Flights of fancy: Sightseeing? Proposals? Area planes, helicopters can abide

Area airplane, helicopter tour businesses can provide tourists, residents stunning views and assist customers with special occasions.
Area airplane, helicopter tour businesses can provide tourists, residents stunning views and assist customers with special occasions. Sacramento Bee file

Aerial sightseeing immediately came to Stephanie Snyder’s mind when her friend from New Zealand scheduled to visit her in late April.

Snyder, who once dreamed of being a pilot, has fostered a strong friendship with John Herndon, general manager of Mach 5 Aviation at the Auburn Municipal Airport. For a special treat for foreign friend Jenny Hearne, whose last visit to California was 25 years ago, Snyder called Herndon.

“This is like a little gift to her,” Snyder said. “We don’t often get a friend from this distance, so we want to give her something unusual.”

Herndon immediately scheduled a flight earlier this month and assigned a pilot to put the two friends in a blue and white Cessna 172 Skyhawk. The pilot provided an unforgettable memory for the two international friends by bringing them 1,500 feet in the air for an hour.

Hearne could not put her delight into words when she viewed a grand landscape of ant-small cars, hundreds of thousands of trees and the emerald-colored Folsom Lake.

“I didn’t have any idea what I was coming to,” Hearne said. “Coming from a small country and seeing this landscape, it really takes your breath away.”

Sacramento was not even on her map, and many of Hearne’s friends back in New Zealand questioned why she was visiting such an “unknown countryside,” Hearne said. She was just learning how the Sacramento region is home to millions of trees and central to Gold Rush history.

Hearne said the flight was “super great” and believes that people should consider such high-elevation tour options when someone wants to feel the “grand natural landscape” in an exotic way.

Mach 5 Aviation offers flight instruction to students and also gives aerial tours to customers. The price is approximately $200 to have up to three passengers in the air from the airport to any place of taste within an hour’s range.

Some customers want general sightseeing tours of the area for a distinctive experience.

Raul Gonzalez, a state employee, used help from John Crawford, general manager of Sierra Air Helicopters, when he wanted to ask his girlfriend to marry him.

Crawford sits only a few feet away from Herndon of Mach 5 Aviation in the same office building. Crawford has run his company for more than a decade and offers flight school and regular and customized helicopter tours to customers.

“Of course I remember Raul and his big marriage proposal,” Crawford said. “He made all other wedding proposals look bad.”

Gonzalez secretly brought his fiancée Lindsey Zupancic’s✔ three friends to her house on a February morning. After an array of events that Gonzalez had scheduled in advance, Zupancic and her friends arrived at Mather Airport to find two helicopters from Sierra Air Helicopters waiting to take them to Napa Valley.

“I knew he was going to propose in a couple of years, but I really didn’t know it was going to happen this February,” Zupancic said. “We hadn’t seen each other for a few weeks, and this entire trip was such a surprise to me.”

When Gonzalez came to Crawford for help, Crawford brought two helicopters to work and flew one himself with Gonzalez in it. He worked closely with Gonzalez to devise a plan, also asking one of his pilots to let Gonzalez use the property by Folsom Lake for the time of proposal.

“Raul came down from the sky in a helicopter with his son and later asked me to marry him while walking up a little hill,” Zupancic said. “It was the best day of my life.”

It wasn’t just a helicopter ride that made the proposal successful. Gonzalez also arranged rides for his fiancée to a nail salon, hair salon, the bar where the couple met, and her favorite winery throughout the day, and Zupancic is thankful for Crawford’s dedication and effort.

“I didn’t even know John (Crawford) before meeting him up for this proposal,” Gonzalez said. “Sierra Air Helicopters was all about it, and without them the proposal wouldn’t have happened.”

Sierra Air Helicopters has mainly used its two Robinson R44 and R22 helicopters to assist its customers since its start. Although the company concentrates its business on giving flight instructions to aspiring helicopter pilots, its helicopters have been assigned to do “just about everything,” Crawford said.

According to Crawford, helicopters, unlike airplanes, fly approximately 500 feet above the ground and provide a more detailed view of surrounding landscapes.

Sierra Air Helicopters takes its customers to wherever they wish to be, whether it be the Sierra or comedian Eddie Murphy’s old Granite Bay home. But people who may not feel comfortable driving to Auburn to take in the nice scenery can enjoy a similar helicopter ride by Capitol Helicopters at Sacramento Executive Airport.

Sacramento’s only helicopter tour company, it primarily runs flight instruction for aspiring pilots but also takes customers to area destinations. From the Bay Area to the Sierra, its Robinson helicopters deliver users up to several hours of flight, said Jeff Hendry, assistant chief pilot of Capitol Helicopters.

“It all comes down to what the customers want for their tours,” Hendry said. “If they want to stop by the Bay Area for a few hours, we can do that. If they want an evening tour watching the sunset, we can do that, too.”

Since its founding in 2015, Capitol Helicopters has assisted in numerous marriage proposals and opened many eyes to the beauty of the Sacramento region. The business has given tours to photographers, school programs, tourists new to the region and even to Sacramentans who have lived in the city for decades.

Capitol Helicopters has planned tours for customers without specific preferences, but when customers are in need of a custom flight plan, pilots bring a map and sit at a table with them, Hendry said. Its office takes most reservations online but welcomes any walk-ins.

Walter Ko: 916-321-1436, @juntaeko

Aerial options

Mach 5 Aviation: 2409 Rickenbacker Way, Auburn, 530-889-2000

Sierra Air Helicopters: 2409 Rickenbacker Way, Auburn, 530-823-7400

Capitol Helicopters: 6151 Freeport Blvd., Suite 166, Sacramento, 916-277-8426