Arizona Plane Spotting Highlights
Arizona is one of the best US states for aviation enthusiasts and is a great place for touring by car or air to maximise the number of aircraft you see and airports you visit.
Because of its hot and dry climate, Arizona is a popular spot for aircraft storage graveyards, which in itself is a major draw for spotters. The most significant of these is the huge Davis Monthan AFB near Tucson which is the final resting place for thousands of retired military aircraft in open storage.
In addition, it has the large and busy Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport as a gateway, as well as smaller airports such as Tucson International and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway.
Read on for our guide to Arizona spotting highlights.
Arizona Plane Spotting Map
This map marks all locations that you’ll read about below. It is interactive, so feel free to click on it and scroll around, zoom in/out and explore the aviation attractions.
Main Arizona Airports
Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX/KPHX)
The largest and busiest airport in Arizona, Phoenix Sky Harbor is a sunny and productive place for spotting in Arizona. The airport has four parallel runways, with passenger terminals located in the centre.
To the north, you’ll often see Honeywell’s modified Boeing 757, whilst to the south are the busy FBO and cargo ramps.
Sky Harbor is a hub for the likes of American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, with FedEx and UPS providing plenty of cargo flights.
Spotters are generally tolerated here, and it makes an excellent gateway if you’re visiting the storage airfields in the state. Views and photographs are fairly easy to come by, and a number of cargo and international airlines pass through the airport.
- Parking Garage
The top floor of the Terminal 4 parking garage has views over both sides of the airport (although you’ll have to walk a fair bit and can’t see both at the same time). Photography is possible of aircraft on the ground, and the spot is perfect for noting registrations. Police are usually tolerant of people being here.
- North Perimeter
Travelling south on S 40th St from Washington Ave, the road will curve as it reaches the perimeter of the airport. There is an area to park alongside the road, giving you a great view of aircraft landing and departing on runway 26. The area can become a little unsavoury once the sun has set.
- Old Tower Road
This road leads off from S 24th St near where it passes under I-10. Driving along this road will reveal various ramps on your left, such as the Cutter Ramp and the cargo ramp. Here, you’ll log executive aircraft, cargo airliners and some light aircraft. You also have views to the southern runways. It is not advised to loiter here too long.
4300 East Washington Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85034 | +1 602 273 7778 | www.crowneplazaphx.com
Even-numbered rooms on high floors offer views of the airport’s north side. You can read off aircraft quite easily with good binoculars.
Phoenix Mesa-Gateway (AZA/KIWA)
Formerly Williams Air Base, Mesa-Gateway opened as a commercial airport in 1994. Its new terminal was opened in the early 2000s with the introduction of flights by Ryan International. Whilst it would never seriously challenge Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (situated 27 miles to the west), it has established itself as a good alternative which is popular with low-cost airlines. Allegiant Air opened a focus city here in 2007, with Airbus A319, McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and Boeing 757-200 aircraft operating flights to many US destinations.
The best place to view movements is next to the General Aviation Terminal where there is a viewing mound, and good photographs are possible in the afternoon and evening over the fence. This is a known place for spotters to congregate, so trouble from the authorities is unlikely.
Phoenix Scottsdale (SCF/KSDL)
Located 22 miles northeast of Phoenix Sky Harbor, this is a busy executive airport with plenty of base aircraft. It also handles GA and sightseeing flights, and pilot training. Aircraft park at various ramps around the airport, so it’s best to explore the roads surrounding it to find as many as possible. The Airpark Corporate Center on the east side usually has the most executive jets present.
Tucson International (TUS/KTUS)
Worth stopping by, or using as a gateway to exploring Arizona, Tucson International is fairly quiet for airline service, with mainly commuter flights from various hubs. However, it is also used for airliner storage and maintenance (see below). The airport also has a wing of the Air National Guard based, with facilities at the northern end of the airport.
Airlines services at Tucson are mainly American, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Southwest and United, with cargo services by FedEx, Ameriflight and Southern Air.
The road heading west from the passenger terminal also allows some views towards the runway and the cargo ramp.
A small airport in the north of Arizona, mainly used for general aviation and sightseeing flights due to its proximity to the Grand Canyon. American Eagle is the only airline to fly here.
It’s easy to see aircraft parked on the ramp from either side of the terminal, or from Shamrell Blvd.
Prescott Ernest A Love Field (PRC/KPRC)
A very busy general aviation airport used a lot by training organisations, and seeing hundreds of daily flight movements. The only airline service is by Great Lakes Airlines to Los Angeles.
Prescott has two runways, with parking ramps and hangars scattered all around the site, making it difficult to see everything. The car park outside the terminal is a good place to watch movements, and driving around the perimeter roads should yield more aircraft if you have a car.
Grand Canyon West (GCW)A small, single-runway airport on the western edge of the Grand Canyon which exists solely for sightseeing flights, which often fly in from Las Vegas. A number of local and helicopter operators also fly from here.
Viewing is easy from the car park outside the terminal.
Page Municipal (PGA/KPGA)
The most northerly airport in Arizona, close to the Nevada border and the eastern end of the Grand Canyon. The airport serves the town of Page very close by, with airline service to Phoenix with Great Lakes Airlines. It also acts as another sightseeing gateway for Grand Canyon flights, as well as general aviation.
Sage Ave and the car park outside the passenger terminal are ideal for watching movements and logging aircraft on the ground.
Valle Airport (VLE)
Situated between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Valle is a fairly quiet airport, used mainly by general aviation aircraft. The main reason for visiting is the Planes of Fame Museum based here (see below).
Marana Regional Airport (AVW/KAVQ)
A small general aviation airport south east of Marana Pinal Airpark. Not really worth stopping by apart from a collection of aircraft cockpits, parts and military aircraft which are stored here and visible from the road (W Avra Valley Rd).
Chandler Municipal (CHD/KCHD)
A little south of Phoenix is Chandler Memorial – another busy Arizona general aviation airport which handles some executive traffic. Movements can easily peak 450 per day, so it’s worth checking in if you like lighter aircraft in particular.
S Airport Blvd runs through the airport, behind many of the hangars and parking aprons. A small park shaded by trees has benches and a view across the airport through the fence.
Yuma International Airport (YUM/KNYL)
On the border with California in the south west corner of Arizona. Yuma International (so named because it has occasional services to Mexico) is a four-runway regional airport dominated by a Marine Air Corps Station. Because of this you’ll often see interesting transport types, but also note that security is tight.
The best places to spot are along E 32nd St, which runs along the northern perimeter of the airport, past the passenger terminal, and has sweeping views across the runways through the fence.
Arizona Storage Airports
Phoenix Goodyear (GYR)
Goodyear is around 25 miles west of Sky Harbor Airport and the city. It has no airline service, but sees plenty of general aviation activity.
Stored airliners are parked along the northern side of the runway and range in size up to Boeing 747s from carriers around the world. Any aircraft receiving maintenance and attention will be parked around the hangars on the west of the runway. This is a good place to start logging. A little further, the small terminal will have any executive aircraft outside and also has views to the distant storage line.
Bulliard Avenue on the west of the airport is a good place to stop and read the stored airliners off from the fence, but the police will likely question you if they see you.
Kingman Airport (IGM/KIGM)
Kingman is in the north west of Arizona. It has always been involved in aircraft storage and dispersal since its military days.
Whilst the airport is also an active civilian airfield (no scheduled service, however), it is mostly dominated by stored airliners – particularly regional jets and older Boeing 727 types. Aircraft are parked on numerous different ramps, so you’ll need to move around a bit to see them all, but it’s relatively easy if you have a car. Flightline Dr is the best place, as it runs the length of the airport.
Marana Pinal Airpark (MZJ/KMZJ)
Situated 27 miles to the north of Tucson, off I-10, Marana Pinal Airpark is one of the most significant storage airports in the western United States. Airliners come here for storage and scrapping from all over the world. Although turnover is fairly high, there are some classic airframes which have been here for many years, so it’s a good place to catch up with some of the types rarely seen in our skies, like the Boeing 747-200, 767-200, Lockheed TriStar and McDonnell Douglas DC-9/MD-80 series.
For years it was impossible to get close to Marana on the ground as a gatepost refused entry. Today this has been relaxed, so it is possible to drive up to the administration buildings and get some views of the aircraft. Free tours have been offered to enthusiasts in advance by calling Jim Petty on 520-866-6545, subject to availability,
Davis Monthan AFB / AMARG
A truly massive facility taking up a large portion of the desert outside Tucson in southern Arizona.
Davis Monthan is home to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or AMARG, where thousands of US Air Force aircraft are sent for storage, disposal and sometimes reactivation. Naturally the majority of these are fighter jets and other military aircraft, but some could be considered transport types which should be of interest. They are parked in long rows and are difficult to log without an up-to-date list or an overflight.
For many years lots of retired Boeing 707s languished and were slowly cut up as spare parts sources for the KC-135 aircraft. Sadly most of these are now gone.
E Irvington Rd and S Kolb Rd are the two best streets to try and log from the ground if you have a car.
Tours of AMARG can be arranged through the Pima Air & Space Musuem (see here http://www.pimaair.org/visit/plan-your-visit)
As well as being a busy airport and military base, Tucson International is used for storage and maintenance of aircraft. The western side of the airport has areas where aircraft are parked, and a quick drive into the site on E Teton Rd should give you some numbers.
Near here also is the Pima Community College’s aviation campus where a couple of Boeing 727s, a DHC-7 and a Lockheed TriStar are used for training students. E Susana St is the road to head for, off the main Nogalese Hwy running down the western side of the airport.
Chandler Gila River Memorial Airport
This was once a more substantial place to visit. It became home to numerous old piston aircraft used as tankers, however in recent years most of the site has been cleared and the buildings destroyed. A few old pistons still existed as of late 2016, however any visit is likely to bring a swift visit from the police who move on trespassers. The site is officially an Indian reservation now.
Museums and Preserved Aircraft
Despite the huge numbers of aircraft stored and scrapped in Arizona, there are some which have been saved for enthusiasts and future generations to enjoy. The best place is the Pima Air & Space Museum.
Pima Air & Space Museum
6000 E. Valencia Rd, Tucson, Arizona 85756 | +1 520 574-0462 | http://www.pimaair.org/
This is one of America’s best aviation museums. Situated next door to the Davis Monthan AFB site, it makes use of the dry desert air to preserve and display historic aircraft outside. In reality it makes some of them prone to becoming dusty.
There are lots of significant military and civil aircraft here, including a United Boeing 727-100, Caravelle, USAF Boeing 707, DC-4, DC-6 and DC-9, US Navy DC-3s and DC-9, Boeing 787 prototype, China Southern 737-300, Project Orbis DC-10, Vickers Viscount and NASA Aero Spacelines Guppy, among many others.
Museum is open daily (except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving), 9am to 5pm. Admission prices here.
Planes of Fame Museum
Grand Canyon Valle Airport, 555 S State Rt 64, Valle, AZ 86046 | http://www.valleairport.com/
A small aviation museum attached the Valle Airport in northern Arizona. It displays numerous historic military jet aircraft outside, as well as the immaculate Martin 404 N636X in Pacific Air Lines scheme, and Convair 240 N240HH in Western Airlines colours.
Museum is open daily (except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving), 9am to 5pm. Admission prices here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to Arizona plane spotting. If you have any updates or corrections, please leave a comment below!