A look at airplanes, tents and the AOPA Electronic Airport Directory
Statement of fact: itís incongruous to the image of the jet-setter to arrive
at a pricey hotel covered in sweat. But in the summer, the average small plane
on the ground is an uncomfortable furnace. So the reasons for a pilot to go
to that hotel are limited to ego and his willingness to spend $200/night for
the use of a shower. Then thereís the problem of the pilot-owner who has under-estimated
the effect of a small plane on his or her budget. Suddenly, deluxe accommodations
at the end of a day of flying seem like an unaffordable, unattainable luxury.
The result? The airplane sits unused and a great opportunity is missed.
When I purchased my airplane, I anticipated its use in a slightly more mundane
way than most purchasers. I was primarily interested in dropping 7 hours from
the drive to my parentsí home. The possibility of some junkets to places Iíd
never been sounded appealing, too. Taking Dian someplace (although that seems
to have become Dian and a dog) in the airplane has always been a joy. But
the fact is that itís not very restful to spend the time worrying over the
behavior of the dog AND paying for rental cars and hotel rooms.
Fatherís day 2003: the family presents me with a couple bulky packages hidden
in the garage. To my surprise, they are a tent and some sleeping bags to go
with the airplane. Apparently, I had let slip once or twice how much I enjoyed
camping out in the past. So there lies the alternative. Weíre gonna fly to
Iím happy to report that itís an excellent idea, especially if you take advantage
of an option provided at several airports across the country. For a small
fee (less than $5, usually) you may tie down the airplane and pitch a tent.
Admittedly, access to conveniences like transportation, a bathroom or shower
is fairly limited, but consider all the things you normally stress about when
you arrive at the airport. Thereís the rental car, directions to the hotel
and the extra time required in transit between the airport and your room.
Now, your airplane wonít easily carry all the camping gear you might want
to throw in it so a little planning is required. It is possible, though, to
plan a couple nights of camping and bring just enough gear to get along nicely.
I was even able to toss in a Coleman lantern and camp stove plus a couple
small bottles of propane.
Before you get too excited, realize that the FAA has not added an extra abbreviation
to its airports and facilities directories so youíre not going to find anything
about camping by taking that avenue. Instead, rely on the AOPAís Airport Directory.
The electronic version, available to members at www.aopa.org
installs to your computerís hard disk and will allow you to specify items
like camping on field. In this view, Iíve filtered the results for the state
of Missouri in search of a field near St. Louis with camping.
An initial, unfiltered search shows a surprising number of airports across
the nation which will welcome you and your sleeping bag. But itís up to you
to call the FBO at the listed airports and confirm that camping option. For
instance, I recently stopped into Creve Coeur (1H0) airport near St. Louis, Mo. to spend the
night and visit a friend and the museum on field. I was surprised to discover
that I was the only person this year who had wanted to drive tent stakes on
My only complaint with this software is that the printing function is in
serious need of attention. I found myself attempting to copy and paste all
the information I wanted since attempts to print the output failed every time.
Fortunately, no paper was wasted.
Once armed with the required information for the trip, flight planning was
performed as usual and off I went! The flight was uneventful, as flying over
the flatlands of Illinois often are. Just after entering the Egypt region of Illinois,
a pilot unfamiliar with the region can begin to spot a surprising number of
landmarks easily such as the merging of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, visible miles before attention to St.
Louisí Class B airspace is required.
After a wonderful evening spent with friends and new acquaintances, it was
time to head back to the airport and test the theory of camping under aluminum.
I also shared my campsite with the largest garter snake Iíve ever seen. He
seemed happy and safe inside the tire that marked the tie down anchor. We
didnít converse at any length and I think we were both happier for the fact.
A shot of St. Louisí Gateway Arch, made possible by the polite
controllers at Downtown airport.
Well, youíve often heard complaints of airport neighbors claiming that there
is no way to sleep near one. Itís simply not true. All the activity at the
airport had ceased by
After they left, sleeping was easy and that I did until I was awakened by
a wonderful sound and the sight of a nice little airplane starting its day.
What a way to start the day!!
A little coffee, a stop at the FBO restroom and I was ready for the day.
I spent a couple hours touring the excellent little airplane museum based
at Creve Coeur then packed up the gear, checked the weather and launched back
If youíre looking for something a little different to do with your airplane,
I highly recommend a short camping trip for a taste. With the right information
and a little planning, you can have an affordable, fun trip to someplace youíve
never been. And you can do it without the normal stresses of travel!
The DeHavilland Rapide housed at Creve Coeur airportís aviation museum.
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