Your Guide to the Best Flight Tours

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So you've spent the beginning of fall driving the open country roads, battling fellow leaf peepers for the best views of the multicolored foliage. Perhaps now it's time to catch the remnants of the season from an even more pleasant perspective, high above, where the colors come together in the form of a beautiful tapestry below.

No matter what the time of year, think of touring the country in flight, for that elusive perspective only had by birds, and a select few human beings. Here are some ideas, around the country.

Helicopter Above New York

From the air, the largest city in America takes on an almost toylike appearance, as if you could reach out and grab the Empire State Building, a la King Kong. If you've ever had the opportunity to fly the length of the island while waiting to land at LaGuardia or JFK, you've had a taste of its majesty. But by helicopter, you can dip your way down among the buildings, come face to face with the Statue of Liberty and sidle up next to the Chrysler Building.

There are plenty of options in the city, with sightseeing tours at New York Helicopter starting at $139 a person for a 15-minute ride. Try the longer Grand Tour and visit sites from the Bronx's Yankee Stadium all the way down to Battery Park. The ride is 25 minutes, at $295 per passenger. Reserve your flight for a time close to sunset.

Or, if you really want to get the full helicopter experience, why not charter your own for you and your friends, and head out to the Hamptons to party. Six-passenger charters at Liberty Helicopter start at $2,900. It'll take you 40 minutes of gorgeous coastline flying to reach the end of the island.

Vintage Flying

Biplane rides offer the unique opportunity to fly through the air, while feeling the wind on your face, in an open cockpit. Flying companies across the country offer retro rides in some of the most picturesque of locales.

The fleet of planes at Vintage Aircraft of Sonoma County includes a warbird, the World War II Advanced Trainer called a SNJ-4, and a biplane, the Boeing PT-17 Stearmans. The Spires of the City scenic flight provides magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. Forty-minute rides cost $295. If you decide to fly in the warbird and are feeling extra daring, add aerobatic maneuvers like loops, barrel rolls and hammer heads for $50 a flight.

If you prefer the scenery of Southern California, try Biplane Adventures out of Compton Airport in Compton, California. Go for an hour for $495, and fly the coastline of Long Beach, Palos Verdes and Redondo Beach.

Hot-Air Balloon Cruising

Prefer a more leisurely, relaxing flight? Silent, devoid of engine noise, hovering slowly, enjoying the feel of being suspended above the land below, while taking advantage of 360-degree views in an open gondola? Then hot-air ballooning may be right for you.

Colorado Balloon Rides, located in the state's South Park Valley, takes passengers from Breckenridge to Denver to Vail to Canon City. Fly in altitudes in excess of 9,000 feet, as you fly by the Continental Divide, Mount Elbert -- Colorado's highest peak -- and the Sawatch Mountains. Flights range in distance from two to 10 miles. Prices start at $225 a person or hire the balloon for a special occasion. The gondola might not be a bad place to propose to your significant other, high above the trees, across from glowing yellow Rocky Mountains, with champagne, breakfast and classical music.

Arizona Ballooning, based in Phoenix, offers another take on romantic scenery, as passengers fly low above the Sonoran Desert at sunrise, and past the mountains and mesas of southern Arizona.

Hang Gliding

If the relatively solid footing allowed to you by a balloon gondola is too encumbering, why not fly free as the proverbial bird, your arms outstretched, your body dangling from the wings of a glider, held in by a harness. Tandem hang-gliding is a way to try the sport without any previous training, and companies like the San Francisco Hang Gliding Center offer special two-person gliders for these types of flights.

Tandem gliding is super-popular in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a wealth of companies offering the opportunity to see the Sugar Loaf mountain and Christ on Corcovado from the sky. Check in with your hotel concierge if you make it to the Cidade Maravilhosa, and he or she can set you up with an accredited pilot.

Skydiving

Still feel tied down by your harness? Then the ultimate flying experience might just be to go ahead and jump out of a plane. Like in hang gliding, tandem jumps are offered without prior training, as you jump strapped to the back of your expert diver. Feel the rush of standing out on the wing, and then, as you freefall for 30 seconds, dropping to Earth at speeds up to 120 miles per hour, a freefall that feels more like flying than plummeting.

Eventually, you'll be forced to pull the rip cord, so why not jump in exotic locales like Cape Town, South Africa, where the Table Mountain dominates the landscape from the air, the more than 3,000-feet-high plateau surrounded by vertical cliffs Devil's Peak and Lion's Head. You'll jump aside the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

Or land along the North Shore of the island of Oahu, in Hawaii, where white sandy beaches and white-capped surf dots the setting below you.

But no matter where you go, just make sure you get the video and photos done for an extra fee, as they always make for impressive party conversation.

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