Cottonwood (P52) By Brian Schober.  This is the first in a series of articles highlighting unique and fun Arizona general aviation airports. This month, we are highlighting the Cottonwood airport, P52. The scenic and historic town of Cottonwood lies approximately 100 miles North of Phoenix or about 50 miles Southwest of Flagstaff. The airport was originally established in the early 1940’s as a training base for World War II naval cadets. The airport has been owned and operated by the Town/City of Cottonwood since 1968.

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Cottonwood is nestled into the lush Verde Valley near the base of Mingus Mountain of the Black Hills Range. At a moderate altitude of 3560ft, runway 14/32, which is 4252’x75’ of recently surfaced asphalt, is sufficient for most general aviation aircraft. The local activity at P52 is generally air tour operators from nearby Sedona or medivac services headed to or from the Verde Valley Medical Center. The airport is often bustling with activity on the weekends. The close proximity of well over a dozen nationally acclaimed wineries makes the Verde Valley a wonderful weekend destination. Temperatures are typically cooler than the Valley of the Sun, further enticing folks to the area. Only adding to the attraction, Lonely Planet placed Old Town Cottonwood in their Top 10 Places to Visit list and the Arizona Republic has documented the culinary excellence embedded in the area. Interested yet?

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Getting to Cottonwood is straightforward, just head to the middle of the state. You’ll find P52 near the base of the line of mountains known as the Black Hills Range. Typical of flying near mountains, rolling winds from the West can lead to a faster-than-planned descent or prevent climb out at the expected rate of climb. The proximity to Mingus Mountain means P52 is subject to these winds, as well, so be alert. There is a published GPS approach for Runway 32, if necessary. Runway 32 is the calm wind runway and has a right traffic pattern that helps keep you clear of the terrain, while Runway 14 is a standard left pattern. Two clicks of the radio bring up the Cottonwood AWOS. Skydiving, hang gliding, and ultralight activity is also present at the airport. Once on the ground, taxi onto the freshly surfaced taxiway and ramp to enjoy a smooth ride to the terminal. There is plenty of parking to be found. 

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Now that you’re tied down, what’s next? The airport does have a courtesy car on site available for use. If the car is in use, there are multiple rental car agencies in Cottonwood. Uber and Lyft service the airport, as do several local taxi services. Some local hotels provide courtesy shuttles to and from the airport. Of course, biking is an option with excellent roads and nearby trails to explore. If you’re feeling adventurous, Old Town Cottonwood is only a half-mile walk from the airport.

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Cottonwood truly is the epicenter of vibrant activity. The multiple wineries with tasting rooms, part of the Verde Valley Wine Trail, are a wonderful option. The Arizona Pilots Association held a getaway to Cottonwood in 2016 and took part in activities on the trail. The Verde Canyon Railroad is a quick drive or ride to nearby Clarkdale. This 4-hour, 20-mile trip up and back through the majestic Verde River Canyon is a can’t-miss trip. The scenery is truly spectacular. Tuzigoot National Monument, the 800-year-old Indian ruin, is a short drive north of Old Town Cottonwood. If you are up for a hike, there is a trail near the airport that leads up Mingus Mountain for a panoramic view of the Verde Valley. Other nearby trails require a car or bike to access, but are equally impressive. Fishing and kayaking are also available on the Verde River or in one of the three lagoons at Dead Horse State Park. If wine, trains, hiking or biking aren’t enough, the culinary palate of Cottonwood is amazing. Catering to the winery visitors, Cottonwood’s restauranteurs have stepped up their game to a new level. The Arizona Republic published a detailed article last year that touted several local establishments.

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After enjoying everything that Cottonwood and the Verde Valley have to offer, head back to the airport and fuel up. Cottonwood enjoys relatively low fuel prices. At the time of this writing, it is $4.16/gal for 100LL. If the plane is a little dusty, an airplane wash rack is nearing completion behind the fuel farm. The airport commission is working to establish an FBO at the airport in the near future, as the town expects increased aircraft activity.

On Saturday, January 13, 2108, Fred Gibbs will be giving an FAA FAST safety presentation at the Cottonwood Airport from 9:30 to 11:30. He will be talking about winter flying weather. There will be transportation to and from Old Town Cottonwood from noon to 3pm. Hope to see you there!

Now that Arizona’s flying season is back in full swing, make sure Cottonwood’s P52 is on your list. Enjoy everything the area has to offer. Until next time, fly safe!


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