Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport – 11/16-17/1013
By Steven Valinski
Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport…sounds boring huh? Well, actually, there can be quite a bit of military action there, especially on weekends. Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is often referred to by locals as “Willie”. Located Southeast of Phoenix, AZ, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport was formally known as: Williams Air Force Base. Williams Air Force Base, or “Willie”, was an USAF training base until 1993. While Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is now a commercial airport, the military continues to utilize the airport on an as-needed basis. While during the week, the action often consists of refueling stops, but, on the weekend, “Willie” attracts squadrons that are looking to get some weekend sorties in. This makes “Willie” an attractive spotting venue on weekends when most base activity is minimal.
This weekend I spent some time at “Willie” and I was not disappointed. As I arrived at the airport, 3 T-38’s from Vance AFB soared overhead. There were 6 of them there earlier in the day, and I missed them all. What I did not miss were 8 AV-8B Harriers and 2 F/A-18C Hornets. The Harriers were based out of MCAS Yuma and consisted of 4 from VMA-211 “Wake Island Avengers” and 4 from VMA-311 “Tomcats”. The Hornets were from MCAS Miramar (VMFA-314 “Black Knights). While the Hornets were only in for an overnight stay, the Harriers were in-and-out all weekend on various sorties.
Since, I am only 7 minutes away from this airport, I am fortunate enough to catch a lot of the activity there. So, moving forward, you will be hearing a lot about my adventures at “Willie” (sans the airport history lesson).