As we enter August and realize our flying season is closer than ever, we start thinking about where we can go. Arizona has a unique airport that many pilots steer clear of simply because of “the hassle,” or because “it’s complicated,” or “it’s a Restricted Area.” Training can certainly resolve the prior two reasons, but Restricted Areas are certainly no-go’s when active. Fortunately, the Army has resolved the latter in the case of Sierra Vista/Libby Airfield on Fort Huachuca which lies 75 miles southeast of Tucson. One of only 21 joint-use military/civilian airfields in the United States (2 of which are in Arizona), KFHU lies directly under or adjacent to R-2303A, B and C, as well as R-2312. Adding to the complexity is extensive Unmanned Aerial System/Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAS/UAV) activity based in and around the airport. It’s no wonder many Arizona pilots shy away, leaving only 1% of the airport’s reported use to general aviation traffic. This will be the first of a two-part series on KFHU. This month we’ll focus on the area’s attractions, and next month we’ll focus on the process. In October, the City of Sierra Vista and APA are hosting an open house and barbeque. We truly hope to see you there.
The airport lies at just over 4700’ MSL, but is in a canyon of sorts. There are nearby mountains of the Huachucas, Dragoons, and Sierra Madres reaching nearly 10,000’. Pilots will need to study winds aloft and density altitude carefully. Additionally, much of the southern tier of Arizona is covered in Military Operation Areas (MOAs), so keep your eyes on an active and persistent scan for traffic of all sizes. Not all targets are equipped with ADS-B Out. Next month, we’ll cover the arrival and departure procedures, FBO specifics, and transportation options.
Like several Arizona towns, the city of Sierra Vista got its start with the military in territorial times. The US Army settled Camp Huachuca, later named Fort Huachuca starting in 1877. The support community around the fort slowly grew and went through several name changes until, in 1956, it was officially named Sierra Vista. Translated directly, Mountain View, the name certainly fits. The town is surrounded by majestic rocky and craggy mountains. Winter can be spectacular as the mountains are often blanketed in heavy snow. A combined population of approximately 40,000 people on the base and in town makes it a hub for business. The local geography means Sierra Vista is home to incredible hikes, wildlife viewing, and geologic wonders.
Fort Huachuca itself is a main attraction. What started out as a protection measure against Apache raids is now home to intelligence operations, communications and electronics development, and of course, UAS/UAV operations. While it remains an active US Army base, the general public is allowed access. Of course, a background check at the visitor’s center will be conducted, but once on post, history abounds. Check out the Fort Huachuca History Museum to get a real feeling of the Wild West era and 19th Century US military operations. The Fort Huachuca Military Intelligence Soldier Heritage Learning Center has an incredible array of tools used to communicate secretly from the Revolutionary War through modern times. These are both must-see museums.
Kartchner Caverns is only a few short miles from the airport and is truly one of the most breathtaking natural formations in the world. Discovered almost by accident in 1974 on private property, this remarkable area became open to the public in 2003, and is now an Arizona State Park. Various tickets options are available and are reasonably priced, but do purchase in advance, as most tours sell out quickly. There are occasional “no show” tickets available, but don’t count on them. This is a must-see place to put on your bucket list.
For those staying overnight, or for passengers, the area is home to award-winning wineries and hosts no less than 24 tasting rooms! Area wineries offer tours and tastings on a daily basis. The higher elevation and moderate temperatures of the area make for some outstanding grapes just waiting to be tasted. You will either need a vehicle or other ground transportation, as most wineries are a short drive from Sierra Vista.
Tying in to the Old West theme is Brown Canyon Ranch. Located just south of the main city, the ranch is now owned by the US Forest Service. Starting in 1800 and remaining occupied through the early 1900’s, much of the area is still well-preserved and offers a glimpse into territorial life in Arizona. A nicely-curated photo history pairs well with the remaining artifacts. Some of the site remains under renovation, but it remains open to the public. For history buffs, it’s a must-see.
For the more adventurous, the Ramsey Canyon Preserve is worth the trip on its own. The 280-acre preserve is home to a remarkable array of wildlife, including over 170 varieties of birds! Rare animals, such as brown bears and the Chiricahua leopard frog, also inhabit the area. A guided tour is available from the Nature Conservancy and is well worth the small admission price.