Benson Municipal Airport (E95)
By Brian Schober
Our next installment of highlighting Arizona airports takes us to Benson (E95). Benson Municipal Airport is about three miles northwest the city of Benson and about 30 miles east of Tucson in Arizona’s southern tier. Benson’s airport hasn’t always been at the current location. Records show that around 1930, Benson had an airport built just east of town known as Benson Intermediate Field. Though it is now a private field, it is currently registered as 31AZ. This airport was built as an emergency airfield by the Bureau of Air Commerce and encountered intermittent closures and openings throughout its history. In 1999, Benson opened a new public-use airport and this field is currently in use today.
Benson has achieved some fame through the ages, with many feature films being filmed nearby. Tombstone, The Quick and the Dead, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Tom Horn are a few off the top. Benson’s unique location and character is perfect for the quintessential Old West feel many are looking for when selecting a film location.
There is a ton to do and see near Benson. For example, Kartchner Caverns State Park is just a couple of miles outside of town and is a must-see feature. Access to the park is a nominal per-vehicle fee of $7. Tours of the park, including headlamps and helmets, are $30 and purchase of the tour waives the entry fee. The Caverns are a remarkable and unique cave experience that truly must be seen.
If a more authentic Western adventure better suits your style, the Double R Ranch may fit the bill. Offering guided rides from beginner to advanced and ranging from $45-200 for 1-hour to full-day rides, there is a package for every budget and experience level. Double R is about 16 miles north of the airport; however, a taxi or Uber will get you there in short order.
For movie buffs, the Gammons Gulch movie set may fit the bill. This Old West movie town is open for walking or guided tours. This is an active movie set and there may be filming taking place at any time. This is a truly unique adventure that allows a “behind the scenes” look at some amazing history. Call ahead for guided tour reservations ($8.00pp cash only), as the owners may be assisting film crews.
About 22 miles east headed down I-10, Bowlin’s “The Thing” awaits the unsuspecting. You may have seen (and avoided) the billboards stretching from Tucson all the way to El Paso taunting you to visit. After all, it’s hard to ignore 247 billboards along this route. If time permits, a short drive down I-10 may satisfy that urge to visit. After all, it’s only a buck and there’s a great museum, to boot.
Interested yet? Now let’s talk about the airport. There’s a single 4002’ x 75’ asphalt runway in excellent condition. The East/West runway is sufficient for most wind conditions, though the FAA reports erratic wind currents approximately ½ mile from the threshold when winds exceed 10 knots, so use caution. E95 is a VFR-only airport, but is lighted for nighttime operations. Prior to arrival, check Benson’s AWOS on 118.475 and then call up on CTAF at 122.8 to announce intentions. Keep in mind that the Saguaro National Park and the Rincon Wilderness Areas lie just northwest of the airport and pilots are requested to remain above 2000’ AGL in these areas. This can be as high as 10,500’ MSL due to the terrain in this region, so plan your route accordingly to help avoid these protected areas.
Once on the ground, Southwestern Aviation operates the FBO and offers 100LL and Jet A. There is a courtesy car available, though it’s a bit older than most. The 1955 Dodge Coronet and makes for an unforgettable adventure all on its own. APA members receive a $0.10/gal discount on AVGAS, and another $0.05/gal discount if paying by cash. Additionally, Southwestern hosts “Can’t Pass Gas Saturdays” on the third Saturday of every month and beats the lowest price within 50 miles by $0.20/gal and hosts a great fly-in breakfast. If the loaner is out in use, there are several taxi operations, as well as Uber and Lyft that can take you anywhere you need to go.
While Benson may be out of the way, there is a lot to do and see in the area. Benson Municipal is a modern airport that services this unique pocket of Old West Charm. The FBO is pro-General Aviation and would love to see you come out and visit. Stop in and say “Hi!” to Roy.