There are many reasons to see San Diego. It features a bridge that’s also a musical instrument, the city itself is designated as a botanic garden, and the area is the largest avocado producer in the U.S.
Micah Muzio, professional car reviewer and commercial helicopter pilot, and his family had long wanted to fly over San Diego in their Robinson R44 Raven II (or, as he calls it, “the family wagon”). But he knew the airspace could be challenging because there are so many airports, including San Diego International, Miramar, and North Island Naval Station. Eventually, with the help of a group of fellow pilots, they got their chance – an amazing experience that Micah shares on his YouTube channel (read to the bottom to watch the video). We caught up with Muzio recently to hear how 5 helicopters ended up making an “epic” air tour of San Diego.
It all started with pie. A friend of Muzio’s, Helipilot Lee, and her husband were touring the country, so a group of friends met up at a favorite helicopter hangout. Micah says, “One of the few places in California where no one gives you any guff about a group of helicopters landing is the Julian Pie Company. You don’t even have to call ahead. You just land, eat some pie, and then depart.” They ate pie and visited a local animal sanctuary that Lee knew of. Then, in “the kind of absurd story that only happens with helicopter adventures,” a pilot and San Diego native who knew Lee reached out and offered to lead the group in a flight over the area. “So, this Jet Ranger zooms overhead and lands, and this guy, Steve Wright, an owner at Trust Me vodka, jumps out, and this is the guy who’s going to guide us through San Diego airspace.”
Muzio is used to planning trips himself, but he says he enjoyed having someone else lead this one. “Going through class Bravo airspace, it’s hard to know what is or isn’t a reasonable request, and having North Island Naval Air Station there also complicates things. So, Steve made the calls, and the rest of us maintained a tight formation. We were able to follow him over Gillespie Field and Montgomery-Gibbs Executive, then past San Diego International and through the North Island airspace. Having someone else lead actually freed up some percentage of my brain to enjoy the flight!”
Muzio says he was surprised by how free the access was to the San Diego airspace. (If you go, you’ll need an LA Terminal Area Chart, which includes the San Diego SFRA.) Still, he admits that it can be intimidating, even for an experienced pilot, so he recommends flying with people who already know the area, and coordinate before taking off. In his group, Steve White led and Helipilot Lee coordinated, telling everyone frequency, how to communicate, and the order the ships would fly in. “If you’re flying with other aircraft, you can’t leave coordination for in the air. Where are we landing afterwards, does everyone have enough fuel, where are we breaking off? One of the challenges was staying in tight, but not too tight formation.”
When you watch the YouTube video (below), you’ll see that the “gaggle” of helicopters covered a lot of ground: the airports; downtown; boats, including a pirate ship in the harbor; both North and South Coronado Islands; Petco Park; and up to Mission Beach. Micah says his favorite part of the flight was heading out over the water after making a lap over downtown.
“San Diego benefits from a bit of altitude. There’s just such a variety of visuals, that it’s magical. It’s a vibrant place, and everything looks better from 500 feet.” He also notes that, “Flying over it in a helicopter is great, but flying in a squad of cool helicopters is even better. We were kind of like the little dog hanging with the big dogs.”
Muzio heartily recommends seeing San Diego by air, even if it seems a little overwhelming. “It is OK to be intimidated because there are real consequences to getting things wrong. But flying over San Diego was not as foreboding as it is on a map, especially when flying with someone who knows what they’re doing. Fortunately, there are generous people in the aviation community who are willing to show you the way.” And what did his passengers think of their San Diego adventure? Well, his daughter’s favorite part was the cinnamon roll at Julian Pie Company. So perhaps you, too, should start your San Diego adventure with pie.