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Slightly different sightseeing

Piloting in the cockpit, Bryan Truelock received clearance from air traffic control, then turned a wheel that somewhat resembled a bicycle handlebar. Powering up both rotors for liftoff, he said, “We’re flying.”

The helicopter ascended, pitching up rear first, over South Ocean Boulevard. Huffman Helicopters, on Myrtle Beach’s south end, gives residents and vacationers one of various options for touring the Grand Strand in a more unusual fashion.

With passengers miked up through the headsets, Truelock said he had spotted a sea turtle swimming earlier, and moving toward the AVX industrial complex and Myrtle Beach International Airport, he pointed out how the Harrelson Boulevard eastern extension to South Kings Highway, opened this past spring, really zigs and zags its away around the southern fringe of city’s Whispering Pines Golf Course.

Some other choices for Strand sightseeing include parasailing, two small boats for which the chopper, on this Sunday morning introductory two-mile flight, flew over. Once airborne away from the boat in a harness in one of these large-scale gliders, the rider doesn’t hear any sound from the ground – just pure serenity and maybe some upper level breeze.

Kayaking in a salt marsh by Huntington Beach State Park, or cruising in an airboat from Murrells Inlet on the Waccamaw River and some tributaries, mark two ways to see the Lowcountry from respective self-propelled and jet fired perspectives on the water. Gazing from an air-conditioned gondola on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel will give riders a bird’s eye view of sea gulls flying below.

Whether by boat or wings, or an open-air Jeep or even a Segway, seeing the Strand can take some memorable roads, even off the beaten path, as Brookgreen Gardens takes with Trekker tours in woods off its walking trails. Many such outings operate year round, so if the summer-peak crowds put a damper on a wish to explore, just wait until after Labor Day, for a little more room or a shorter wait.

Back at the helipad, a couple visiting from Aiken talked about their joys brought back to Earth from going up, up and away on a two-mile, two-minute cycle topping out at an 800-foot cruising altitude at 120 mph.

“The helicopter ride is definitively, definitely exhilarating,” Audrey Josey said after her first-ever helo spin.

Her partner for celebrating a one-year wedding anniversary, Herbert Josey, said he enjoyed finally hopping inside for a rookie ride because helicopters have another place at home.

“I work on them,” he said.

Jeremy Bass, president of Huffman and sister touring enterprise, Executive Helicopters in North Myrtle Beach, speaking from the company’s hangar, broke down the ratio in time, safety and labor invested to fly a chopper: eight hours of maintenance for every hour of flying.

Revving up for another flight, this time going seven to eight miles Monday on a round-trip to the downtown area of the former Myrtle Beach Pavilion, Truelock buzzed along the coast, giving an off-shore view of the rows of hotel skyscrapers, and walking beachgoers looking so tiny in a beehive of activity on the sand. The pilot proceeded by Family Kingdom Amusement Park, noting the Swamp Fox wooden roller coaster, and over the year-old Myrtle Beach SkyWheel in motion, which looked so tall from street side, but appeared to lose some of its 187-foot height over its neighboring buildings when looked down upon from the heavens at an 1,100-foot altitude.

Even on this hazy, humid afternoon, the view still afforded 10-mile visibility, Truelock said, pointing out an approaching storm front to the far northwest by Conway. His narration also touched on the rooftop of Coastal Grand mall, housing 1.2 million square feet, and the whole, 2-mile-long runway at Myrtle Beach airport, in full, wide view, end to end, left to right. Only two jets sat by the terminal – a Vision Airlines Boeing 737 and an Allegiant Air MD-80, the latter parked at a gate, boarding for its next flight, to Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Ohio.

We counted four piers on this flight – Springmaid Beach Resort and Myrtle Beach State Park, to the south near our takeoff, and in downtown Myrtle Beach, Second Avenue and Pier 14, linked by the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.

Returning to land, Truelock, who has piloted helicopters for more than 10 years, took the landing in steady stride, boxing out his target, painted on pavement clearly visible from the air.

“We will put this right back in the box,” he said, and he did, calmly and smoothly, just like the ascent, five – seemingly long ago – minutes earlier.