Southern Arizona Spotting Ft. Huachuca / Sierra Vista

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Story and Photos provided by: Jared Romanowicz

Ft. Huachuca is located about 15 miles north of the U.S. / Mexico border at the base of the Huachuca Mountains.  It was originally established to secure the border with Mexico back in 1877, and now is one of the busiest transient Army Installations in the country.  Its major tenants include NETCOM (9th Signal Command) and the United States Army Intelligence Center.  It is also home to numerous other intelligence, radio, and electronics agencies and it also served as an alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle, although it was never used for that purpose.

I have been flying in and out of the airport for about 4 months now and it has been quite the experience.  It does get quiet during the winter months, but not a day goes by that I don’t hear the rumble of some Allison T56 or PT-6 turboprops, or the roar of some General Electric F110 or TF34 jet engines.  I have also had the pleasure of being able to spot many business jets, general aviation aircraft, medical helicopters, and U.S. Customs aircraft and helicopters.  I was also able to spend some time on the ramp during the annual Young Eagles event as well.  On a daily basis, the airport isn’t all that busy, however, if you spend enough time here like I have then you are able to spot a great variety of military, commercial, and general aviation aircraft.  Here is a list of most of the military aircraft I have been able to spot at this little known joint use airport.

–          General Dynamics F-16 (both B and C models)

–          Fairchild Republic A-10

–          Beechcraft RC-12D

–          General Atomics MQ-1C

–          Lockheed C-130

–          Boeing KC-135

–          Lockheed C-5

–          de havilland DHC-7

–          Fairchild C-26

On any given day, I can almost guarantee that you will see A-10’s, F-16’s, RC-12D’s (think King Air with a bunch of antennae) and MQ-1C Gray Eagle’s (UAV’s).  The RC-12D’s and MQ-1C’s are based on field, while the A-10’s and F-16’s fly in mainly from Davis Monthan Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport.  If your lucky, you might catch some of the other less frequent military visitors.  I have also been able to see some charter flights operated by Delta Airlines and Omni Air which have included A320’s, Boeing 757’s, 767’s, and 777’s.  Please keep in mind, this was over a 4 month period, so don’t expect to see all of these aircraft if you’re going to come down for a day trip.  Also, as with any military airfield, don’t expect to see any of these aircraft operating on the weekend.

There are pro’s and con’s to the airport layout here.  The main 12,000 foot runway is 8-26 and the civilian ramp is located on the north side of the airport.  This provides you with an amazing background with the Huachuca Mountains directly behind the aircraft, however, everything will be backlit in Fall, Winter, and Spring which makes Summer the only season where you can get well lit aircraft.  The main parking lot in front of the terminal will provide you with plenty of viewing opportunities for aircraft taking off or performing low passes, but will be restricted for aircraft rolling on the runway due to the uphill gradient and some tall grass and bushes.  You can shoot through the fence from here, or a 4’ to 6’ ladder would be enough to get un-obstructed views.  Approach shots can be taken from the intersection of the highway and the terminal access road and are mostly un-obstructed.  I currently only have a 250mm lens that I make work, but a 400mm lens would be ideal for all the locations around the field.  The airport is under heavily surveillance as you would expect, but if you stick to the civilian side you should not have an issue.  I have not been questioned a single time here, although I have a badge and civilian ramp access.  I would recommend checking in with the airport manager inside the terminal before taking photo’s just so they are aware of your presence and what you are doing.  They are very kind here and should be very helpful. 

Finally, for those of you that are interested in nature/landscape photography, there is an area of the Coronado National Forest just 15 minutes south at the base of Miller Peak and the Huachuca Mountains, Kartchner Caverns State Park is about 20 minutes north in between the cities of Sierra Vista and Benson, and for some old west history the town of Tombstone is just a 25-30 minute drive east.

You will see I have done a couple of shots in black and white, and silhouetted some aircraft against the bright sky.  The Delta Airlines picture is nowhere near perfect, but I included it because it gives you a good idea of the background, the backlighting in winter, and the obstructions to aircraft rolling on the runway.  If there is one good thing about being down here while the light is not ideal, it has made me become a little more creative with some of my shots.

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