Watch the Burning Man revelers pull an airport out of the desert...then make it disappear.
- By Chad Slattery
- Air & Space magazine, August 2007
(Page 4 of 4)
The airport’s self-policing worked: Since the multi-layered safety structure was introduced, Black Rock City has had a perfect safety record.
The FAA is satisfied; the agency did not bother to send observers in 2006.
In recent years the airport began integrating itself with the larger festival. Burning Man operates as a gift economy, not a consumer event. There are no T-shirts-and-souvenirs tents and no food vendors; the only things available to buy are coffee and ice. Sightseeing flights out are the pilot community’s gift, and each day several dozen Burners make their way from the main encampment hoping for an aerial look at the city. A knowing few discreetly ask for a private mile-high flight in back of a four-seater; veteran Roger Plowe is happy to accommodate them and grins, “One is immediately impressed at how much kinetic energy can be transferred to a small aircraft during those flights.”
“In 2005 I gave 77 rides to 75 people,” says a compact, 50-ish pilot who goes by the single name Berk. “A lot of them said it was the highlight of their time here.” Roger Ryan reflects, “Buddha says the true gift is the one that goes unheralded. We’re all quiet about it. We don’t need to tell them we just gave them a $150 gift.”
Whether pilots do it for fun or as a gift, flying at Black Rock City offers them the same freedom they enjoy back home. Burners arriving by land must park their vehicles; to mitigate dust and encourage interaction, only specially permitted art cars may drive on the playa. Aircraft, by contrast, are free to come and go at will. Last year, one couple flew their Cessna Caravan into nearby Winnemucca to buy cold beer and check their Blackberries; pilots commonly fly to Reno to pick up friends at the airport. Ray Arceneaux, whose float-equipped Cessna 185 drew double takes taxiing in, favors Alvord Hot Springs across the Oregon border: “I like to take the scantily clad ladies more than anything else. They have a way of convincing me that they really need an airplane ride.”
In 2006 Black Rock City Airport began shutting down the day after Labor Day. “I was relieved,” said Lissa Shoun. “There were no crashes, no near-misses, no troubles at all.” For the next five days volunteers dismantled the terminal and scoured the playa for trash. At night they discussed plans for the 2007 airport. “We need more public art,” Shoun decided, “and we want to train the volunteers better.”
Then, on Sunday, she woke up early and took one last look around the deserted lakebed. Satisfied there was no more trash to pick up and nothing left to do, she hitched the office trailer to a van and drove off slowly, leaving nothing but dust in her wake.