Home Airport Spotting Guide Plane Spotting Highlights of Arizona

Plane Spotting Highlights of Arizona

by Matt Falcus

Arizona is one of the United States’ highlights when it comes to aviation.

The desert state is one of the key locations for long term aircraft storage thanks to its dry climate, and there are a number of airports used for this purpose.

Principal among then is the large facility at Davis Monthan near Tucson.

It’s easy to get around Arizona by car or air, and you can easily arrange scenic flights for getting close to some of the airports.


Read on for our guide to the top spotting highlights and locations in Arizona.


Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Quintin Soloviev, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Arizona’s busiest airport, and it’s only major airline hub.

Sky Harbor is located close to the city and has four parallel runways with a central terminal area.

It is a hub for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, as well as UPS. There is also a military base.

The best spotting location is the top floor of the Terminal 4 parking garage which 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. The garages for terminals 2 and 3 also offer views, and the proximity of the terminals means you can buy food and drink supplies or find air conditioning.


David Monthan Air Force Base

Photo (c) Stuart Rankin

The largest aircraft storage and recycling centre in the USA (and probably the world). David Monthan is located to the south of Tucson and covers a very large area.

It is made up of row upon row of retired and stored US Air Force aircraft which will slowly be parted out, operated by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG).


Pima Air & Space Museum

Photo (c) Steve Knight

Just next to Davis Monthan is Arizona’s best aviation museum. In fact, it’s one of the best in the world, making use of the desert dryness to park important aircraft outdoors where the sun helps with photography.

As well as many military aircraft, civil spotters will enjoy seeing a Sud Aviation Caravelle, Boeing 777-200, 787 Dreamliner, and a former Air Force One Boeing 707, among others.

Museum website: https://pimaair.org/


Tucson International Airport

Photo (c) Steve Knight

A busy civil and military airport, served by most US airlines, though not as busy as Phoenix.

Tucson is also home to a military base, with fast jets based.

Also, on the western side is a facility used for storage and parting out airliners, usually with some interesting examples present.

Near this site is an aviation clllege with a few preserved airliners, including a Lockheed TriStar and DHC-7.

To the north of the passenger terminal is Flightline Drive, which loops past the small executive terminal and parking area and has some views across the main runway and military side. Photography is possible.

Similarly, heading south from the terminal along Airport Dr leads past the cargo apron.

To see the aircraft stored on the western side of the airport, head north from the terminal, then turn left onto Valencia Rd. Turn left again onto Nogales Highway, and explore the side streets. Stop to note registrations but don’t linger. There are a couple of former FedEx Boeing 727s and a DHC-8 in the on-site Pima Community Aviation College.


Marana Pinal Airpark

Photo (c) Steve Knight

The largest site for airliner storage in Arizona. Marana is 30 minutes north of Tucson and sees many airliners come in from around the world for long term storage, parting out and scrapping.

There are some distant views from outside the site. Airside visits could sometimes be arranged. Other spotters opt to hire a local flight from Tucson Airport which performs low passes or landing at Pinal Air Park which bring you within close range of the parked aircraft.

Don’t confuse Pinal Air Park for nearby Marana Regional Airport!


Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport

Eric Salard, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

A secondary airport serving Phoenix, this airfield has three parallel runways and is a hub for Allegiant Air.

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway is also one of America’s busiest general aviation airports. It sees many daily executive aircraft movements, as well as flight training and light aircraft.

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.


Scottsdale Airport

The Volanti Restaurant at the Scottsdale Airport over looks the airport’s runway and taxi way. Camelback Mountain is in the back ground. Richard N Horne, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Another Airport serving Phoenix and the city of Scottsdale. It has a single runway, and is very busy with general aviation movements. In fact, it is one of America’s busiest single runway airports.

There’s no airline service here, but you’ll often see plenty of biz jets.

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, whilst Redfield Rd has good views of the western approach if you can find somewhere to park up.


Grand Canyon Airport & Flights

While most tourists visiting the Grand Canyon, whether by road or air, do so from Las Vegas in Nevada, the canyon itself is actually in Arizona.

Serving the giant like-deep landmark are airports in Grand Canyon Village, as well as nearby Flagstaff.

From these you can arrange sightseeing flights over and into the Canyon using local operators.


Phoenix Goodyear Airport

Photo (c) Alan Wilson

25 miles west of Sky Harbor is Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

This is another storage airfield, which in recent years has seen many retired commuter aircraft lined up awaiting their fate.

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.

It has no airline service.


Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum

Photo (c) Larry Wagner

Located at Falcon Field in Mesa, to the east of Phoenix, this is a museum of US air force history.

As a top attraction in the region, it has some great exhibits for all the family, comprising lovingly restored warbirds and other aircraft.

Visitors can also arrange to take a flight on some of their active fleet, including a B-25 Mitchell, Douglas C-47, Beech 18 and B-17 Flying Fortress.

Falcon Field itself is a busy general aviation airfield worth visiting. Here’s their website: https://www.azcaf.org/


Sedona Airport

Shane.torgerson, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most scenic locations in America, Sedona is a small city set among the red rock buttes and canyons between Phoenix and Flagstaff in northern Arizona.

Sedona has an airport set atop one of these buttes and it’s famous among the general aviation community as being both challenging and beautiful. It’s not particularly busy, but worth a stop if you’re passing.


Kingman Airport

Kingman, AZ airport 1632a

Located in northern Arizona, close to the Grand Canyon and Nevada border, Kingman is a two-runway airport which doesn’t have many aircraft movements. However, it’s another of the famous storage airports to be found here.

Rows of retired airliners stretch from east to west along a disused runway, as well as around the main apron.


Have you been spotting in Arizona? What would you recommend? Leave a comment below!



Airport Spotting Guides USA


Read more tips on spotting in Arizona, as well as all the other US states in Airport Spotting Guides USA. This edition covers over 430 airports, from the largest hubs to smaller regional airfields. It tells you where to spot and photograph, which hotels have views, and where to find great aviation museums.

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1 comment

James Harrington September 14, 2023 - 4:33 pm

Ground Based: The General Patton Tank Museum, in Western Arizona, off the highway ten.


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