Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport – 11/16-17/1013

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).


KIWA 11-17-13

6 thoughts on “Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport – 11/16-17/1013”

    1. Thanks Bill. Yes, the wonderful thing about “Willie” is that you can get very close to the aircraft. The ramp where the aircraft are parked, is in an open area separated by a fence. There is a public park area set up for aircraft watching with a gazebo picnic area, a spotting hill, restrooms…and a snack/soda machine. There are 3 runways and, unfortunately, the Harriers take off/land on the far runway (due to the FOD they can create). Most of the other aircraft there use the closest runway to the ramp and you can get great take-off shots. I enjoy it there because you can catch action on the weekends.

    1. Thank you Dave! The one challenge with shooting at “Willie” is the lighting. It is terrible in the AM, but, beautiful in the afternoon/early evening. I try to take what the light gives me.