A bird's eye view from Larry Ihle's helicopter heading northeast from the village.
A bird’s eye view from Larry Ihle’s helicopter heading northeast from the village.

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By Connie Leinbach

The R44 Raven II helicopter rose vertically off the ground with Larry Ihle at the controls, and the Ocracoke Observer was airborne over the island.

Ihle, who builds houses and with his wife Stephanie builds Adirondacks furniture, owns Coastal Helicopters and OBX Biplanes, based in Manteo.

When he is on Ocracoke, he sometimes takes guests for rides.

Portsmouth Village.
Portsmouth Village.

On this sunny, June day, perfect for photography, Ihle opened the the front passenger side door and we boarded. 

Then he instructed the passengers to stash all loose items under the back seat—even small items in pockets.

“If anything flies out, it could hit the rotor blades,” he said, which would not be a good thing.

After a pre-flight check and a few instructions to the passengers, Ihle swung the helicopter upwards to 500 feet.  For tours, he usually flies at 400 to 700 feet.

“Ocracoke traffic,” Ihle said on his radio to alert other aircraft of his location. “Helicopter 177 papa bravo. Departing Ocracoke airport, circling the village and on to Portsmouth Island to the west. We’ll be staying at 500 feet.”

Ocracoke beach.
The Ocracoke beach.

Since the rotor blades are loud, each passenger wears headphones to talk to each other and to hear the radio.

Several times during the 40-minute flight, other pilots were heard: one heading to the Hatteras airport and one taking off from the Ocracoke strip.

The chopper made a slow arc over the sound side of the village then headed across the inlet to Portsmouth Village.  Shore birds were mere specs below.

As he flew over Ocracoke Inlet and along the beach, Ihle was on the lookout for sharks or dolphins, but none were spotted.

Hatteras Inlet.
Hatteras Inlet with a spoil island at rear.
Heading back to Ocracoke.

Ihle, who has built more than 100 homes on Ocracoke through his company Ihle Construction, Inc., has flying in his blood.

“I’ve been flying since I was in the womb,” he said with a laugh.

His father, a World War II fighter pilot, was a pilot for the now-defunct Eastern Airlines, so Ihle experienced flying long before many others do.

After breaking his back while motorcycling when he was 19, Ihle got into flying.  Small private planes later gave way to helicopters.

“You can see more in a helicopter,” he said, and it’s easier to circle in a helicopter.

From on high over Hatteras Inlet, brownish patches belied the large amount of shoaling (sand build-up) in the inlet over the last several years.

Soundside marsh mosaic.
Sound side marsh mosaic.

The chopper made two circles around an inlet spoil island that is home to nesting birds, passed over the south ferry dock, then back toward Ocracoke Village.

As it headed back down the sound side of the island, Ihle pointed out some fish camps and other landmarks.

The Swan Quarter ferry is almost to Ocracoke.

As a ferry from Swan Quarter chugged its way to Ocracoke’s Silver Lake Harbor, the helicopter flew out to meet it and circled twice for photo ops.

A short buzz around the harbor, over the lighthouse and Down Point, and then Ihle headed back to the Ocracoke air strip where the flight began.  This short, sky sojourn was over.

Above the harbor.
Above the harbor.
After the tour, Larry Ihle shuts down his helicopter.
After the tour, Larry Ihle secures his aircraft.
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  1. Love the photos of an Ocracoke that I will probably never get to see. It gives a whole new, beautiful perspective of your lovely island. Thanks for sharing this story and photos, Connie.

  2. We love Ocracoke. It’s a beautiful, serene, and peaceful.

    Can’t wait to be there. The pictures are beautiful.

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