From shipwrecks to wild horses to humpback whales, you never know what you’ll discover when you see the Outer Banks from the air — but it’s sure to be unforgettable. There are several ways to fly the Outer Banks and plenty of options for all budgets and all levels of adventure seekers.
For just a taste of local aviation, take an air-conditioned helicopter tour over the majestic beaches, and historical monuments of the Outer Banks. The more adventurous can take in the views from a modern biplane — complete with aerobatics if you choose. If you’ve always wanted to fly your own plane, take an introductory flight lesson with OBX Airplanes. You’ll fly a Cessna 150 yourself, and help with takeoff and landing while an instructor fills you in on what it takes to become a licensed pilot.
Ready to soar? Here are some creative ways to see the Outer Banks from a whole new perspective:
Up to three passengers can share a helicopter ride over the beautiful Outer Banks beaches and historical sites. Coastal Helicopters offers Outer Banks helicopter tours aboard their Robinson R-44, a craft known for safety, reliability, smooth rides and large viewing windows. If you’re not sure flying is for you, try the 10-minute Discovery Tour. You’ll fly over Pirate’s Cove Marina to the ocean, where you’ll circle Jennette’s Pier before heading home.
Once you realize how much fun flying can be, you can come back for a 20-, 30-, 60- or 90-minute tour. Depending on the length of the flight, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of villages, monuments and lighthouses — plus wild horse territory and unspoiled beaches. Tours range from $125 to $825 depending on length and are priced per trip instead of per person, making this an especially affordable adventure when you split it with friends.
Kill Devil Hills is the birthplace of modern flight, and the biplane was the first airplane to take to the sky. A biplane is an open-cockpit airplane with two sets of fixed wings stacked on top of each other. On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers flew their biplane for the first time near Kitty Hawk, beginning the pioneer era of aviation.
For history and aviation buffs, nothing compares to a ride in a biplane. OBX Biplanes offer rides in their 1990 WACO YMF-5 biplane, a modern version of the “barnstormer.” In this plane, two passengers can sit up front on a bench seat, side by side, while the pilot sits in the rear cockpit. Don’t worry — this isn’t an antique airplane; it’s a new and improved version of a vintage plane.
During the summer, OBX Biplanes offers 10-minute Discovery Tours over Shallowbag Bay, Pirate’s Cove, and Jennette’s Pier. Longer flights of 20 or 30 minutes will take you over the Wright Brothers Monument, Jockey’s Ridge, Oregon Inlet, Bodie Island Lighthouse, and over the ocean, where you can spot turtles, dolphins, schools of fish, and shipwrecks.
The truly adventurous can add aerobatics to their tour and enjoy thrilling “wingovers” (flat side turns after a steep climb) and loops. Biplane tours range from $118 to $298, with aerobatic add-ons starting at $79.
What could be more exciting than learning to fly where the Wright Brothers learned? If you’ve always been curious about flying your own airplane, the Outer Banks is the perfect place to explore your dream. Start by taking an introductory flight with an OBX Airplanes instructor, who will explain the cost and commitment required to become a pilot during your flight. You’ll even get to take the controls and log your time toward the hours needed to get your license.
OBX Airplanes flies out of Dare County Airport in Manteo. The introductory lesson is only $149, so whether you decide to continue flight lessons or not, you can check “fly a plane” off your bucket list.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wilber and Orville Wright experimented with plane designs for years before they finally succeeded. Neither had engineering experience, so their memorial is a monument to inventors and dreamers everywhere. For aviation aficionados, the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Manteo is a must-see pilgrimage.
There’s so much to see and do at the memorial that the whole family will enjoy the visit. You’ll get to see replicas of their early gliders, reproductions of their camp buildings, and stand where the brothers stood right before they took their first flight.
Seeing the Outer Banks coastline, wildlife, and monuments from the air is an experience you’ll never forget. Whether you choose an air-conditioned helicopter tour, an exciting aerobatic biplane ride, or an introductory flight lesson, soaring high above the rugged coastline is the perfect complement to a peaceful, memorable Outer Banks vacation.