Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Down & Dirty

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

Some big changes were made to the CAPS, including increasing the parachute canopy size to 65 feet in diameter; a new rocket extraction system that propels the parachute on activation; an advanced rocket igniter and lighter, stronger construction materials. Other airframe upgrades included strengthening the carbon-fiber single-part wing spar, strengthening the landing gear and designing a new flap system, allowing extension to the first position at 150 knots.

I have to admit it was odd seeing the gleaming Cirrus among the blue-collar Cessna 170s and various other taildraggers. There were some tricycle-gear airplanes camping at the strip, but they were "legacy" airplanes from aviation's golden age. The Cirrus seemed like a college kid crashing his parent's gin-rummy night. Once we got all the gear out and set up, the SR22 fit right in.

Departing Cavanaugh was uneventful. Even with all four of us and our full bellies, plenty of fuel and all our gear, the SR22 jumped off the little strip. I could see a few spectators down below us scratching their heads and looking on in confusion, but there was no doubt the SR22 had performed flawlessly. In fact, the only problem we had the entire trip was a difficult restart after we had killed the engine but decided to move the airplane to a better spot. Like many fuel-injected engines, it doesn't like starting hot. But a little babying fired it up without issue.

The SR22 can hold its own on these moderate backcountry strips. Although the airplane is deceivingly large, it showed that it can handle dirt and mountains without a hiccup. The fact that a competent pilot can fly the SR22 in and out of these kinds of strips should also hold back the naysayers who insist the Cirrus can't run with the big dogs.

It's fair, then, to call the SR22 the most sophisticated GA aircraft, a useful and efficient business tool and a superlative cross-country hauler. Now, staring out over the Cirrus' gleaming, laminar flow, rivet-less wing over the mountain peaks surrounding us on the way back to Sandpoint, we can easily add, "solid, off-pavement family wagon."

For pilots flying into the Cavanaugh Bay airstrip (66S), camping under the wing is the order of the day. Along with the sensory overload you'll experience getting there through some of the most picturesque scenery in the West, you'll also find it's one of the most idyllic camping spots in the area and is the perfect gateway to further adventures.

For airplane campers, there are a lot of reasons to stay at Cavanaugh. First, the strip is secluded but doesn't require super backcountry pilot skills. It's mowed and groomed to a large extent, and is wide enough that you won't be sweating the approach. At 3,000 feet in length, it will accommodate most piston singles with ease. Last summer, a guy in a Citation Jet even stopped in for a bit. Also, the strip sits at 2,500 feet elevation, so it won't require a ton of performance to operate from. The approach is over Priest Lake and the only hurdle is a group of trees and buildings at the north end. It shouldn't pose any problem for average pilots. Like at other Idaho strips, announce your position on the CTAF (122.9).

Once you've landed, there's ample parking for a good 30 airplanes on the grass surrounding the landing area. There's a camping area with picnic tables (these get taken first, so plan accordingly), and the state-owned strip offers hot, clean showers, hot coffee, drinking water, stoves and all the firewood you need at no cost.

There's a rustic-but-functional bunkhouse available that will sleep six people on bunks, also at no charge. Allen Lieske—the onsite caretaker during the summer—is known in the Idaho area and is a fantastic host with years of experience here. He can help with just about any need you may have.

There's a courtesy car available if you want to go exploring or need to get supplies in nearby Coolin, which is about eight miles away. Coolin has a large grocery store and most conveniences and services. You can use the car for $5 a day and .30 per mile. You should check with Lieske to make sure the car is available before your trip.

If you want to take a dip in Priest Lake—which is known for its refreshing, clean water—you can walk over to the marina and dive in, though it's actually all private beach. If you want to be more legit and really take advantage of this incredible lake, Blue Diamond Marina is a great place to rent watercraft, and their staff can give you tips on where to swim and which beaches are best. Blue Diamond is about five miles north of the strip, along the west shore of the lake.

If you agree that places like Cavanaugh are disappearing fast and want to show your appreciation for great spots like this, there's a donation box at the campsite. Contact the airstrip at (208) 443-2721.

Labels: Piston Singles


Add Comment