Summer has finally released her grip on Arizona and the planes are starting to make noise again. The thirst for avgas increases as our planes come to life for the winter flying season. Now that things have cooled down a bit, we’ll focus on one of our southern-border airports – Nogales (KOLS). This gem of an airport has a ton of history and beauty to offer visiting pilots. Nogales is located just a couple of miles from our border with Mexico, which places it well within reach of not only world-class authentic Mexican cuisine, but smack dab in the middle of Arizona’s rich heritage.
Nogales’ history begins with the Apache and Hohokam tribes over 500 years ago. In the mid-1500’s, Europeans began to arrive in the area in search of riches and to spread the Catholic faith. The Jesuit Priest known simply as “Father Kino” spent the majority of his time in the area for nearly 20 years teaching people this faith and how to farm. In In 1853, the Gadsen Purchase made the southeastern corner of Arizona, then Mexico, part of the United States. Of course, the next 100+ years of settlement and development leave us with the Nogales of today.
Though relatively small at approximately 20,000 residents, the town is responsible for an estimated USD $30 billion worth of international trade between the US and Mexico. The resulting infrastructure makes it easy for visitors to feel at home with a thriving service industry. This international port of entry is often bustling with foot and vehicle traffic, and it is common to see “X” registered aircraft at the Nogales International Airport.
Getting to Nogales from nearly anywhere in the state begins with flying south. Following Interstate 19 south from Tucson, just beyond the craggy peak of the nearly 10,000ft Mt. Wrightson, you’ll find Nogales tucked into the hilly surrounding terrain. The contrast of tree-lined slopes and sheer rock faces makes for spectacular enroute scenery. The left-hand traffic pattern for Runway 3 and Runway 21 are standard, though take care not to deviate into Mexican airspace. The 7200 ft x 100 ft runway at an elevation of 3996’ MSL is long enough for most aircraft and pilots to feel comfortable landing. If IFR, there are VOR and GPS apFeatured AZ Airport Focus: Nogales 17 Brian proaches available. Give Unicom a call on 122.8 and announce intentions to land well in advance. Nogales’ proximity to Tucson and a flight school on the field make it a popular training destination.
Once on the ground, taxi onto the ramp and the FBO on the field will take care of you. Tiffin Aviation Services sells both 100LL and Jet A at $5.71 and $4.61 for full service, respectively, at the time of this writing. Tiffin also offers a pilot ’s lounge, restrooms, and coffee. The Airport Café is located in the terminal building and offers standard Café fare for both breakfast and lunch at reasonable prices. Tiffin will gladly arrange ground transportation for you, as many options exist. Enterprise Rental Car can either deliver a rental to the airport or will pick you up. Uber and Lyft are available for quick trips into and around town.
If you ’ve decided to stick around and enjoy Nogales and Santa Cruz County for a few hours, or even the weekend, you ’ll find over 50 properties on the National Register of Historic Sites! This is a testament to the town and the county ’s historic importance. You can start at the Pimeria Alta Museum to get a feel for the rich history of the town. This small museum is packed with local memorabilia and knowledgeable docents. For something unique with a Southwestern feel, try out Paul Bond Boots. This bootmaker works magic on site making custom cowboy boots. It ’s more than just a store. After that, head out among the historic sites and see well - preserved examples of this town ’s history. If you ’re feeling more adventurous, get a ride to the many hiking trails in the area to take advantage of the amazing panoramic views.
When you ’re done with your visit and you ’ve said goodbye to the folks at Tiffin, head on back home. On departure, keep in mind the effects of density altitude on your aircraft ’s performance relative to the surrounding terrain and keep a sharp eye out for training traffic. Use the ride home to reflect on what an incredible state we have to enjoy!