To get high over the Grand Strand, for aerial sightseeing, the choices are generous.
Myrtle Beach Biplanes, with open cockpit tours from the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, flies in its own league. Anyone eager to hop on a helicopter, walk a ropes course, go ziplining, scale heights at an amusement park, cruise the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, or scream in a trio of thrill rides in downtown Myrtle Beach, has multiple options for a memorable trip. So long as acrophobia or vertigo don’t enter the big picture.
Jeremy Bass, president of Executive Helicopters in North Myrtle Beach — and OceanFront Helicopters in Myrtle Beach — integrated the biplane tours this year. He said a previous biplane operator spent two decades with seasonal tours before settling in his winter residence in Florida, “so that left a whole in the market,” and the predecessor already had created “a loyal following.”
Comparing a biplane ride with the spin in a helicopter as “radically different,” Bass said this avenue to fly, “brings back feelings of bygone eras” in aviation, in “a piece of art” as well.
Pete Grow, the pilot for Myrtle Beach Biplanes, mans the flights from the rear seat. Through headphones on a head covering that each passenger dons and buckling in, Grow narrates observations, and the smile in his voice leaves no doubt he relishes his job. If he asks a question — maybe about his hopes that guests also can behold something special in his line of sight — it’s simple to respond, by merely flashing a thumbs-up sign.
Peering from this open-air cockpit, riders see the propeller whirl clockwise. Taking off southward before lunchtime last Friday, after approval from FAA personnel in the air traffic control tower on site, Grow sounded the mantra that pilots on commercial jets tell their passengers, “Sit back and enjoy the ride.”
The red, 1993 Waco — pronounced “WAH-ko” — YMF-5 Waco aircraft dates to 1993, and its a single-propeller, Jacobs radial engine, lifted the plane with 275 horsepower.
Once up, everybody and everything on the ground and sea is silent; the engine lends the lone sound, which this rider found powerful, but steady and relaxing. The flier escapes for some time, really utopia, in his or her own fleeting world, looking down at, and across, a world that keeps teeming with everyday activity, weather, and this area’s abundance of animal life.
After cruising southwest for a period, with the Myrtle Beach Mall complex in clear view by U.S. 17 at S.C. 22, we shifted toward to Atlantic Ocean and turned northeastward, hugging the coastline. Buzzing by the Cherry Grove Pier, Grow said a world record tiger shark catch made there in 1964 weighed 1,780 pounds.
“That’s a big fish,” he said, motoring ahead to the Little River Inlet, which he also called the “Little River Outlet,” demarcating the boundary of North and South Carolina where both states meet the ocean.
Grow lowered the plane’s nose gradually to get a little closer to exchange — really, elicit — hellos with all the people lining the beach.
“Now, everybody’s waving at us,” he said, flying a few miles as far east as Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. To begin our turnaround, he cut inland through an expanse without housing over to a marsh, then back along the shore. Some bicyclists pedaled on the sands, and two groups of horseback riders — some on pinto paints — looked so small, but peaceful, in their own earthly forward progress. They also appeared to be making the most of their moment, when only the land- and sea-scapes should matter.
A brown pelican flying seaward from the coast must have filled its own zone, too, prompting Grow to pull the plane up a little, to not come anywhere near crossing paths with the bird, which boasts a wingspan of about 7 feet, and weights less than 10 pounds.
Pilots have their own nonverbal camaraderie in the air, such as for one to verify that both in the vicinity see each other. Previewing a “wing waggle,” Grow, without any abrupt motions, made two balanced, subtle turns — left, then back right — to the pilot of a single-prop plane at a lower level. The other pilot saw it, and responded with a wave in kind from that aircraft’s path in the opposite direction.
Our journey reached heights of about 650 feet, at speeds of 90-100 mph, but with all this scenery in every direction — especially the natural curve of the coast as far as the naked eye could see till it fades away in the distance — it didn’t seem that fast. This relaxing pace, in a safe, smooth cruising journey, provided the most special way to lay eyes on, and appreciate, this little corner of the big, special, blue, green and brown world we inhabit.
At another interval, a flier of a single-engine propeller plane cruised a few hundred feet below us, carrying a banner for Dolly Parton’s Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show in Myrtle Beach and touting that entertainment outing’s “amazing aerial acts.” Those words only started to define the ride in this biplane.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.