by Peter N. Steinmetz
I have always loved maps. In 5th grade, my brother and I would save up our allowance to purchase topographic maps of the local area. So when I began flight lessons at Chandler Municipal (CHD) in 2015, I immediately took to pilotage and perusal of sectional charts.
My private checkride ended up being substantially delayed due to runway closures and weather. Since I couldn't land many places, I had lots of time to fly around the area finding landmarks and airports from the air using the charts. My 1969 Cardinal has dual radios and an ADF for navigation -- no GPS -- so charts were definitely required. I found I really enjoyed the process of finding the various airfields from a few thousand feet AGL. After obtaining my private certificate, this enjoyment extended to finding a new airport, determining how to properly approach it, and landing on it.
So in May 2016 I decided I would like to find and land on all 72 public use airports in Arizona with paved runways. I don't much like landing my Cardinal on unpaved runways as the gravel tends to fly up and ding the stabilator. Thus began a series of delightful cross-country flights to all corners of our state. Here are my observations on several unusual airports:
The Grand Canyon Bar Ten (1Z1) is a 4600' paved runway serving the Bar Ten Ranch down in a side canyon on the north side of the Grand Canyon. It is normally used as one-way-in / one-way-out. Approaching from the south the go-around is not promising with rising terrain to the north. This combined with an altitude of 4100' and the slight bend in the middle of the runway makes for a challenging approach and landing. I found it the most difficult landing of all the paved runways in Arizona.
Highest Above Sea Level
This distinction belongs to Springerville (JTC) at 7055'. It is northeast of Baldy Peak and 40' higher than Flagstaff. The runway is thankfully 8400' long which is often needed in the summer when density altitudes can exceed 10,000'. This airport was the site of an unfortunate accident in 2011 when the pilot did not compute takeoff performance carefully enough.
The remarks in the chart supplement regarding Polacca (P10) are not kidding when they say there is loose rock on the runway surface. Seriously, there are 6" or larger rocks on the runway. This runway is also notable for the uncontrolled road crossing the middle. My landing there was just a touch and go as I wanted to minimize the stabilator dings (or worse). This is one of the several airports maintained on the Native American reservations primarily for air medical evacuations. Located just south of the first mesa on the Hopi reservation, it is a very interesting area to fly over.
Closest To An International Border
Douglas Municipal (DGL) has a mostly north south 5760' long runway. The southern departure end of 21 is literally 300' from the Mexican border. This airport was established in 1929 and was the first international airport in the United States. My understanding is that the authorities do not become too upset by brief excursions into Mexican airspace during airport operations.
My quest to land on all the paved public use runways in Arizona finally ended July 22, 2018. In my travels around the state I had overlooked one airport, Rolle (44A), in the far southwestern part of the state. This airport is 8 miles south of Yuma Marine Corps Air Station (YNL) and consists of basically just a runway. No hangars, planes on the ramp, or obvious signs of use. It is evidently used primarily for night vision rotorcraft training.
These cross country flights around Arizona were very beautiful, and in that sense, their own reward. However, another reward awaits those who choose to pursue this quest, particularly if using sectional charts for navigation. As noted by my flight instructor, after visiting all parts of the state at 3000 - 4000' AGL, one is able to figure out location nearly anywhere in Arizona in a small plane just by looking around at the landmarks. The whole state becomes ones’ playground!