For an update, I’ve found an operator that will rent me an R44 in Florida. However, it is more of a special arrangement for me; so, I don’t want to list their details on a forum. Regarding North Carolina (eastern and central area), I hired from Total Flight Solutions in Louisburg who were quite professional/easy to deal with.
I’d still be interested in other locations near-ish to the larger international airports (LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Chicago, etc).
I do find the US very odd in regard to private helicopter flying in that it seems to solely focus on training to work in the industry (or hour building to do the same). Back in 2006 when I got my FAA license and did my R44 conversion, there was a R44 Raven II at the KISM FBO which I promptly hired to take my wife and family for flight – however, I only realised many months later that I had been hiring the only R44 available for private hire in the whole state of Florida.
Once you have a wife and kids, the R22 doesn’t cut it any more and only the R44 is of use for some occasional flying on either business trips or holiday. Of course, I have zero interest in having a safety pilot come along (that would only take up the front seat with a stranger and what am I going to do with him/her while we have a leisurely lunch away from base?)
I have hired in California before, but it took me two-three days of emailing/calling around – it really shouldn’t be this difficult. Conversely, in Europe you just give them a call, come over and do a check flight and you’re good to hire. I’ve done this easily/quickly in UK, Spain, France, Mallorca and South Africa.