Paul Dunn's 2011 blogGAR Entries

FEB 03 2011
Further Fortune in Phoenix

Over the course of my visits to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport over the last couple of years (see blogGARs passim), I’ve got to know some of the regular photographers who frequent the airfield and I always really enjoy my trips there because I know that even if there are no aircraft to be seen, there is always someone to chat to to pass the time. I have also developed something of a reputation for seeming to attract interesting visitors when I’m in town, and I’m always keen to keep that up!

I arrived at Gateway late morning on Saturday to find the only military aircraft present were four T-6A Texan II trainers and a C-21. The C-21 had apparently been at the airport for over a week, having arrived for maintenance work. These aircraft were joined on the ramp by a rather shady looking Beech King Air, but more of that later. As is often the case, the day started slowly with the first movements being the T-6s which departed just after lunch.

In the intervening time, there were some rather nice local movements and civilian visitors, including a smart Canadian registered Hawker 800XP.

I hadn’t held out much hope for much military traffic during the day, so I was very pleased to see a T-38 Talon landing, even more so when I saw it was a Whiteman aircraft from the 509th BW. This was the first time I’d seen an aircraft from that unit at Gateway – rather like the Beale T-38s, these trainers retain some of the mystique of the unit’s operational type, the B-2A Spirit.

Next up was a rather unexpected and unusual machine. The PZL M-28 Skytruck is a Polish built light transport and the USAF currently has a small number of these aircraft in service as Special Operations aircraft. Intriguingly, the aircraft retain civilian colour schemes and registrations – it only becomes apparent that they are operated by the military when the crew get out wearing green flying suits!

The aircraft are operated by the 27th SOW at Cannon AFB. For more information on these interesting types, see this article by my GAR colleague Paul Filmer, who reported on their introduction into service.

The M-28 was a real surprise and I did think that it was unlikely that the day could throw up something to match it, but Gateway is always good for the unusual and it came in the form of a rare flight from an ATSI TA-4J. The aircraft concerned had been operating from McConnell AFB, Kansas in support of the KC-767 project and was returning to the ATSI facility at Gateway.

In the past, ATSI had a fairly substantial number of A-4s based on the airfield, but this number has now dwindled to a handful, and these remaining Skyhawks are rarely seen flying, so this was a real bonus. The aircraft shot an approach on runway 30C, before landing on 30L - apparently it is rare for them to use this runway for landing and even more so for them to roll far enough down the runway for photos, so I felt very lucky to have such a great opportunity to shoot one of my favourite types. I’ve always thought the Skyhawk a great looking aircraft, but never had the opportunity to see one flying in the past, so this was definitely the highlight of the day.

Finally from Saturday, a shot of the shady looking King Air. It seems that the aircraft has seen service in the past with US Customs and Border Protection and apparently the DEA – it certainly seems to sport some unusual antennae under the fuselage. It made for an interesting comparison with the M-28 – plain white aircraft look far more suspicious than aircraft with a bit of colour on them!

With Gateway looking like it was going to be quiet for the rest of the evening, I made my way over to Falcon Field, where I had been told by Joe (one of the Gateway regulars), that a memorial service was taking place for Eddie Packard, a well known restorer of classic piston engines. Eddie passed away recently and as part of a tribute to him, a selection of local warbirds would be taking part in a flypast. The flypast ended up consisting of eight aircraft. The main formation was a Grumman Avenger, together with three Harvards/SNJs. They were accompanied by a pair of P-51 Mustangs and another pair consisting of a Bearcat and the unique Jurca MJ-100, a home built but very convincing Spitfire replica.

Of the flypasts, the most spirited were carried out by the Bearcat and "Spitfire" pair with the Avenger and Harvards also providing a very smart missing man formation.

The flypasts complete, the aircraft landed and shut down outside the CAF Museum – a fitting tribute to a popular local personality who will be sadly missed.

The following day I returned to Gateway in the hope of another good day. Sunday was to be much quieter than Saturday, but still turned up a couple of highlights. The King Air remained on the ramp, but it was joined by another similar aircraft carrying US CBP titles. Both aircraft appeared to have similar antennae underneath, seemingly confirming suspicions that the plain white aircraft is operated by the government.

Highlight of the day was the arrival of a Hornet from VMFAT-101 “Sharpshooters”. VMFAT-101 are based at MCAS Miramar and handle training of both Navy and Marine Corps F-18 crews. The aircraft which turned up was painted in a smart adversary camouflage – I’d previously seen it at the Miramar Airshow in October.

The aircraft only remained on the ground for an hour for refuelling before departing.

In all my visits to Gateway (and there have been many over the last 4 years or so), one aircraft which I had never bothered shooting before is the displayed T-38 Talon. The Talon is a reminder of the days when the airfield was Williams AFB and trained thousands of young USAF and NATO pilots.

Talons are still regular visitors to Gateway, so it is fitting that the aircraft remains on display here. There are rumours that it may soon undergo a restoration program – hopefully this will be the case as the Arizona sun can be quite harsh on preserved aircraft.

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2011-02-03 - Steve coe
Interesting blog Paul, looks like a great place to while away some time.

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