Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Playa: Both Beautiful and Brutal to Aviators
You can view a Photo Gallery for this post here.
Welcome to part two of my interview with Dean Siracusa, a long-time Burner who volunteers to run the "airport" during Nevada's Burning Man event.
World of Flying: What kind of pilot flies into Burning Man?
Siracusa: "It does take a special aviator to fly out to a remote desert location and camp in a place with dust storms and other wild weather. You've got to be adventurous and love the back-country. With the wide range of aircraft that show up though the range of pilots is very wide. Everyone from farmers to corporate and airline pilots to heads of major corporations show up to the event every year. A fair amount of flight instructors even show up so you might even be able to get your bi-annual flight review done out there!"
World of Flying: Is it mostly a male pilot that flies in and attends, or couples?
Siracusa: "Well, with 80 percent of the pilot population being male, you can expect the Burning Man Aviators to be of a similar demographic. But yes, there are a number of female aviators out there. They're all great pilots too. Some fly fast little Mooney's while others like Ramona Cox (aka Skychick) of Southern California fly a big Cessna Turbo 206. She's been coming out to the playa longer than I have. And, the long time head of the Burning Man airport, Lissa Shoun (aka Tiger Tiger), is also a pilot."
World of Flying: What are some pre-flight tips you can give any pilot making the trip to Burning Man, and what is the "airport" like.
Siracusa: "The first thing any pilot should do is go to the Burning Man Airport website. There you'll find all the important information for flying out there. It's critical to get as much up to date information before flying out there. The airport itself is made up of a bunch of great people (both pilots and non-pilots). It's situated a bit outside of the Burning Man festivities so it's usually a bit quieter when you want to get some sleep. Kind of funny that one has to go out to the airport for a little peace and quiet!
You'll also want to study the survival information at the main Burning Man website. There are no concessions on the playa. No trash cans either. So, you'll need to bring everything in and pack everything out that you need to survive during your stay. The only thing out there that helps in your survival are thousands of porta-potties. The event sells coffee and bags and blocks of ice. But, that's really it.
Many people have heard about the wind storms that occasionally blow through the event. Many pilots are concerned that their plane will be sand-blasted and ruin their paint. The reality is that the playa surface is not sandy. It's made of a very, very fine powder and couldn't sandblast anything. What this dust does do is get absolutely everywhere. So, most pilots seal up every vent and opening to their plane as best as they can with plastic and 3M blue tape. When they return home every metal part whether on their plane, bicycles, car, etc... gets a very thorough wash. The playa dust is very alkaline so adding a bit of vinegar to the wash water helps release the dust better than just about anything else."
World of Flying: Blast a hole in this myth: Everyone that goes to Burning Man is a stoner.
Siracusa: "I would be lying if I said that nobody did drugs out there. But, it's not nearly as prevalent as you might think. Some of the art and music is so out of this world that you can be completely sober and still be amazed by it all. And, there are all forms of law enforcement at the event. Everyone from local police, county sheriffs, state and even federal law enforcement teams are there in various capacities. Most are there because they volunteered for the duty because they enjoy the experience too. They're not going into private camps unless needed but if you're doing something stupid in public they're definitely going to have a nice chat with you."
World of Flying: Are there any things to look out for while flying into Burning Man, such as anyone who might want to make a point about us burning leaded fuels?
Siracusa: "The greatest thing about Burning Man is that you've got 50,000 of the friendliest people that you'll meet anywhere. Everyone is totally cool with whatever way you want to experience the burn. If you want to be naked the entire time. No problem. If you want to paint other people. Great! If you want to give people rides in your plane around the event. Amazing! The only thing you really need to worry about is people giving you things that you may not want. Be aware of food that people may offer you as a gift. It may contain some things that you're not expecting.
And, most civilians have no idea what airplanes run on. Generally speaking, Burning Man is not a political event. There are some art pieces that are political but that's about as far as it goes. I promise you that almost anyone that attends Burning Man for the first time has their jaw on the ground the entire time they're there. It really is another world and you won't believe what you're seeing most of the time."