The Death and Life of Helicopter Commuting in NYC

Fifty years ago, a helicopter company called New York Airways whisked passengers from the rooftop of the iconic Pan Am Building in midtown Manhattan to any city airport in just 10 minutes. A fatal accident in 1977 brought that era to an end.

40 years later, E-VTOL technology could open a new chapter in short-distance airborne commuting.

Video by Raymond Schillinger

Camera: Brian Schildhorn
Animation / Graphics: Sylvia Yang and Chiachi Lee
Sound Design: Andrew Hylnsky

#transportation #history #NYC

News Footage provided by NBCUniversal Archives. All Rights Reserved.


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Comment (1,242)

  1. What the hell terrorists the hayday of helicopter comuting would have been a way better time to crash into a building or two… Way easier to aim than a passenger jet for sure…

  2. had the company been more focused on providing a better service for the people, and not so focused on the money, maybe the industry actually would’ve grown into something. or maybe there are just too many inevitable problems and rooftop travel will remain an idea of the future (for now)

  3. Nothing changes stupid over-head. Most all accidents ARE some form of stupid, whether it was maintenance or pilot error. It was and is always avoidable if someone pays attention beyond the money.

  4. Tragic as that accident was, many more people die every day in car accidents, yet we haven't ended automobiles. There are bus accidents too, we still have those. Nothing in life is 100% safe, and while what happened is horrible, it also seems foolish to completely end a promising use of transportation technology because of it. Maybe it's the optics of it or something. I sure would love to have the option though. 42 years later…think of how many more places would have helicopter transport which is actually affordable, and how extensive it would be in the big, big cities. A lost opportunity after a decade of presumably safe operation, all because of one accident. Talk about giving up! Seems like this would have been the opportunity to change some designs and make it safer.

  5. Another case where we traded freedom for public safety. What do we have now? Very low to NO helicopter commute, and a hell lot more than 5 deaths in car accidents because now everybody needs a car.

  6. Helicopter pilot as just been killed today in a accident in new York it crashed landed on a high-rise apartment block!it's a good idea to have quiter machines if it was to be come reality!I think we look towards the future to much.we need to considerate on today. making flight even more safer!look at air travel today airplanes are crashing more because pilots can't over ride the new technology of computers and datea software.we need pilots to be able to fly manually as over ride the new technology.i think the future of flight is dead in the water before it's ever gets off the ground.

  7. A well tempered mini documentary. There are alot of gems within. Chopper crashes….. blimps… air balloon disaster!. There's alot about the future of the drone in this video. And flying cars therefore driverless cars.. The lawyers speak volumes. Try Space travel. Interesting article.

  8. this was way before my time but man I wish commuter helicopters and heliports still existed! way more fun and exciting than being stuck in traffic in your car or on a crowded bus. I live in Chicago and while L trains are cool in their own ways helicopter rides would be way more awesome!!!

  9. In the VERY early 1970s, my mom and I landed by jet in JFK, and had either missed our connecting flight to our final destination due to delay, or else it was unexpectedly canceled — I can’t remember which, I was very very young and barely verbal — so my grandmom, who’d flown the first leg of that flight with us for fun, and who was a pretty seasoned traveler and handy in these situations, quickly booked my mom and I a different flight home… but from out of LaGuardia, across the city, and leaving in under an hour! So how did we get from JFK to LaGuardia? (Or maybe it was vice-versa, I again don’t remember super clearly.) BY GIANT HELICOPTER!! And this video talks a lot about how people under the flight path of those helicopters found them noisy, but you know what the video neglects to mention? HOW CRAZY NOISY IT WAS TO RIDE INSIDE OF ONE OF THOSE THINGS!! Again, I was really young at the time, so I don’t remember everything today (nor did I know then what a treat I was getting, riding in a helicopter), but here’s what burned itself deeply into my memory: 1) the seats were a dark blue sort of cloth, it was rough and had burls but was kinda nice, 2) it was surprisingly crowded, but as comfy as one of the smaller DC aircraft, and 3) once the rotors roared into action, it was so suddenly and OVERWHELMINGLY noisy, I cried literally the whole length of the ride: the thing shook and tilted like a seesaw (to top things off, I think we were in the tail-end of a hurricane, no kidding), and I could barely hear myself shriek over the rotors, my little self could hardly stand it… but I think it was fortunately less than a 15-minute ride, so the other poor passengers didn’t have to suffer my wailing for too long. But yeah, those things were NOISY. Is all.

  10. Lmao what you think drones are quiet? 😂 yea 4 6 8etc smaller props spinning at higher rpm are going to make less noise than a helicopter ok😂 what happens when the motors desync? And don't say redundancy because…. boeing 737 max

  11. Used to see it used very often in cinema of the 60's and 70's. VIPs weren't anyone unless they arrived in a corporate Bell Jet-Ranger on top of a city skyscraper, Towering Inferno, Tron, and many other Hollywood films, as well as TV shows like Dallas, and many others. As a kid growing up in the 70s, it just seemed like a normal part of everyday corporate operations, right? Aviation went through a whole lot of changes starting in the 1980s, to say nothing of the chaos and fear propagated by 9/11. It really is a shame aviation didn't progress as we saw it in the 70s, but cultural fear and ignorance is very easy to control and manipulate by the PTB these days.

  12. They forgot to mention the 1978 helicopter accident where one almost fell off the roof of the Daily Planet building while transporting a reporter to the airport.

  13. "…including Donald Trump…failed."

    Bloomberg never passes up an opportunity to show what a pussy he is.

    BTW: The city is dead. And it ain't coming back.

  14. So. It was a *stress* *crack* ( appx. 4:57 – explains this damage leading to death ) on the landing gear that resulted in multiple deaths ☹️😞…including a woman walking on the sidewalk below ..😔 …. 🙏🕯️🕯️🕯️🕯️🕯️🌻🌹🌼🌺🌷💮🌴🌸🥀🌼🌺🏵️… and now some🤑one wants to revive the 'bus in the sky' concept ..🤑🤑🤑💰💰💰….. right above highly populated areas .😱🤪😵👎👎.. right in the city ..👎👎.🤑☹️😠🤨🙁 desperate times draws out desperate persons 🤑🤑🤑😲😟😒.😮🤔🤨. 👎👎 .. apparantly .. now … .safety be damned🙄😒😫😭🙏🍀🍀🍀🤞🖖✌️🚧🚧🚧💪🤳

  15. A Rolex Submariner back in the 50s cost ~$150, an Hermes Birkin ~$1000 (yeah handbags cost so much more than Swiss watches back then), a car (mostly US cars, import cars were very rare back then) around $1500 – $3000.

    So $5 in 50s can be anywhere between $80 – $250 for today.

  16. Blade operators seemed to not have learnt anything from the 1977 tragedy – their rotors are still spinning as clients disembark from their helicopters in the marketing video shown. I am not a pilot but it just seems safer to fire up the engine after your passengers have boarded and turn the engines or rotors off when they are getting off.

  17. My dad started flying NY Airways helicopters in 1953 and flew for 24 years until the aircraft he was flying lost a rotor box and crashed in 1977 which ended all operations. He suffered life threatening injuries but survived although 3 passengers did not. However his years of experience saved all the others because with no steering he still managed to manuver the crash landing away from the busy NJ Turnpike. He lived til 90 years of age.

  18. An unexpected tragedy, really? Americans will be utterly surprised again, when they get killed by their Tesla AutoPilot. Turns out, you should look on the street yourself. Nobody could’ve known. 🤷

  19. In the Disney animated film The Rescuers, Bianca & Bernard fly to Devil's Bayou from the top of the Pan Am Building. Instead of a helicopter, which are for people, they ride an albatross named Orville.

  20. What the hell?! Cancelling a entire way of transportation just because you had under 5 people killed. If we go with that logic then what should have happened to the air or bus transport with their death tolls being in the hundreds when it happens? You improve the safety features and add more regulations to prevent such mishap as is the case with the air travel. The amount of convenience this service would have given to the commuters would have been immense. The reaction was more equivalent to what Europeans would have done rather than Americans. I think this was a gross overreaction.

  21. I think this type of travel with the helicopters and stuff would still be fine if people thought much more into it and fix problem after problem

  22. Sounds cool but it also sounds like one of those “newfound, next era” of technology from the past. And I doubt it’ll take off. It also sounds exclusive, only for the rich. It’s like in the late 19th century only rich ppl had cars & poor had horses, now rich ppl have cars & horses

  23. More evidence that life was better 50 yrs ago. How is it that ideas as great as mid-town heliports on roof tops couldn't be allowed one mistake that wasn't inherent to anything wrong with the idea but, rather, greed of cost cutting maintenance neglect?

  24. personally I think that it's going to happen one way or another. I don't think anything is going to stop "progress" for a lack of a better term. It's going to eventually become commonplace. That is we will see all manner of flying transportation above city streets. I think it will more than likely be some kind of drone looking vehicle. There will be a number of different kind of vehicles and as always one will stand out above the rest. The thing is to make the vehicle as safe as possible. There have been many advancements regarding safety with flying machines. I've seen numerous flying cars on YouTube and there are a few that are very interesting. The one that stands out in my memory is one that has been built in Japan by a gentleman who's father and grandfather both helicopter pilots died in crashes whilst flying. He is driven due to these personal losses to making a flying vehicle that it's main attribute is superior safety. It is a self flying vehicle. It has multiple redundant safety features that sounded very impressive. At the time that i first saw the video They were in the testing phases of things but further along than most others with the same pursuit of a flying vehicle for commercial applications. The focus is for short city jaunts if you will. I think it will most definitely will happen. What seems to be holding the advent of these machines becoming commonplace is the logistical aspect of it all I believe. I can't imagine what a nightmare it must be to find a way to make things safe up in the skies above major cities like Manhattan and others… +


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