Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Down & Dirty

The Cirrus SR22 tries out the Idaho backcountry and redefines airplane camping

Cavanaugh Bay Airstrip (66S) is a 3,000-foot groomed turf strip adjacent to Priest Lake. It features a camping area, with picnic tables, loaner camping gear, and a loaner car.
Cavanaugh Strip
When Cavanaugh Bay airport came into view after the short hop from Sandpoint, it looked more challenging than we imagined. Although it's long (about 3,000 feet), the sod can get soggy and filled with ruts. The approach was over Priest Lake, and we needed to get over a set of buildings and trees at the approach end, and then drop into the remaining strip. If the wind was blowing, the challenge factor would have gone up exponentially, and the whole strip was surrounded by tall pines. Density altitude was also a factor. Although Cavanaugh wasn't a 500-foot Alaskan sandbar, landing there did make us focus.

The reason the strip is there is for the excellent restaurant at the marina, the picture-postcard camping (for fly-in guests only) and the crystal-clear waters of Priest Lake. There's a sheltered parking area with tiedowns in the grass and a smaller tree-covered area for tents that includes picnic tables. This little strip that some people call a best-kept secret even offers hot showers, free firewood, loaner camping gear and a loaner car.

By now, most pilots who are interested know the flying characteristics of the SR22. The side-stick takes some getting used to and the spring-assisted controls feel a bit stiff to the uninitiated. The aircraft isn't heavy on the controls but is no nimble ballerina, either. It handles somewhat between, say, a Cessna 182 and a Beech Bonanza, with a little SUV thrown in. It feels sure and stable.

Making the approach into Cavanaugh, we noticed the windsock was limp, making for a more relaxed landing. There was nothing special about the process, with normal approach speeds and flap settings. Once the mains touched down on the rutty sod, it was hard to tell we were on grass and not asphalt. It was once we slowed down that we started to notice the bumps. The Cirrus took it all in stride and had no problem navigating the grass all the way to the camping area. The wheel pants weren't even scratched.

This year marks a big change for Cirrus in that they re-engineered much of the original airplane. Generation 5 is the name Cirrus has given to the airframe change required to achieve the improvements for the 2013 SR22 and SR22T. The entire aircraft design was analyzed from spinner to tail, and many parts and systems reengineered and redesigned.

If camping isn't quite your thing and you want to be pampered while eating at a gourmet-level restaurant and enjoying the beauty that Priest Lake has to offer, try Cavanaugh's Resort, about 100 yards north of the Cavanaugh Bay airstrip.

Cavanaugh's offers both lodging and some of the best lakeside dining in the area. If the views from Cavanaugh's restaurant don't make you want to jump into the cool, pristine waters of Priest Lake, then nothing will. It's a perfect spot to watch airplanes come into the secluded airstrip, and to watch the seaplanes doing their thing in the adjoining bay.

If you want to spend a few days on the lake (and you should), Cavanaugh's Resort offers luxury three-bedroom, four-bath guest suites that can be reserved weekly during the summer months (Fourth of July through Labor Day) or nightly in the off season. Primarily a summer destination, Priest Lake has some of the most remote and secluded camping spots around, and getting here by general aviation airplane is part of the adventure.

Sandpoint, Idaho, is a great launching spot for Cavanaugh's, and it's only a 20-minute flight to the strip. If you'd like a little mountain refresher course, contact SilverWing Flight Services at Sandpoint, and their locally experienced instructors can introduce you to the nuances of this hidden jewel of a mountain strip that just about any pilot can handle.

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Labels: Piston Singles


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