For our second installment of “Going There—the blog series where we present the how-to’s and highlights of flights to amazing places—we talked to pilot and aviation YouTuber Kevin Thornton, about flying over Niagara Falls. Despite the time-honored tradition of going over the falls in a barrel, it’s WAAAAAY better from the air!
Niagara Falls, of course, is actually three falls: Horseshoe Falls, also called “Canadian Falls,” which span the border between the U.S. and Canada, and the smaller American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side. While the flight involves crossing an international border, Kevin says the two countries have made it easy.
“Places like Niagara Falls are so special to see from the air that there’s a lot of traffic. You’re dealing with Canadian and American airspace, so the two countries got together and came up with a special flight procedure that is very well defined. You’re don’t have to contact Canadian ATC if you’re staying within that Niagara exclusion area. In our flight, we had to go back over Niagara international Airport (IAG) and then contact Buffalo on approach, get our IFR flight plan, then Buffalo handed us off to Toronto and we could pierce through Canadian airspace at that point.”
To plan your trip over Niagara Falls, you’ll need the CFR for this flight and you can download a terminal procedures chart supplied by the Canadian government or this VFR corridor chart posted by the Condor Aero Club. Kevin says flying over Niagara Falls is “kind of like Sun ‘n Fun or Oshkosh because there are so many aircraft in a small area, so they’ve made tight procedures to keep it safe. You need to broadcast your flight intentions on a CTAF frequency and monitor that frequency. You fly above 3,500 feet, so that the helicopter tours are below you. You have to fly clockwise at or below 130 knots, and you have to keep a very close eye out for other aircraft.”
Kevin said he and his spouse and co-pilot, Jaime, put extra effort into their prep for this flight. “This is not your typical IFR/VFR flight. Of course, it’s always important to follow the rules, so we study the flight restrictions to stay legal and safe. But if it’s not done correctly, this flight can land you in trouble with two different governments because they both share the airspace!”
You can watch Kevin’s video, below, to see their Niagara flight. The friendly air traffic controller you hear at the beginning is in the tower at IAG. Kevin says with a grin, “He came to meet us upon landing…He’s a fan of the 310 Pilot channel.”
So, what’s the coolest thing about flying over Niagara Falls? “It’s cool to fly in Canadian and U.S. airspace while watching one Great Lake dump into another. You can’t capture both falls simultaneously from on the ground, at least from the U.S. side. But in the air, you can capture the magnitude of it all. And you can’t believe how high the mist goes in the air!”
So, there you have it! To really appreciate the size and power of Niagara Falls, experience them from the air! (Yes, a rare few people survive the barrel ride, but it’s illegal, carries heavy fines, and, we guarantee, the view won’t compare.)