There might be a tad more dust and desert in Nevada than in Wisconsin, but the atmosphere, camaraderie, and love for aviation felt all over the dry lakebed at the ninth annual High-Sierra Fly-In had quite the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh convention feel.
As soon as we hit the dirt road in our recreational vehicle on the trek to High Sierra, I was continuously amazed with what was in front of me, and also slightly nervous. We were told that if we started to feel like we were going the wrong way on the drive to the Dead Cow Lakebed, we were probably going the right way. Feeling lost came easily because roads weren’t marked, traffic was sparse, and GPS decided to stop directing us well before the arrival point. The mountains were glorious and the cows plentiful, and I wouldn’t have wanted the drive to be any other way.
We may have delivered the RV back with a few less parts after the backbreaking, jittery ride, but we kicked up some pretty impressive dust on the way. In fact, we navigated largely by following the dust trails left by those braving the roads ahead of us. People brought in RVs, cars, tents, bikes, four-wheelers, dirt bikes, powered paramotors, and other various off-road vehicles — and, of course, airplanes.
The hard alkali dust surface made for chilly evenings and mornings, but beautifully warm afternoons. The remote location offered incredible scenic group fly-outs including mountain top stops, flying through geysers, lake views, hot spring visits, breakfast at Bodad Airport (CA11), and much more.
This event began nine years ago with six people, and has grown to nearly 400 airplanes and 1,200 people in desolate northern Nevada. Folks traveled from as far as Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and Alaska to hang out in the dusty playa desert, and just 20 volunteers helped coordinate the event alongside Kevin Quinn, EAA Lifetime 862035, creator of this backcountry mecca and owner of a portion of the Dead Cow land.
One of the main goals of this event is to showcase that backcountry flying is an affordable, accessible, and fun way to get into flying, and lets you explore the world differently. Kevin is also a part of a group called the Flying Cowboys, whose mission is to help grow participation in aviation, inspire others (especially youth), clean up public land they fly to, and, mostly, have fun flying together.
One of the most interesting elements was seeing a variety of aircraft fill up the lakebed. The types represented included CubCrafters Carbon Cubs, Kitfoxes, Piper Cubs and Super Cubs, Just Aircraft, Avid Flyers, a variety of Cessnas (172s, 180s, 182s, 185s), a Grumman Mallard, an L-19, two Max Holste Broussards, a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N, an MX-2 , RVs (not the camping kind), Mooneys, Taylorcrafts, Zeniths, Lake amphibian, and a highly modified little PT-6 turboprop-powered Wilga you might have heard about called Draco, which made its public debut at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018.
Draco, owned by Mike Patey, EAA 1118534, a Utah aviator and entrepreneur, was the star of the STOL drag races, which is the featured event at High Sierra Fly-In. STOL drag racing takes traditional short takeoff and landing competition, and adds in a bit of NASCAR. Two airplanes race side-by-side down 3,500-foot lanes, land on or after a marked line, come to a complete stop, turn around 180 degrees, take off again, and race back to the starting point. The first airplane to land on or after the finish line and come to a complete stop wins. Some of the slips at the touchdown spots were incredible!
Seventy-three airplanes raced in the qualifiers on Friday, but only 16 made the finals on Saturday, October 20. One major surprise was Trent Palmer, EAA 1211098, showing up in his newly modified Kitfox named FreedomFox moments before the preliminaries ended, and qualifying for the big Saturday event. The favorites Draco and FreedomFox wrapped up the intense race in the finals, and the two good friends gave fans a spectacle that will be talked about for a long time. Draco finished first with about a minute and 17 seconds, Trent landed in second place, and Toby Ashley, EAA 1246743, finished in third with his Carbon Cub. Kevin and the volunteers ensured safety was of utmost importance throughout the event.
“Not only is this all about fun, it’s also educational for so many,” Kevin said. “Attendees get to meet influential people, and take away knowledge from very experienced aviators. To be able to come out here and talk to everyone about the promotion of our sport, and to continue educating folks on how to do it, that’s what the High Sierra Fly-In is all about. There’s so much experience here, odds are that someone has done that, and you leave with a whole bunch of new friends.” This is the spirit of aviation at its finest.
Watch for more on the 2018 High Sierra Fly-In in an upcoming issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine.