By Kit Murphy
Aviators, past and present, are certainly more adventurous than most. Books, movies, plays, poetry…. have all hailed their spirit. From the Wright Brothers first flight of 12 seconds and 120 feet in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to the astronauts of all countries who “Boldly go where no man has gone before.” (The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 went 248,655 miles.) Sometimes, like in life, we need to re-visit the places and recognize those who have brought us to where we are now, whether for the Good, the Bad or… the Ugly.
Personally, I find it’s always better to start with the GOOD, then, if I must, be tempered by the BAD. Unfortunately, as much as I would like, the UGLY can’t be ignored all together.
There is GOOD news for Arizona pilots and a surviving airstrip from WWII now known as Forepaugh, (aka: Echverria Field, Wickenburg Airport and Hassayampa Flying Service Airport. This airport had previously been designated by the FAA as 44E.), and located between the towns of Forepaugh & Wickenburg. It has gone through a somewhat confusing succession of names through the years but, there is loads of historical information available on this airport. Try this site for one: http://www.airfields-freeman.com/AZ/Airfields.AZ.W.htm
Initially, my main focus at Forepaugh was to protect it as one of the last remaining, not re-developed, WWII pilot training sites in Arizona. Without intervention it may have been lost, as so many others before. To accomplish this, I started looking into many possibilities, including applying to have the strip registered as a Historical Site, and it certainly qualifies!
My friend, Jon Gunlock, flew me over to check it out. As we walked through the dilapidated service hangar we were greeted by the lone resident, a Great Horned owl. He was spectacular in every way. Certainly, something else to protect. Somehow, even the remnants of the place still radiated history.
We were also fortunate to meet two other visitors, Bill Cole, an ex-Seabee and Vietnam veteran, and Casey Hanna, also a veteran, serving in the Army Artillery. He related their moto as: “If we can’t build it or fix it, we blow it up!”
These two gentlemen have been diligently working with multiple agencies to try and secure the land abutting the airstrip to develop a rehab center for injured and homeless vets on the old site. Hopefully, after several years, their tireless efforts will pay off. We should all share and support their enthusiasm for the project and assist in any way possible.
Back to the visit… It was a beautiful morning to fly and two other aircraft from Skyranch at Carefree joined us. A fourth aircraft, piloted by a friend of mine, Don Walten, met us there. Don’s been bringing out his own equipment to drag the strip etc. Thanks Don! All the guys joined in to put up the first windsock in probably decades.
After speaking to APA’s backcountry chariman, Mark Spencer, he contacted his friend at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Tucson, Scott Feldhausen. Scott was able to direct me to the right rep in the Wickenburg area. The strip is on BLM land and the old foundations, the hangar, wells etc. are on the separate, abutting parcel. The BLM response has been fantastic! They are very impressed with our Grapevine efforts and much in favor of the APA donating their time and manpower to protect this strip. They will try to make funds available to assist us in that endeavor and there has even been whispers of donating us the site.
Either way, if all goes as planned, we will be able to protect this historical strip for the future and provide a new practice site and possibly even backcountry overnight camping. Anything we can do to help Bill and Casey realize their project not only helps serve vets but, could also have a HUGE upside for anyone flying into the strip. Having the projected vet rehab facility there could provide vital services and possibly an exchange of maintenance crews... Win-win!
What’s your idea for this strip? I have a contact that is a former professor of astronomy. He joined us at the Death Valley get-away. He'd loved to come out and give a full-blown presentation at this local "dark park". Cool beans. There are loads of horse ranches around for trail rides… Arrangements could be made for campers to be shuttled into Wickenburg for the roping tournaments etc…The possibilities are wonderful and only limited by our imaginations and work. Yeah!
Now the BAD news:
Pleasant Valley Airport (P48) will be lost to us as a practice strip at the end of November 2021 as the Arizona State Land Trust (SLT) is not interested in renewing the current airport lease.
Roy Couliette began developing the site in January 1977 after entering into a lease agreement with the SLT. The airport even included an RV park for permanent residents and for those enjoying the nearby Lake Pleasant. It has been home to Turf Soaring, a busy glider school, and to the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Training Squadron Flight 400. The airport at one time averaged over 200 operations per day.
Unfortunately, Roy passed away a few years ago and the balance of the lease was luckily transferred to the management of Rick and Jeanne Brown. The airport has seen a decline in both the RV park and operations. Rick and Jeanne have made efforts to negotiate a new lease with the SLT, but to no avail. As many airstrips do not allow practice operations, the closure of this airstrip will be a true loss to local pilots.
I did look into getting the airstrip designated as an Historic Site, but it doesn’t meet the age requirement of 50 years, have unique architecture, nor been visited by people of historic note…. Alas,
the UGLY truth is the adage, “Education is what you get when you don’t get what you want” applies here. The process of investigating these two airstrips has been a true education, both enlightening and disappointing. It will be a great joy and a real boon to vets and pilots alike to see the Forepaugh project come to fruition but, where Pleasant Valley Airport is concerned… I’m sorry to say that “Another one bites the dust.”