovering over the historic Christy Ranch and peering all the way down the coastline at Pt. Conception, we tracked and chased pods of feeding dolphins, watching from a respectful height as they wove through the Santa Barbara Channel like bunched flocks of aquatic birds.

The 50-minute trip to the islands and back is one of four specific journeys offered by the newly operational Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours, including flights above wine country and Neverland Ranch, along the South Coast from Rincon Point to Naples, and farther inland to Lake Cachuma and the Santa Ynez Valley. Custom routes can also be worked out.

Co-owned and operated by Casey — who ran Channel Island Helicopters based at the Oxnard Airport before he sold it two years ago — the tour company is the only such biz headquartered at the Santa Barbara Airport and, as Casey puts it, offers passengers the chance to see the South Coast from a perspective no one else can offer. “I like the role of being an aerial ambassador,” he said, noting that some of the landmarks his helicopter passes over — like the Reagan Ranch and Clark Estate — are only viewable from above.

Casey, with 10 years of flying experience under his belt, takes serious pride in the company’s professionalism and neighborly relations. After a couple of minor Montecito-based noise complaints when tours started last month, he reworked their flight paths, and it’s been smooth sailing since. He and another pilot even trade spotting tips with whale-watching companies so their paying customers don’t miss humpback and blue whales cruising through the channel.

And though Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours’ Eurocopter AS350 A-Star, a 900-horsepower machine with seats for six guests, is one of the more nimble and powerful aircraft out there — the same model recently landed on top of Mt. Everest — Casey and crew like to “fly friendly,” he explained. “We don’t yank and bank.” Before he bought it, the company’s chopper worked as a film ship in Europe, covering the Tour de France and other major events.

As we made our way back to the mainland at a quick 130 mph — which felt more like a mild 20 mph — Casey spoke through his headset about everything from island settlement history to ecology of the National Park to Santa Barbara folklore, ancient and recent. He also talked about the satisfaction he gets from taking his guests sky high and showing them this slice of the world from 500-1,000 feet up. “It fulfills kids’ dreams,” he said, “and lets adults cross an item off their bucket list.”


Santa Barbara Helicopter Tours offers flights seven days a week, and reservations should be made at least five days in advance. To book a flight, call (805) 845-4500 or email For more information, visit


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Does`nt Google Earth have a feature where one can "fly" over the land at any height desired, & peer into the Clark estate for example,see the islands or any property in the world?

PeterPeli (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 9:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We've just moved another imperceptible baby-step in our morph to become Waikiki & Cabo. Unfortunate.

mkoto (anonymous profile)
August 23, 2013 at 10:55 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Google Earth has yet to generate a noise complaint.

Nitz (anonymous profile)
August 24, 2013 at 9:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

All tourists, all the time, at all costs.

The questions to ask ourselves as individuals are simply these: has all this ramped up tourism made my life better? Has my bank account and general quality of life improved? Is it easier to get around town? Find a parking space?

For me, the answers to every one of these questions is a resounding "no!"

If I had wanted to live in a theme park, I'd have moved to one, and lived a life of long lines, choking traffic, crowds, noise, and soaring costs of everything.

Anyone else?

Holly (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 11:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Holly: Do us ALL a favor---move to a theme park.
May I suggest Whineseyland.

Draxor (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 11:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So in Hollyland nothing is worthwhile unless it benefits her personally.

discoboy (anonymous profile)
August 26, 2013 at 12:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Everybody in this town benefits from tourism.

They pay hefty taxes and they help support countless local businesses that wouldn't even be here if we didn't have tourists. If your customers aren't tourists, they may own a business that benefits from tourism.

Another alternative is that we could get rid of the tourists and start, you know, manufacturing more stuff. Of course that wouldn't cause any noise complaints or cause any problems... C'mon, we're already outsourcing a lot of the kind of stuff we don't want in SB with the kind of stuff that draws people here for tourism. That makes life better for both us and the tourists.

Last year I had a choice between taking my gf to the channel islands painted cave on a kayaking trip for $400, or taking her on a heli ride out to the channel islands for $300. I wasn't sure if she was ready for the all day kayaking trip quite yet, and being cheaper, I went with the heli ride. It was great and she loved it. I'd never been on one before, and heli was a little smaller than the one described above and we did a little more 'yank n bank' which I enjoyed personally.

So why is this only a benefit for tourists? One way to save money living in SB is by vacationing in your backyard. You don't have to pay for a hotel room or a plane ticket.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
August 27, 2013 at 8:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank You Santa Barbara California! We enjoy supporting the community with our helicopter tour activities. Thanks to you, we are quickly gaining a reputation as the best thing to do in SB, CA

SBHelicopters (anonymous profile)
November 21, 2013 at 11:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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