Caitlyn Shipley found her calling at age 20 in the cockpit of a helicopter.
While visiting a friend who worked at a tour company in Las Vegas, she met a pilot who offered to take her up.
"I fell in love with it immediately," she said. "I had never experienced that kind of freedom before in my entire life."
Shipley put in the many hours training to become a pilot, then became certified as a flight instructor. She later moved to Baltimore — a homecoming of sorts; her mother was born in Silver Spring — and met her fiance, Freddie Ephraim, a pilot who flies the Johns Hopkins Hospital medevac chopper.
Shipley couldn't believe no one offered helicopter tours of the city, with its sprawling harbor and historic monuments. The pair of pilots decided to fill that void, and Shipley founded Charm City Helicopters, which will offer its first tours in April. They're finalizing partnerships with local hotels and restaurants — and waiting on the delivery of a five-seat Bell 407 helicopter, which they plan to wrap in the colors of the Maryland flag.
The company will offer three separate tours, and packages that include dinners and hotel stays, from a pier off South Clinton Street, near Canton, where there is the city's only helipad not reserved for police or hospital use.
In the 12-minute "Destination Baltimore Tour," costing $129 a person, customers will get to look from above at many of the city's most famous landmarks, including Fort McHenry, the port of Baltimore, Patterson Park, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Fells Point, downtown, Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, Mount Vernon, the Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium.
The $199 a person "Charm City Tour" will cover those sites, plus the Francis Scott Key Bridge, Druid Hill Park, Pimlico Race Course, Hampden and Johns Hopkins University, over 18-20 minutes.
The 30-minute "Annapolis-Baltimore Skyway Tour" will include the flight over Baltimore and down the bay to the U.S. Naval Academy and other Annapolis sites for $299 per person.
For those who've heard the Baltimore Police Foxtrot helicopter flying low and loud over their homes with a searchlight, Ephraim promised the tours will stay far above the city's neighborhoods.
"We don't want to add to that when we don't need to," Ephraim said.
Shipley and Ephraim, who live in Silver Spring, speak glowingly of Baltimore's business community and its residents. They've met with both recently — the business leaders to organize flat-rate dinner and hotel packages, and nearby residents to establish no-fly zones to make sure the tours don't anger the neighbors.
"I've lived in seven different states; I've moved 14, 15 times," Shipley said. "I've never lived in a place where I felt at home right away. The people, the environment — it's a great city. The people are so nice. Coming here, it all kind of came together. I want to be here the rest of my life."