The First Unpowered Flight to Burning Man

Burner Kurtis Carter wanted to skip the entry traffic so much, he jumped off a mountain 70 miles away and flew through the air for more than 6 hours. Sure beats sitting in the Will Crawl line!


Peaceful Warriors, Hackers and Merry Pranksters

Dr Bruce Damer (L), Joe Rogan (R)

Dr Bruce Damer (L), Joe Rogan (R)

A couple of months ago, I was listening to the Joe Rogan podcast, and heard an amazing tale from Burning Man. Joe, who is a very public advocate for hallucinogenic drugs, was interviewing Dr Bruce Damer, a long time Burner (’99). He was recommended as a guest for Joe by Dennis McKenna, whose brother Terence was called the Patron of Psychedelic Drugs in his New York Times obituary – Timothy Leary called him “the Timothy Leary of the 90’s”.

Dr Damer, a technologist and virtual world pioneer, gives seminars at the Pentagon, as well as lecturing Burners on psychedelic drugs.

They kick the podcast off with the “craziest story of all time”, which Bruce Damer originally told to Boing Boing, about being at Burning Man during Hurricane Katrina and hacking into military/intelligence satellites to watch the action:

JR: “You were partying at Burning Man with people who work at the Pentagon”

BD: “Yes”

JR: “That gives me great discomfort, to know that people who work in the Pentagon are partying at Burning Man”

BD: “Rocking! We called for Blackhawks…

Our camp was doing the Wi-Fi for the public and emergency networks, the private network…we had a dish, so we could take over satellites. One of our guys took over a recon satellite from the National Reconnaissance Office. He took this thing offline – this was a Pentagon move…Our Pentagon satellite phone rang, the general on the other side was saying “what’s going on” and then instructed the guy not to answer. We then had control of this satellite and could watch Katrina come in. The government wasn’t doing anything to help people, with all this equipment.

He worked on the Asian tsunami relief efforts, then he went straight to Afghanistan, then he went to Baghdad, then he came to Burning Man.

He works under Title 10 money doing extreme comms, extreme emergency relief efforts. This guy’s invented all this technology, cellphones in rubberized cases that come down on parachutes and run for a month… Here we have a natural disaster happening in our own country, barreling in. Nobody at Burning Man knows it’s happening, but we watched it come in.

You could watch video from orbit on this guy’s screen. You could watch people walking…we saw the first levee breach on this guy’s screen at Burning Man…hi-res reconnaissance imagery…the Iridium phone kept ringing. This is an innovative genius type guy that is totally respected in that organization. The general that initiated the enquiry was covering him, so that the general could then contact Space Command and say “I can’t get any information”. He had put the satellite in some kind of failsafe fall-back mode, so they would spend the next several days trying to get back into it…we could burn hydrazine and locate stuff on the Playa.”

Bruce then goes on to discuss billionaire camps with sherpas. It’s the first seven minutes here:

The whole podcast is worth listening to. Dr Damer gave a lecture at Burning Man in 2012 about shamans, the Pentagon and NASA at the Palenque Norte Psychedelic Salon.

The Palenque Norte journey began with the legendary Entheobotany Conferences held at the Chan Kah hotel near the ancient Mayan ruins just outside of Palenque, Mexico. There, Terence McKenna, Jonathan Ott, Ann & Sasha Shulgin, and a host of other psychedelic luminaries passed along many insights, discoveries, and wild tales to the fortunate Tribe members who were there. And it was at the end of the pool where Terence McKenna gave some of his last talks at the Chan Kah. Years later, then in 2003, a few alumni from those conferences decided to have a “Palenque reunion” at the Burning Man Festival, and so they organized a lecture series to continue the Palenque tradition.

Bruce Damer takes the 2012 Palenque Norte audience at the Burning Man Festival on a far flung journey into what he calls his practice of “global multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-technic shamanism” where you “put yourself on the shelf” and dive deeply into the worlds of Pentagon think tanks, NASA mission designers, the tribal cultures of Pakistan, the Swiss [bankers], Egyptologists, IT professionals, and Christian Evangelicals, to come back with the true alchemical gold. With apologies to Terence McKenna, he says “there is no dominator culture” and that if we aren’t careful we can collectively fall for cartoon epistemologies, chase chains of weaker and weaker claims, and become a victims of our own delusions, and fall prey to others’ unsubstantiated theories. Bruce advises everyone to become their own best skeptic and develop “critical intelligence”. If someone says something that strikes you as flaky or just doesn’t feel right, Bruce suggests that you think it through before you pass on their meme.

Great pants!

So this is the type of people at Burning Man. It’s not all drugged up hippies looking for an orgy. Some of them advise the Pentagon and NASA. Some of them can hack military/intelligence satellites, and get Generals to cover for them. Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, is now a Burner. He ran for President, as did Denis Kucinich who attended for the first time this year.

Burning Man takes place on former military land. Many of the people who played key roles in its early years have a military/intelligence background.

Blackhawks on the Playa would not have been a big deal. Every year, military aircraft fly overhead. It is close to Naval Air Station Fallon.

Blackhawk military helicopter hovers low over Burning Man, 2013

Blackhawk military helicopter hovers low over Burning Man, 2013. Image: Patrick Roddie

blackhawks christopher olewnik

image: Christopher Olewnik/Facebook


christopher olewnik

image: Christopher Olewnik/Facebook


Other aircraft spotted flying over Burning Man over the years include Chinooks, F-14’s, F-16’s, F-18’s, F-22’s, C-130’s, even a flight of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotors.

Pacific Standard magazine published a great story last year by Brian Calvert, The Merry Pranksters Who Hacked The Afghan War, about the Synergy Strike Force – Burners who have serious juice in the military/intelligence world.


recognize anything familiar in this patch?


Their leader, Dr Dave Warner, is described as:

a former U.S. Army drill instructor, self-avowed “hippie doctor,” PhD neuroscientist, technotopian idealist, dedicated Burner, dabbler in psychedelics, insatiable meddler, and (weirdest of all) defense contractor.


For a long time, the Taj Guest House was about the only place you could get a beer in Jalalabad. The provincial capital, about 30 miles from the infamous mountains of Tora Bora, has been the main staging ground for U.S.-led forces in the eastern part of Afghanistan since the early days of the war. When I showed up in the city in November 2011 to report on the propaganda efforts of a franchising Taliban, I found myself at the Taj. There wasn’t much to the pub—just a bamboo-covered bar, a fireplace, a glass-fronted cooler with some Heineken stacked inside, and a few bottles of vodka and other spirits lined up under the red glow of a lamp.

Plus there was an odd little sign: “We share information, communication, (and beer).”

…Looking like a cross between a mountaineer and a mathematician, he had a salt-and-pepper beard and curly hair that hung down to his shoulders, and he favored a uniform of black polo shirts over tied-dyed tees. His name was Dr. Dave Warner.

War zones attract a lot of sketchy characters. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where defense contractors have generally outnumbered soldiers on the ground, the cast of extras has been especially sprawling and inscrutable—security experts, mercenaries, aid workers, engineers, intelligence types, and consultants of every kind. It was just a guess, but given the array on the roof, I took Warner and his team for spooks of some kind.

I was at best half right in my guess about Warner’s occupation. He did indeed work for U.S. intelligence sometimes, he explained, but he wasn’t a spy. On principle, he refused to get a security clearance, out of a belief in something he called “radical inclusion.” The most valuable information in a conflict or disaster zone, he said, was information that could be shared with everybody.

image: Graham Smith/PSMag

image: Graham Smith/PSMag

The term radical inclusion stopped me. I recognized it from the summer of 1998, when I had gone to Burning Man, the hedonistic-fire-worshipper-art-festival that occurs every summer in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Radical inclusion is one of the event’s “Ten Principles.” When I mentioned this, Warner’s eyes lit up. He dug into his T-shirt and pulled out a shining Burning Man medallion. “Dude,” he said, grinning in the firelight. “This is a Burner bar.”

Warner’s entire team – which he called, in all seriousness, the Synergy Strike Force—had just attended Burning Man that summer. He himself had been attending annually since 2002. And the bar, it turned out, was his bar…It was not only a place to drink and flop but also a kind of grand social experiment—an outpost of the Burning Man ethos in the Afghan desert

The war effort, in short, was sophisticated when it came to deploying lethal hardware like drones, but clumsy in just about every other way. A few people in the upper echelons of the command structure were painfully aware of this. Warner knew because he had their ear. He had connections in the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the Army Special Forces, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also knew what an unlikely figure he cut—a Burner among bureaucrats. When I asked him later why the Department of Defense had turned to him, he shook his head and laughed. “Oh,” he said, “they’re fucking desperate.”…

Eric Rasmussen, one of Warner’s early sponsors at DARPA, has come away similarly awed by the doctor’s capacities. “I was taught by multiple Nobel Prize winners, and Dave is the equal of any of them in intelligence,” Rasmussen told me. Warner has been “trendsetting for a number of very forward-thinking organizations, like the Strategic Studies Group for the Chief of Naval Operations, like DARPA, like the Office of Naval Research,” among others. “He has shaped curriculum for the Marine Corps. He has influenced curriculum for National Defense University. He is a remarkable intellectual force who has managed to hold on to his idealism through everything.” What’s more, he has done it all without a security clearance. “And that,” Rasmussen said, “if you remember the kind of work that he does—and for whom—is astonishing.”…

I was just beginning to get used to his way of talking, which alternated between turgid military jargon and gonzo flights of fancy. (“I’m dismantling the Death Star,” he told me later, “to build solar ovens for the Ewoks.”)…

The group was also engaged in various maker-ish side projects worthy of Burning Man. Gold was busy building a methane generator from PVC pipe and an old oil drum. The design, popular among self-sufficiency buffs on the Internet, allows you to filter the gasses that come off human waste into pure methane, which can be used as a fuel source…

Last summer at Burning Man, members of the team gathered once again, and Warner invited me to join them. So I headed out to the Black Rock Desert and pitched a small tent next to Warner’s giant RV. He came out of nowhere, from the dust and the wind, as I was struggling with some rigging for a tarp. He was drinking a beer, wearing a tied-dyed shirt and cutoff jean shorts, with a tie-dyed bandana on his head and another around his neck. “We’re going to the temple,” he said, “for a service.”…

Warner gathered with other members of the Synergy Strike Force. He nailed a pakul hat to the wall, hung an Afghan scarf around it, and added a Synergy Strike Force patch. Around us, Burners wept and prayed. And at the end of the festival, the temple was burned to the ground, with everything in it.

Read the full story here, it’s a great read. Dr Dave Warner sounds like a hero to me. Definitely in the running for the “best Burner” prize.

Here are some links to other stories about the Synergy Strike Force:

WIRED (2012): Cash, Time Run Out for Afghanistan’s Wi-Fi City

Synergy Strike Force Handbook – Public Intelligence Blog

Who’s Who in Peace Intelligence

Human Geography: Dave Warner’s photos from Afghanistan

Their online hub, with links to many more photos, is at

Image:  Peretz Partensky/WIRED

Image: Peretz Partensky/WIRED

Peace Intelligence. That seems like something that the world could use a lot more of. Sadly, the Synergy Strike Force’s Afghanistan operations have now stopped, due to lack of funding (they needed about $5,000 a month for their Internet connection). Now THAT would have been a good use of the non-profit Burning Man Project’s $30 million annual budget.

synergy strike force we came we shared we cured

Private Concierge Service [Updates]

Once again, an idea originally introduced to this community as an amusing farce, has now become an established money-making service.

The Burning Man concierge is here.


concierge girlsBurning Man Concierge Service is a product of The Key Group. We are an european company based in Geneva (Switzerland) and Luxembourg, specializing in Family Office and Private Concierge services.
From the begining, we always develop some new products in order to meet the specific needs and requests of our clients. Our dynamic team is used to treat the most eccentrics requests, while maintaining total privacy and also the safety of our clients.

Going further than just a supplier, we study the request with our customers to assist them in each project. Together We develop projects proposing some new ideas, extremely targeted to provide total satisfaction to our customers. Whether to make a personal dream, any urgent need, planning some holidays, or even to please your own clients in a Business to Business, our team will make every effort to surprise you.


Following the request of a group of clients, we decided to create this service of Burning Man Concierge Service to allow you to enjoy this wonderful experience in the best conditions of comfort you can expect. With a long experience in the major festivals around the world, our team will take care of everything for you, to let you live your Burn and keep a magical memories of this unique adventure !

bm weddingplanner

What sort of services are on offer, for those who like their Radical Self Reliance to be Immediate? Everything from holding your parasol to fetching you in a private plane and designing your own art car.

To enable our customers to make the most of their experience at Burning Man, we offer a concierge service that takes care of all the logistics of their stay, and which offers the best comfort you can hope for in a desert camp.

P.Diddy's girlfriend Cassie poses in front of the couple's Pilatus PC-12, a sweet ride to the Playa

P.Diddy’s girlfriend Cassie poses in front of the couple’s Pilatus PC-12, a sweet ride to the Playa

Example of proposed services :

– Arranging and booking of flights to Reno
– Welcome and support from the Reno airport
– Flight to Burning Man in a private plane
– Skydiving over the playa
– Survival pack 
– Establishment of a camp with electricity, water and satellite internet wifi connection
– Welcoming participants in some luxury RV, comfortable and air-conditioned (2 – 4 people per RV)
– Daily water supply for the RV
Private toilets for the camp
– Musical entertainment in the camp
– Organization of Camp central tent (decoration, sofas, beds)
– Supplies additional costumes and accessories for bike decorations
– Customized Art Car for all the group with BM authorized driver
– Cooks and fresh buffets for every meal
– Snacks 24/24
– Open bar 24/24 with fresh drinks and alcohol at discretion
Possibility of ordering goods and products from outside Black Rock City every day (+24h)
– Technician guard 24/24
Physical coach and 4 times per day sport training sessions at the camp and around the playa
– Massages on request provide by the physical coach
Photo reportage and editing a souvenir book
– Organize a goodbye party for 300 person (guest + friends) in the camp (DJ)

Extra VIP services :

– Study, design and creation of your own art cars
– Coordination of any artistic performance of your choice

[Update 8/10/14 1:44pm]

cue feather girl whiteTechnically, this is all perfectly fine for them to offer – just like Turnkey Plug-n-Play camping – as long as BMOrg gets their cut. The BLM takes 3%. Radical Inclusion, Radical Self Expression, dehydrated Sparkle Ponies and Leave No Trace butt up against Civic Responsibility and Radical Self Reliance and Decommodification and Gifting and Communist Ethics Communal Effort in one big, confusing, lucrative mess. Wash your own brains. The people giving you a ride on that public conveyance Art Car or displaying that giant fire breathing statue for your enjoyment might be there on one of these packages, so think before you hate. This is by no means the only private concierge service at Burning Man.

Commenter Nomad Traveler points out that this must be sanctioned by the BMOrg, like SK8 camp’s merchandise, since they are using the Burning Man logo. must be a BOrg-sanctioned activity because:
a) it has the Burning Man logo;
b) it uses the “Burning Man” name in it’s title and domain;
c) it uses BM pix for commercial purposes;
d) they list a US contact: Los Angeles +1 323 375 0 735

Otherwise, those add up to the sort of thing the BOrg has unleashed their lawyers on. Nope. I figure it is just another way the BOrg is cashing in.

[Update 8/11/14 9:22 am] Thought it was a troll? I told you, this is just one of several private concierge services I’m aware of at Burning Man. Some people objected to their music lineup because they took it from the BMOrg site. The true story is it was just satire, masquerading as fact, yet again: an April Fools Day post from Burning Man announcing the music lineup. A big farce. For just a glimpse of the real lineup, see our post on White Ocean and keep checking Rockstar Librarian for her guide.
fellowship-of-the-fool-09783It ain’t no troll people. This is the real deal: and for many wealthy clients, an indispensable service. Their personal assistant might not have Playa experience.
The Key Group have updated their web site to share their views on the negative comments this story has generated. Don’t hate, Burners! There isn’t some special device inside an RV or private plane that suddenly makes you “not” go to Burning Man. Radical inclusion means everyone is welcome, whatever their style – except haters. Haters should fuck off.
From the Key Group:

An article about our services has been posted on the website Burners.Me, causing negatives reviews from Burners.

More and more camps offer paid services to improve the comfort of Burners. This is not new. You can also have your RV directly delivered on site, and arriving by plane to avoid the long wait to get to Black Rock City. Burning Man Sanitation offers against payment to purge your RV to take advantage of your private toilet and showers. It is a part of the most pay services you can found at Burning Man, and actually probably reserved for Burners with a higher budget…

Through this website we offer to the Burners who want to be able to enjoy there Burn with a greater comfort. We do not sell the experience, it is personal and unique to each Burner.

Also we make a point of honor to explain the principles and ideology of Burning Man to our clients, so that they are participants and not spectators. We also ask our clients to take part in a community project of their choice.

We are surprised by so many negative reactions on the services we offer, and which already exists at Burning Man for several years. Moreover, the first principle of Burning Man is not the Radical Inclusion? Defined as such on the official website of Burning Man: Anyone May Be apart of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Finally it might be good to remember, as it is also mentioned in the article that those « wealthier » Burners help support and fund many projects that benefit the entire community. So please Think Before you hate!

Burner and Concierge Antoine had this to say in our comments:
Dear Burners,
I understand very well that some of you may be surprised (or offended?) by the creation of such a service, but as the article notes does well, more and more camps offer luxury services for rich Burners. We must also not forget that many rich Burners support artists, art cars, and many other projects that contribute to the magic of BM and benefit the entire community …
In our case, and as you can see on our website, we ask our customers to support in the way they choose a project for the community. We try to stay as close as possible to the spirit of BM. Also we explain to our clients the principle of BM, and the fact that there, no matter who they are or how rich They Are, that they remain Burners first. They should stay simple and open to everyone.
I think everyone is free to live his burn in its own way, and I do not see why rich Burners would have to play the poor’s to come, especially when we know that their wealth allows them to benefit others burners of their projects and their financial support. It would be so hypocritical to force them to live a life that is not theirs…
Have you ever seen someone restrict you to jump on his art because, or come and enjoy the DJ at a party on the pretext that it was the one who financed? Are what we should then think interdict the RV’s at Burning Man, because maybe some Burners are not afford to hire one?
Also you all probably know that Burning Man keeps work to thousands of people, from the Rangers to the RV rental companies (which also deprive themselves to double or even triple the price), people who build art cars, pilots that allow some Burners to come directly by plane, … And personally I think the more important for people who work around Burning Man is to stay the spirit first…
I’m a Burner first, and I want to preserve the spirit of BM as much as you, to continue to have the possibility to live this fantastic experience. I can promise you that I do my best to make our customers live BM as Burners and not as tourists, despite the luxury in which they can live it…
I really appreciate all your posts, thank you all for sharing your opinion, whether positive or negative with respect to our services, and it reinforces my idea of ​​renewed attention to the towards the importance of the integration of our clients in the spirit of Burning Man.
 Seems perfectly reasonable to me. But then, I know a lot of rich people. And a lot of them are Burners.