Flying in Downtown Chicago: Navigating the Vertiport and Airspace

Apr 17, 2024

Flying a helicopter in a bustling urban area like downtown Chicago presents unique challenges and requires a thorough understanding of airspace, landmarks, and communication protocols. In this blog post, we will dive into an insightful conversation between experienced pilots, Chris Houser and Kenny Keller, as they discuss their approach to flying in downtown Chicago, including their navigation techniques, use of Vertiport, and interactions with the surrounding airspace.



The Importance of Vertiport

Chris Houser emphasizes the frequent use of the Vertiport in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operations. The Vertiport serves as a vital alternative landing location when they cannot land directly at a hospital. While acknowledging changes to the Vertiport's functions, including the incorporation of a bus depot, Chris highlights its private nature and the simple protocol of notifying the facility in advance of a landing. The conversation provides valuable insight into the practical considerations and protocols associated with utilizing the Vertiport as a landing location in urban settings.

Navigating Downtown Chicago's Airspace

Kenny Keller and Chris Houser discuss the navigational process of flying into downtown Chicago, emphasizing the freedom to operate in the area without direct communication, while still maintaining situational awareness. Kenny mentions the significance of updated knowledge, which prompts the decision to fly with an experienced pilot like Chris, who has been familiar with the area. The pilots share their approach to communicating with air traffic control, the significance of designated air corridors, and the need for keeping a keen eye on potential emergency landing spots in the midst of the urban landscape.

Landing at the Vertiport

Chris Houser provides a detailed account of the approach to the Vertiport, describing key visual landmarks such as a smokestack and a highway that guide his navigation. His explanation of maintaining a low altitude due to the proximity to Midway Airport and O'Hare Airport highlights the critical decision-making involved in flying around heavily trafficked airspace. Chris also emphasizes the safety considerations involved in finding emergency landing spots and the specific protocols for approaching and landing at the Vertiport.

Interaction with Airspace and Communication Protocols

The conversation navigates through the essential communication protocols, from self-broadcasting intentions through a common helicopter air-to-air frequency to monitoring specific air traffic control frequencies for situational awareness. Chris elaborates on the monitoring of air traffic control frequencies and the significance of their radar tracking capabilities. The pilots discuss the use of transponders and the implications for their communication strategies in busy airspace, providing valuable insights into the intricacies of operating in such an environment.



The dialogue between Chris Houser and Kenny Keller offers an insightful exploration of the considerations, challenges, and protocols associated with flying in downtown Chicago. From the utilization of Vertiport to the intricacies of navigating through the airspace and communication protocols, their discussion provides valuable lessons and practical insights for helicopter pilots operating in urban settings. Understanding the protocols and navigating urban airspace in a safe and efficient manner is vital, and this conversation sheds light on the expertise and decision-making involved in such operations.

The exploration of their approach to flying in downtown Chicago offers a comprehensive perspective on the intricacies of helicopter operations in busy urban environments and highlights the importance of thorough preparation, communication, and adherence to safety protocols in such settings.