Paul Dunn's 2009 blogGAR Entries

DEC 18 2009
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport

The former Williams AFB has for some years been in civilian hands and has gone through a variety of name changes. Currently known as Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the airfield is now being promoted as a low cost airport for the eastern suburbs of Phoenix, as an alternative to Sky Harbor Airport. The main airline operator is currently Allegiant and the airfield is also popular with corporate jet operators and private flying. However, a considerable number of military movements still occur, particularly at the weekend.

Many military airfields close at the weekend but Gateway remains open, allowing military aircraft to continue to fly training sorties. Gateway is also a popular destination for military training aircraft on navigation exercises. Many of these aircraft spend the whole day operating from Gateway, with some staying for the entire weekend.

I’ve made several visits to Gateway over the last two years and it is one of my favourite airfields to spend a day just hanging out. The fixed base operator (FBO), Gateway Aviation Services, are tolerant to photographers and the airport even provides a pleasant, shady viewing area. There are also a number of friendly local photographers who are regulars at the airport, so more often than not there is someone to chat to during quiet times.

I was allocated a Phoenix trip just before Christmas, with the return sector being on a Friday evening so I planned on spending the afternoon at Gateway, hoping that there would be some military movements as aircraft often arrive on Friday afternoon and spend the weekend operating from the airfield.

Things didn’t look too positive when I arrived – the ramp was empty and I was told that I had just missed a NASA T-38 departing, which was disappointing. There followed a couple of quiet hours, before things started to get busy towards late afternoon.

First to arrive were a pair of USMC AV-8B+ Harriers. Harriers are regular visitors to Gateway, making the relatively short flight from their base at Yuma to spend the weekend operating over the ranges in the vicinity of Phoenix. The aircraft were from VMA-214 “Blacksheep”, and I was pleased to see that the lead aircraft carried the markings of the squadron commander - one of the cleanest Harriers I’ve ever seen.

Shortly afterwards, the first of three T-6 Texan II trainers from the USAF arrived, with each of the aircraft flying some very smart circuits before eventually landing and taxying to the ramp. These aircraft were all from Laughlin AFB, Texas. By the time the T-6s arrived the sun had started to drop below the horizon so I waited around for nightfall in order to shoot the aircraft under the ramp floodlights, before heading back to the hotel to prepare for the flight home.

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