Get To The Chopper! My First Time Spotting From A Helicopter.

Everyone has a bucket list. You know, those items that you really want to achieve before departing this mortal earth. Some, you know you will probably never achieve. Others, you know will be achievable with a little bit of work. For me, I know I will likely never be able to say I was in an aircraft that was catapulted off or landed on an aircraft carrier. I also know I will never be able to spend an hour in a helicopter over LAX airport photogr….

Wait, that might just be achievable!

Let’s start out several months ago. The moment I realized that I would be able to attend the SpotLAX2023 event in September, I knew that there would be one thing that I really would love to be able to do: Spend an hour in a helicopter over LAX airport photographing the airport and aircraft.

I began to research the details on how this could be achieved. The first item was to search for the company that provided such flights. I came across Star Helicopters, based at Hawthorne Airport in Los Angeles. The first item checked off the list was an answer to the question, “Dad, what would you like for Father’s Day?” My family’s answer to that set the whole experience in motion.

Knowing the dates I’d be in the Los Angeles area, I set about researching when wouldbe the best day and time to take the flight. This involved several hours of looking at flight arrivals and departures for LAX airport. Once I knew what I wanted to photograph, I could figure out what times worked best. Once my preferred date and time were set, I contacted Star Helicopters online to reserve my flight. This just required me to fill out the reservation request form and select the date and time of my flight. Within hours, I received a confirmation from Star Helicopters that it was all set. Following this was months of “Is it time to go to LA yet?

Finally,  the trip to Los Angeles happened and the day of the helicopter trip had finally arrived! The minute I walked into Star Helicopters, the amazing experience began. The staff are all so welcoming and friendly. My pilot, Philipp was doing all the checks on the helicopter when I arrived. Once complete, he came into the office to discuss the details of the flight. Here is it important to note that there is a description on their website of the locations that are permissible. Every flight is permitted one transition between locations, so make that choice wisely. I chose to spend the first half of the time aloft in between the two sets of runways, and then transition to the south of the airfield.

After the regulatory phone call to LAX tower for approval to complete the flight, we headed out to the helicopter, a Robinson R-44, registration N91AV. Philipp went through the final safety briefing for the flight and then it was all aboard. Also to be noted is that there is no passenger door on the left hand side of the aircraft which allows for the ease of photography. If you suffer from vertigo, it’s important to be aware of this.

From the moment we took off and headed down runway 25 at Hawthorne, Philipp’s local knowledge and experience of doing these flights came to the fore. Wearing a headset for the flight, the passenger gets to hear all the interaction with LAX Tower, and it is also the method of communication with the pilot. Philipp started pointing out all the interesting sights.

Click here to playback our flight on FlightRadar24 (subscription required).


The first location we headed to was between the complexes at a height of 2,500’. Once we received our permission to transition there, we both started looking for inbound aircraft. At the same time, I was pointing out interesting things on the ground that I wanted to photograph. The wonderful thing that Philipp was able to do for me was each time I was photographing a subject, he would turn the helicopter in the air. All I needed to do was concentrate on what I was taking photographs of.

During the flight, a local TV station news helicopter transitioned through the LAX airspace not far from us. This gave a perfect opportunity for an air-to-air shot. This was a very interesting, and unexpected, opportunity. We circled over the location between the complexes for roughly 30 minutes photographing everything that was available. Before long, it was time to make our transition to the south of the airfield and lower our altitude to 1,000’. Again, Philipp searched the skies for all the arrivals, allowing me to concentrate on what I was photographing. This allowed me to allowed me to add many more images to the memory card in my camera. 

All too soon, it was time to make the short flight back to Hawthorne airport. After saying goodbye to the incredible staff, I got into the car and immediately called my family and the first words out of my mouth were “Wow, that was incredible”. This is most definitely a bucket list item that can be achieved. It was an experience that will live in my mind for many years to come.

For anyone wishing to check their one bucket list off, contact Star Helicopters via their website or call them at (310) 355-1959.



About the Author

Mark Lawrence
Mark Lawrence is a NYCAviation staff member and a south Florida-based aviation fanatic. He has been around the industry since he was a small boy. Mark can be reached at [email protected]



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  • JL Johnson

    Great story and amazing photos. I’m digging it.