In the beginning there was dust… looking back from 2016 with dusty recollections
We collectively stand on the shoulders of many. Unfortunately, many names have been lost in time. Misty legends say we started as Camp Cataclysmic Megashear Ranch near the perimeter fence in the 1990s with Carl Copek. Flight-loving Burners joined the group. Glassman (Roger Plowe) guided the adventurous Grumman Tiger pilot, Lissa Shoun aka TigerTiger via radio for her first landing in 1996. Other early landings from the 90s who are still camping and flying in are SkyChick and PurpleHaze. Other early campers who are still regulars include Zeus, Rebar, Glassman, and Shelly.
TigerTiger went on to become the Airport Manager in 1999 and led the group from a spontaneous campout into “official” Burning Man and FAA recognition. Her partner, Eric Bong, was at her side helping along the way. Many people joined her to improve flights into Burning Man. In 2008 we were recognized as a temporary airport and in 2010 we were issued the official “88NV” when we were granted an Airport Identifier Code. Someone had a sense of humor as 88 is ham radio for “love and kisses.” 88NV appeared on nav charts in 2011.
One group of original campers set-up a desk and began giving “tour information” to the local hot springs and Frog Pond (it was legal then to take a soak during the event). Frog Pond was actually created to serve the Reno high-class restaurant demand for that epicurean delight: frog legs. The “tour desk” became BRTA the Black Rock Travel Agency.
One year planes couldn’t land at BRC and BRTA became a shuttle service driving pilots from tiedowns miles away. When the hot springs tours became unfeasible due to excessive demand (and later an outright ban by the BLM) they morphed into the “agents of misinformation” leading people astray…one year Glassman provided children’s wading pools as an alternative. This encouragement for Burners to use their own critical thinking skill continues to this day.
DragonFly! recalls from the early 2000s: “We rented a big UHaul truck…any pilot who could bag and tag their stuff and drop it with us prior to our departure date could expect to find it all neatly stacked alongside said truck when they landed…We would then convert the truck into a kitchen and proceed to trash it for the next 2 weeks. I don’t think we ever got any deposit money back.” After looking at expenses, the idea to have a permanent Galley for meals was born created from an old trailer by DragonFly! and friends in Portland OR.
Calamity camped at the Airport in 1998 and began helping the following year. He recalls his early days when we actually sold tickets at our Gate: “Airport was a hole in the trash fence with a card table under some shade. And we used to tote bags of money to Thorny after the event to be stuffed under his sofa cushions.” We have definitely matured, the Burning Man Organization first recognized “identified functions” in 2004: Airport Manager, Facilities, Volunteer Coordinator, Air Safety, and Unicom according to the Ember Report. Additional “official managers” occurred in 2007, growing to 30 defined “official” positions in 2015 that were recognized by the Burning Man Organization.
In 2007 a flight formation “Fallen Angel” was dedicated to Berk Snow an avid 88NV Scenic Pattern gifter who died in a plane crash earlier in the year. Calamity recalls: I was in the right-hand seat of the lead plane in the formation…When we landed, there were 20 planes in the pattern. We were landing two at a time, one on the runway and one on the adjacent road. We were all swivel heads and there were lots of people saying things like, do you see the white low-wing wagging its wings at your 9? Very good pilots.
Airport traffic has continued to increase each year. We’ve grown from a few pilots to 125 GA pilots, from a gateway for 500 passengers and pilots in the early years to about 2,300 Burners in 2015. In 2013 we had more take-offs and landings than Reno (214) and Sacramento (343) when we reached 434 in one day. Total operations (takeoff = 1, land = 1) as illustrated below:
A contest chose Ross Smith’s design for the Starport. Fabar, Flash Gordon, Painted Lady, Rebar and many others worked hard to raise funds and help build the Starport.
Donnerarium was the first Art Burn to be held at the airport. It was designed and built by Squeezebox in his driveway. It was a tribute to the ill-fated Donner Party (concept Badier Velji) that passed by near BRC, combined with the Legend of the Ghost Camel and
stories of wild camels heard by krzylade as a child (concept Sandi Kovach-Long). Camels were released by the military and running wild in local deserts in Nevada, Arizona, and California. The last reported sightings were in the 1920s.
We’ve seen Yaks and weddings, skywriting The Man Up in Smoke, and birth of the Starport. We’ve been serenade by an opera singer will watching a graceful pole dancer on a fire breathing mutant vehicle. In 2015 we saw the epic Thunderdome battle between Dee Zaster representing Logistics and Dogpilot representing the Runway. When the dust settled, Dee Zaster was declared the winner after a rousing battle and friendship resumed.
We launched the management of drones / remote controlled aircraft with RCBRC. Single runways multiplied into two runways. A few small charters have evolved into a complex organization. A small group of campers have become a team. Creating this single week of Airport Village takes 1000s of hours of volunteer time before the Event with planning, writing, surveying, and building to create our temporary playa home. We couldn’t do it without the additional 211 volunteers signed-up on ShiftBoard for 2015 supporting us during the Event…with an additional 100 or so volunteers helped who were not on ShiftBoard.
Thank you to everyone for making this one of the most amazing little airports in the world.