A Chicago Helicopter Airways Sikorsky S-58C passing over a mid-20th century Chicago skyline.

Eight Minutes to O’Hare by Air

Gazette Article by Jack Coladarci
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 2012

From June, 1958 to October, 1963 Chicago Helicopter Airways put Winnetka on the cutting edge of commuting. Although not quite as advanced as George Jetson’s flying saucers and pneumatic air tubes, this futuristic commuting option made travel to and from Winnetka, O’Hare, Midway, Meigs Field, and Gary, Indiana fast and convenient (and sometimes terrifying). Winnetka’s landing field was located on Willow Road, west of Hibbard, at the old garbage dump. A sample timetable from April, 1962 shows that Winnetka was served by two inbound flights and two outbound flights every weekday. The helicopters arrived at 7:27am and 6:22pm. They departed at 7:29 am and 6:24 pm. O’Hare was the stop before Winnetka, and the helicopters covered the distance in 8 minutes. According to the time table, the intrepid traveler would board at Winnetka at 7:29 AM, land at O’Hare at 7:37 am, leave 2 minutes later, and arrive at Midway at 7:50 pm.

A Chicago Helicopter Airways Sikorsky S-58C passing over a mid-20th century Chicago skyline.

Helicopter operations were subsidized by a federal government program designed to establish and encourage helicopter commuting as a method of relieving urban traffic congestion. The thrill of the helicopter ride sounds cheap today, but when adjusted for inflation, the ride cost slightly less than a taxicab in 2012:

Hopes were high when the flights started, and by 1960, they reached their peak of approximately 6,000 passengers a year in Winnetka. By 1963, numbers had dropped to 3,000, and the airline abandoned the Winnetka route. Chicago Helicopter Airways was grounded in 1966 when all federal subsidies were eliminated. It restarted with limited routes in 1969, and continued operations until 1974.

Chicago Helicopter Airways brochure, 1958.

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