Camping out, GA style

May 30, 2014

The camping area at Indianapolis Regional Airport for AOPA's Fly-In quickly filled up.
Eric Graham is camping out with an aircraft for the first time.

If you’re a rookie at camping under your aircraft’s wing, here’s a tip: Park next to the folks who look like they’ve done it a few times.

More than a dozen general aviation aircraft filled the designated camping area for AOPA’s Fly-In at Indianapolis Regional Airport. Pilots pitched their tents under wings and behind tails, and swapped stories in the shade of their birds.

Wright Flyers Flying Club member Eric Graham took a break from putting the finishing touches on his tent to chat.  “He’s got a lawn chair and a cooler,” Graham said of the camp set up next to him, noting that he had forgotten both of those items—it’s his first aircraft camping experience. But, he added, he remembered to bring food and a case of water. And, just as important, he remembered how to set up his granchildren’s tent.

Graham flew in May 30 in his club’s Cessna 152 to beat the Saturday rush and to take a demonstration flight in a Carbon Cub.  Graham is in the market for his own aircraft so that he and his wife can travel freely without worrying about airplane schedules. (The club, based at a private airstrip in New Carlisle, Ohio, also has a Cessna 182.)

“I just went up in it, and wow,” Graham said of the Carbon Cub. “We live on a farm, so I could potentially use my backyard as a runway landing strip.” The difference between the Cessna 152 and Carbon Cub is like a “carousel and a roller coaster.”  

GA camping rookies Darrell Wilson of Hillsboro, Ohio, and Clyde Downs of Port Huron, Mich., set up near veteran camper Michael Pastore, a 20-year AOPA member and volunteer at the fly-in. Pastore, of Naperville, Ill., frequently camps with “Toto, the all-American Cessna 140.”

This trio of pilots just met for the first time and have become fast friends.

One strolling around the camping area would think the trio had been friends for decades by the way they joked with one another as they shared stories and advice. Wilson chatted about the navigation equipment he uses in his 1963 Cessna 172, while Downs recalled the ups and downs of his aviation story.

Downs learned to fly in 1970, earning his private and commercial certificates and instrument rating. Then, “I went broke,” he said. “Thirty-five years later, I bought an airplane. That’s three years ago.” The airplane, a brownish-gold 1970 Cessna 172, N-number 7356G, is remarkably similar to the first airplane he ever owned, he said. It too was a 1970 Skyhawk with the same coloring, its N-number 7310G. Downs said he told his wife that he didn’t know whether that was a good or bad omen.

While Wilson and Pastore both have tents for a little added protection at night, Downs said he will just put an air mattress under the wing or fuselage of his Cessna 172. Pastore offered to make coffee for his new friends early Saturday morning to give them a boost before the EAA pancake breakfast kicks off at 8 a.m.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Pastore said with a grin.

Fly in, camp out, go biking.
Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Miller | AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.