Camping "Under the Wing":
One of the groups of people I most enjoy spending time
with are pilots. Because flying is expensive, pilots tend to be successful
people. Because flying is involved and challenging, pilots tend to be smarter
than the average person. Because of the effort required to get
your license (85% of people who start flight instruction never get a rating.),
pilots tend to be dedicated, driven individuals. And because you take your
life and the lives of your passengers in your hand every time to go up, pilots
tend to be confident individuals who enjoy seizing life by the throat.
When you put these characteristics together you get a group of people that it's
great to be around, and quite special to be a part of.
Because pilots are so mobile, there are regular fly-in's around the country where airmen congregate, socialize, and enjoy the company of others like themselves. One of the largest is an annual several-day event held in Lakeland, FL each April called Sun-N-Fun. It's a huge gathering with over 645,000 people attending. (Nothing like Florida when it's still cold back home!)
Most people fly in, rent a car and go find a hotel, but they are missing the real magic. The diehards camp with their plane, pitching tents, or just tossing an air mattress and sleeping bag under the wind of your own plane. I feel sorry for those who leave each evening, for you see, the experience doesn't become truly divine, until after dark.
That's when the crowds leave, and the diehards pull out their lawn chairs and small circles start spontaneously forming. Different circles will have different topics of discussion, and pilots will migrate from group to group as their interests reflect. Some are very reverent discussions from combat pilots about friends lost years ago. (In groups like this, of you aren't a combat pilot, you just listen.) Some circles swap humorous stories, these are easily identifies by the regular rounds of laughter that can be heard from hundreds of feet away. Some are technical discussions, or political, Etc, etc....
And all are wonderful, and you realize just how fortunate you are to be a member of the fraternity of airmen, and appreciate the fact that you see the world differently than 99% of mankind.
This picture was from one of my trips to Lakeland. (I think it is from a 1996 trip?) Cherokee 8334papa is a sweet little 180HP warrior (a four seater) that I really enjoy flying, I've had this plane over much of the country at one time or another. This pic was taken shortly after arrival and we were just setting up a rain-fly to keep everything dry for the week. The dude in the picture was a friend by the name of Al Huffman.
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All images & text © 2003 Phil Case