Camping under the wing

Winter’s end found me suffering from a very Victorian condition — a maudlin mood. Had I lived in that grand age, my condition would have been more grandiose, more pronounced, more eloquent, with tomes of Edgar Allen Poe and pots of tea lying about to help sustain me. Instead, the only indication of my condition was that I wore the same sweats for n’er a week, and the only person to notice was Keely.

The opening of the first jonquil blooms, or March Flowers as they are known locally, broke winter’s deep hold on my mood (and my flying pleasure) and, accordingly, my thoughts turned to the fly-in season ahead, especially when I was asked yet again by a reader about the experience of camping out of an airplane. We have camped comfortably at many fly-ins in a Cessna C-172 and more recently in two Luscombes. The key to a happy adventure is good planning and a little forethought.

My first recommendation is brutal honesty: the weight and balance. Modern aircraft have numbers and charts readily available in POHs. Vintage aircraft typically do not, so the owner will have to find the data in thin owners’ manuals or the type data certificate. Either way, once a chart has been developed, whether using an elaborate program or a simple table in a Word document, the owner and passenger will have to step on the scale and be honest about the results. Let’s face it: the heaviest cargo we fly is our own lard butts.

My own weight and balance for the last camping weekend we attended is an example. I had to make my own chart using the equations: weight X arm = moment and C.G. = moment/weight. My empty weight, oil, fuel, pilot/passenger and rear cargo totaled 1,284.4 pounds. The arm was 88.88 and the moment a whopping 20,661.6. The gross weight of the 8E is 1,400 pounds, so I was well within the weight limitations. My C.G. was calculated to be 16.08, which is in range. Fuel burn has little effect on my C.G. as my tanks are on the datum line. I am limited to 75 pounds in my cargo hold and fell within this range with 68 pounds of stuff that made my stay nice and comfy.

I weigh everything, including my headsets, GPS and purse. The purse can vary due to seasonal changes from 3 to 6 pounds. Believe me, the little things add up. The weight of our gear is kept in a chart that is on the home computer or printed out and kept with our weight and balance information for reference when flying.

Next, remember your tiedowns. Only an inconsiderate lout leaves an airplane untied and unattended. My set from Sporty’s weighs 6 pounds. These are always in my airplane for emergencies, along with extra oil (2 quarts@3.75 pounds). Add a hammer and a few tools (6 pounds), and I’m ready to start packing.

What does it takes to make a fearless aviator feel at home under the wing for several days? First, overnight accommodations must be considered. A good quality, lightweight dome tent works well. Ours is touted to sleep six. I reckon six could squeeze in there if they are really good friends, but I need space to move about. My vertically challenged self can stand upright in ours and keep our clothing at hand, along with sleeping areas for three. It weighs 14 pounds. The dome shape has proven sturdy in thunderstorm winds and prop blasts.

As to the actual bed, there are many lightweight alternatives. Some prefer an air mattress. These can be heavy, but their comfort may be worth the extra weight. Today’s versions are much improved over their predecessors, especially when using the new battery operated pumps. When flying the C-172, we used ultra-light cots, but we don’t have that volume in the Luscombes and now prefer the new-fangled sleeping mats that inflate when unrolled. They take up little space and weigh only 6 pounds each. Sleeping bags are also being updated with new materials that allow them to be smaller while retaining the ability to keep the sleeper warm. Add my feather pillow and I’m ready for a night under the stars.

We are kings and queens of the fly-in realm as we sit under our wings admiring landings or the air show. In order to do so, we need a throne. Most camping and discount stores have lightweight aluminum folding chairs. If purchasing one for the first time, consider that the more elaborate the chair, the heavier. (Where applicable, I take the item to the bathroom section in the store and weigh it on a scale.) Also consider the length. We are limited by the size of our cargo space, but even the armless versions that we use are comfortable nowadays.

If we are staying for only a day or two, we use our wings as our shade, but if our trip is extended, especially when attending Sun ‘n Fun in Florida, we like to include a tarp in our survival gear.

Pilots like to eat. There are always options for feeding at fly-ins. I like to mix mine: some eating in, some fly-in food and maybe a ride into town for a night or two of dining at the local eateries. For those dine-in experiences, a rustic kitchen is necessary. A kitchen needs a table. Our folding plastic one is about 26 inches square and weighs just 8 pounds. A small stove, coffee pot and items for a morning pick-me-up is a must. The same items can be used to make hot chocolate in the evenings. There are endless varieties of freeze-dried and add-water-only foods that are available that are lightweight and take up little space. These items can be packed in a plastic container or even better yet, a soft-sided cooler. Unload the goods upon arrival, add ice and your favorite drinks and voila! The fun has begun! I include some trash bags in the kit (with many possible uses besides holding trash). The stove weighs 6 pounds, the cooler with food and supplies is 10 and the plastic container with my cookware is 14. It can be emptied and used as a kitchen sink.

Other necessities include a towel and washcloth for each passenger. Clothespins are good for pinning these items to the prop for drying and reuse. Liquid soap is best for communal showers. Flops are a versatile choice of footwear as they are great for shower use and walking around camp. When packing clothing, I like to put one day’s outfit, including socks and underwear, in a two and a half gallon Ziploc bag. They vacuum just like the other expensive bags for a fraction of the price. At the end of the day, the outfit goes back in the same bag for easy storage and repacking. What’s neat about this system is that a week’s wardrobe stacks flat and fits perfectly on my hat rack. Towels can be packed the same way for a total of 9 pounds.

Sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses are needed to prevent sunstroke. Insect spray is welcome for those evenings under the stars when the lies get a little bigger and the tales a little taller. While visiting the port-a-potty after dark, a flashlight is much appreciated. Be sure to pack extra batteries. These necessities can be packed in a backpack that can be used during the stay for shower runs and hauling goods purchased at the vendors.

Ending a winter’s maudlin mood and saying goodbye to those baggy sweats for another year: priceless or, should I say, weightless?

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