A Bird’s-Eye View

Written by: Connor Davis | Photography by: Marc St. Pierre

Since its opening in 2013, High Tide Helicopters, located near Oak Island, is Wilmington’s premier helicopter flight school and touring company. Specializing in scenic sunset tours, and even personal chartered flights, this small business is widening the perspective on our beautiful coast.

Owned by Jessica Ward, High Tide Helicopters has become the resource she did not have while trying to obtain her own license. Starting with her first ride in a helicopter at the age of six, Jessica’s passion for flight took hold and that bird’s-eye view became ingrained in her memory. Her aspirations grew along with her, until injuries sustained from a car accident halted her original dreams of joining the military. Instead, she attended UNCW and received a degree in Film Studies in 2006, and by working on a variety of shows and films she was able to support her own private flight training.

After earning her pilot’s license in 2010 she joined the Whirly-Girls, an international association of women helicopter pilots, and was awarded a scholarship for the Robinson Pilot’s Safety Course which she completed in the fall of 2012, shortly before receiving her commercial license in the winter. To complete her training, Jessica became a certified flying instructor in May of 2013, leading her to open High Tide Helicopters.

While flying back and forth across the country, Jessica would come back to the same question: 

“Why doesn’t someone start a flight school here?” Never guessing that someone would be her.

High Tide Helicopters now offers year-round training for both private and commercial licensures, even allowing clients to take a “Discovery Flight” so they might get a taste of what a helicopter has to offer. If you’d rather just enjoy the view, there are multiple scenic tours available as well.

The tours themselves range from ten to eighty-five miles. Offering six options, you can take the “Beach Tour” and zip around the Oak Island coastline, or the “Bald Head Island Tour” can take you to the tip of Cape Fear and show you the frying pan shoals. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, there’s the “Beach Lover” excursion that encompasses all of the tours into one stunning flight. All tours offer opportunities to see wildlife such as sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins, and if you choose to go the extra mile, any tour can be scheduled at sunset for that extra hint of romance.

Additionally, High Tide Helicopters offers aerial photography opportunities. For those who never want to forget the journey they can select from dozens of photos taken by the company, or they can hire the helicopter and take the pictures themselves!  A helicopter is the perfect vehicle for aerial pictures, as it can go slower and lower than planes, as well as hover in place to snap the perfect shot.

As of March of this year, High Tide Helicopters has officially expanded their services to include private helicopter charters to “any destination in the Eastern United States.” After an intensive two-year certification process by the FAA, along with continuing inspections and maintenance, this service “is a game changer for busy executives, VIPs, and families on the move.” As a private client, you may charter a helicopter for up to three passengers to travel to a variety of locations, with one of the most frequent flights taking patrons to and from the Frying Pan Tower, a US Coast Guard station turned hotel off the coast of Cape Fear.

Chartered flights are available on-demand, seven days a week and operate at daily or hourly rates, including shuttle flights to local airports such as: Wilmington (ILM), Myrtle Beach (MYR), and Raleigh-Durham (RDU). All flying is done in style, as the Robinson R44 Raven II Helicopter offers panoramic views, noise-cancelling headsets with microphones, and cruising speeds of 120 mph, all made more luxurious by the air-conditioned cabin.

This level of style and professionalism is attributed to Jessica, who built this company to answer a need she is able to fill. Her early ambitions to fly helicopters may not have begun as she hoped, but she has done more than make up for lost time by bringing this service to the Wilmington area. The tours speak for themselves, an aerial view of the best Wilmington has to offer cannot be beat, and the charter services will allow anyone to travel in style. However, the flight school, the reason it all started, remains the most inspiring. Thanks to High Tide Helicopters, people are finally getting to see their dreams rise off the ground.  

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