Have Airplane, Will Camp, Pilot Says


Camping by plane is Payson Pilots president Paul Pitkin's preferred passion.

Pitkin, whose name and hobby add up to the Rim country's own version of a Peter Piper tongue twister, says there's no better way to experience the wilderness.

"The back seat comes out of the plane and you put all your gear in there," he said. "Then you fly to Idaho or Utah, land on a back country strip, and there's just nothing like it."

Brandishing a photo from a past camping trip to a place called Johnson Creek, Idaho, Pitkin continued.

"The Salmon River is about 50 feet behind these trees. There's no radio. No TV. There's one phone for outgoing calls only. One shower.

"For breakfast, you fly to this working ranch. The lady stands on the front porch and counts the airplanes. Then she goes in and fixes breakfast on this old wood stove. The only way into these ranches is by horseback, to walk or to fly."

Pitkin, who drives the parts van for Chapman Auto Center, is actively involved in a group called the Back Country Pilots.

"The organization is a 14-state coalition that is trying to maintain and encourage back country strips," he said. "Environmentalists like the Sierra Club and those kinds of people are trying to kill us."

States that accommodate their hobby with numerous back country dirt strips include Utah, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

"There's not many places in Arizona for pilots to camp yet," Pitkin said. "That's one of my projects."

His plane, a sleek silver 1960 model Cessna 180 is rapidly becoming a collector's item. In fact, another organization he belongs to is the Cessna 180-185 Club.

"I've owned this airplane since 1990," he said. "We all get together for training and to maintain our aircrafts. The 180 is basically a working airplane. You see a lot of them in Idaho, Montana and Alaska hauling people back into the wilderness."

Pitkin's plane is worth about $80,000, which sounds like a lot until you consider that a brand new Cessna 182 starts at about $240,000.

A sign of the times, he laments, is that about one-third of that cost goes for product liability insurance.

Pitkin, who moved from Tempe to Payson in 1990, has been flying since 1974.

"A friend called me one Sunday night who had bought a small Aeronca Chief," Pitkin recalled with a laugh. "He said, 'If you buy half of this plane, I can move from the doghouse into the big house.' He had a friend who was an instructor, and Pete taught us how to fly. I just progressed from there to bigger aircraft."

Pitkin owned an automotive machine shop in Tempe, but moved to Payson in 1990 to take care of his aging parents. When they passed away, he stayed on.

"Once you move up here, you're too poor to move anywhere else," he said. "When I realized I couldn't live on Social Security alone, I went to work for Chapman."

He's served as president of the Payson Pilots Association for two years, and during that time has worked hard to appease nearby homeowners who object to aircraft noise. A pet project has been a noise abatement brochure especially aimed at visiting pilots to help make them aware of procedures and patterns that minimize aircraft noise when flying in and out of Payson.

"That's my other passion," he said. "We need this airport and that means we need to do our best to keep the people around here happy.

"The airport is never going to go away. We need it for the daily courier services like UPS, for medical. Banknotes go in and out of here everyday. The Chapman and Bashas' prop jet comes in and out."

What too many people don't realize, Pitkin believes, is that local pilots are very eager to work with and accommodate residents who live nearby or who are otherwise affected by flight patterns.

"If you talk to any pilot around here, he'll tell you, 'We're not here to antagonize anybody. We're here to live with the rest of the town.'"

Name: Paul A. Pitkin

Occupation: Parts delivery driver

Employer: Chapman Auto Center LLC

Birthplace: Sterling, Colo.

Family: One daughter, one son, one very special other.

Personal motto: "Good enough is never good enough," and "Look for the greater good."

Inspiration: Several people who have taught me never to settle for good enough.

Greatest feat: Raising two children to adulthood, drug free, with a sense of responsibility, and four grandchildren who are the light of my life.

Favorite hobby: Flying off to a remote airstrip for a day of clean-up or relaxation and sharing with other pilots.

Three words that describe me best: Honesty, caring, tenacity

I don't want to brag but ... I feel I made a difference in the lives of others as a member of the Automotive Wholesalers by starting a credit union health care plan for the small business owner.

Person in history I would most like to meet: Octave Chanute, father of aviation.

Luxury defined: A small house at the end of Whitehouse in Payson.

Dream vacation spot: Flying to the wilds of Alaska for weeks of camping.

Why Payson? Four seasons, none severe, and the greatest people to be found anywhere.

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