By Brian Thomas, EAA 1385146, EAA Chapter 27 member
For me, it starts with the socks for some peculiar, yet practical reason. They are always first in the bag. For you it may be different, but it’s always the same routine checking off items from a list compiled during previous trips derived from experiences past. Each item is significant for its use but examined critically for its weight. Packing complete and everything loaded into your aircraft in a familiar game of Tetris, you make one final scan of your camping checklist before heading out. That’s right, you are going airplane camping!
Preflight accomplished, the engine whirls to life. As the throttle is advanced, the RPM, like your anticipation for what’s to come, increases. The aircraft accelerates into the wild blue yonder. Falling beneath it are your stresses, and the bonds of life in a two-dimensional world.
You are airborne and en route! The destination may be near or it may be far, but the journey to get there will be nothing short of incredible. The view is mesmerizing. Rivers below, cutting their meandering path through the hillsides set ablaze in color for this time of year in the cool crisp air of fall. The foliage peaks in glorious reds, oranges, browns, and yellows.
Then in the distance, you see it an emerald green ribbon of grass lovingly carved into the countryside. A single unmistakable color in a sea of fire. The thin wisps of smoke wafting in the air from the campfire below, mark the entrance to your downwind leg. Reducing the power abeam your touchdown point before turning base then setting up on short final, you glide below the treetops kissing terra firma. Absent is the familiar chirp of the tires from the traditional asphalt runway. The gear squats and you settle into an undulating rollout as both the wings of the aircraft and your soul unload from the burdens placed upon it.
Pulling the mixture, in your parking spot the propeller winds slowly to a stop along with what seems is time itself. You have arrived in a place unlike that of which you left. You have left behind the hustle and bustle of everyday life, set aside the chaos, and for a moment arrived in a place where none of that matters. You have been transported through a portal. A time and place that feels rather like heaven, and the best part about it is you are not alone.
No sooner does your aircraft door shut do the handshakes and greetings begin from folks you may have known for years or strangers you are meeting for the first time. “Great landing,” they say. “Nice aircraft you have there!” shouts another. “Welcome friend, and make yourself at home.” “There’s food over there, drinks in the cooler, the fires going, and the movie starts at 8. If you need anything just ask.”
Yes, indeed you have arrived, and set up camp amongst a fellowship of aviators. The only goal is to fill your stomach with food, quench your thirst with a few cold ones, and replenish your soul spending the next few days absent of the stresses of the real world. The only thing on this weekend’s agenda is fun!
You rise to the familiar crackle of the fire. The pine smoke accented with the perfume of bacon in the air. The coffee is brewing away, and coming off the griddle is breakfast for everyone gathered. Those familiar two words “clear prop!” are heard in the distance as the dawn patrol starts up for the first flights of the day with the sun barely over the horizon.
The day is full of activities. A group fly out to some other local grass strips, scenic flights looking at the ever-changing landscape, rides given to people you have just met, a spot landing contest, and an afternoon pumpkin drop, to name a few. A day of flying for everyone that can only be described as a day of bliss.
Aircraft buzz overhead all day long. A symphony of recips, radials, and Rotaxes like music to your ears. Without hesitation, you look skyward with curiosity, fulfilling a desire embedded since your youth. The aircraft line the runway, each proudly flown in by their caretaker eager to show them off, and wax about them poetically. It feels like a day tailor-made for you as you soak it all in, drawn to these people and their flying machines.
As the sun sets the fun continues. A sheet stretched between two trees provides the backdrop and on it flickers a familiar aviation-themed movie seen before, but never seen like this. The theater is artificially lit with the stars, and moon overhead. To your left as well as right are those you have spent the day with watching intently in silence as the film stirs emotions within each.
The night is still young as the movie ends, and the warmth of the fire beckons. Like moths to a flame, everyone encircles the fire. The drinks are poured, and the conversations begin flowing like a river with no end. Well into the wee hours the “hangar flying” ensues and you converse with people you’ve only just met hours before, yet there is no shortage of things to talk about.
Before long a glass is raised, and a toast is called. A grown man and his teenage son rise to their feet. This man standing before us with whom most of us have never met before with emotions of the day welling inside of him, is brought to tears over what he has just experienced. A grown man in front of other grown men weeping as he leads a toast thankful for the day, and the joy of aviation having spent it with his son amongst other like-minded folks. Everyone there feeling the same. A hearty cheer of thanks is given to those that made this moment happen.
After enough stories have been told, one by one those gathered settle in for a night of sleep in the cold, brisk autumn air, their bellies full and their minds at peace.
The dawn of a new day has not yet come as I arise from the tent. The stars overhead shining brightly, unencumbered by the glow of city lights pierce the night sky. A log is tossed on the embers, still warm, fueled by the conversations of the night prior. As I wait for the fire to crackle to life, I look up at the stars naming the constellations like I used to do as a boy. When the flames emerge, I find myself mesmerized by the fire, pondering how this all happened.
I have been immersed in a world like no other. Gathered here are men and women young and old whose stories are as varied as the aircraft they have flown in. Here in this place a software programmer talks to a successful entrepreneur, a schoolteacher converses with a retired airline pilot, a young high school student talks to a seasoned professional corporate pilot, but none of that matters. Over on the flightline, a 60-year-old tried and true Tri-Pacer sits next to a shiny new Husky, a simple trike next to a sleek Cessna 195, a homesick Maule next to a Champ with half tanks, but yet none of that matters either.
Here in this place, it matters not what you do nor how much you make and even less about what you fly. All that matters here is that you do fly, dream to fly, and share a passion for flight. Here it is all about the people. We fellow aviators that have hurled ourselves skyward into the wild blue yonder having tasted flight, leaving the surly bonds of earth in our winged flying machines fanning an innate desire within each one of us to fly. Throw out everything you know about Bernoulli’s principle, it is the people that provide the lift beneath our wings making events like this, as well as aviation, take flight.
That is the magic of Mount Tobe — that is the magic of aviation.
ASEL Private pilot
EAA Member 1385146
VAA Member 729562
WBA Member 611491
Currently Restoring a 1943 Aeronca L3