Tucson – 1/14/2014
Article & Photos by Steven Valinski
Tuesday I spent the day in Tucson, Arizona photographing aircraft with a great group of fellow aviation photographers. Tucson can be a great place for aviation photographers with the Arizona ANG operating out of Tucson International Airport. Currently the RNLAF are training with the 162d FW based there. Tucson is also the home to Davis-Monthan AFB. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (DM) is home to the 355th Fighter Wing (355 FW). In addition to the 355th FW, The Twelfth Air Force, the 563rd Rescue Group, and The Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) are all based out of DM. This can make DM a good place for observing/photographing aircraft. With several squadrons of Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II’s (Warthogs) and Electronic Combat-ready EC-130’s the daily activity can be abundant.
What I like most about Davis-Monthan AFB is the occasional “surprises”. Any aircraft being retired to AMARG, that is still flyable, has to fly into DM on it’s last flight. This includes aircraft from all branches of the military. In addition to the AMARG surprises, in the winter months, DM is home to several “snowbird” visitor squadrons. These snowbird squadrons are typically based in states that have cold winters. The mild Tucson winter climate provides a great opportunity for these squadrons to get a lot of training sorties in during the winter months.
We began the early morning over at Tucson International Airport (TIA). We caught an abundance of departing F-16’s from the AZ ANG, AATC (ANG AFRC Command Test Center), and the RNLAF. When the position of the sun was no longer favorable for departures, we set out to capture the arrivals from the morning’s launch. Later in the morning we headed over to DM to see if we can catch some arrivals, including the current “snowbird” squadron, the 114th Fighter Wing, which is part of the South Dakota Air National Guard based out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
There was plenty of action at DM. In addition to catching the South Dakota F-16’s, we caught plenty of local traffic. DM, Barksdale AFB, and Spangdahlem AFB marked A-10’s were running regular sorties along with a few EC-130’s. We also saw several aircraft from the DHS- U.S. Customs/Border Patrol. They typically fly reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters. Our “nice surprise” of the day was a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III from Travis AFB in California. This mammoth had us scrambling for position to be able to properly frame the large aircraft as it arrived. Another “plus” was the arrival of the Arizona ANG alert aircraft. These are F-16’s that are designated for alert duty and carry live ordinance. The Tucson-based guard unit is responsible for 225,000 square miles of the Southwest United States with 24/7 preparedness, so these aircraft are a vital part of U.S. security.
Overall, it was a very good day in Tucson. For aviation photographers, Tucson can be a wonderful place. With active military aircraft at Tucson International Airport and Davis-Monthan Air force Base, one of the world’s largest privately-owned air museums, the Pima Air & Space Museum, and the AMARG “Boneyard”, there are plenty of subjects to be found. Add to this a nice selection of places to eat and gorgeous weather, and one can easily end up staying longer than expected.