Since my plane is hangared so close to Pinal Airpark (KMZJ), where dozens of Beechcraft Starships are hunkered down while awaiting disassembly, I was challenged by some in the Canard Aviators group to fly over and take some photos of the gaggle. I had flown over Pinal Airpark many times, but had never been tempted to land there. As a matter of fact, I had been led to believe that private aircraft were not welcome. Pinal Airpark used to be the home of the CIA airfleet (Air America?) and unauthorized landings were punished (so I am told). It is now a mothball site for many commercial airliners - an impressive display from both the air and the ground. Some become scavenged right down to beer can stock. So here were all these Starships that are about to give up the ghost.
On asking around, I learned that Pinal is, in fact, a public airport that is managed by Evergreen Air - a company that stores, repairs, and disassembles many large aircraft. The airport is patrolled by the Evergreen security guards who are anxious to greet arriving aircraft. Photographs, I was told, are not permitted, and there are stories of people losing their film to the security guards. I was warned of stories that some pilots had been stopped, harassed and detained. I don't understand what the big deal is about photographing the planes. There are, however, planes there from all around the world, and even government planes like NASA aircraft. Maybe there are secrets to be captured on film. And then there is the Patriot Act. I could envision myself dropping into one of those deep and dark pits of no legal return. I notified several people of my intended trip in the event that I was never heard from again.
If I were to land there and be questioned, I was advised to ask directions to the restaurant.
OK. I flew the 12 minutes from Ryan to Pinal; announced my intentions over the unicom (no response, no pattern traffic, just a field of giant aircraft frozen in place). I couldn't spot the gaggle of canards at first. Then there they were, below me, as I crossed mid-field to set up a right downwind for runway 30. I tried some telephoto shots and got two marginal ones (nervously expecting to be shot down by one of the dozen or so BlackHawk gunships that nest on the departure end of 30). I made an uneventful squeak-squeak landing, and had to taxi almost the full length of the runway to find an off ramp. Now here I am heading back on taxiway Bravo and passing all these 747s, etc. in various stages of disassembly. I was sorely tempted. I fired off some surreptitious shots in the hopes of not being detected. There were only a few people working around the aircraft and standing in the doorways of the large hangars.
A white truck started moving toward me and signaled for me to follow. I stowed the camera in the wing well and followed. By golly, we moved down the taxiway right past the Starship fleet. The truck pulled in just 100 feet beyond where the Starships are being stored (what luck - was I, at least, going to get a fairly close look at the planes - before I was locked up??). A SECOND truck pulled up and a guard got out and walked over to my LongEZ.
"Could you tell me how to get to the restaurant?", I volunteered without prompting. I was then advised that the restaurant was closed. Well, plan A failed, and I had no plan B, so I went for the big Kahuna.
"Actually", I confessed, "I would really like to take a look at the Mother ships." The guard smiled, and I felt emboldened. We carried on a conversation about what was to happen to the planes. I learned that four are to be spared and sent to museums. The Pima Air Museum in Tucson is to get one. Raytheon is buying them all back and will dispose of them for reasons of liability. I didn't even know that Raytheon had anything to do with the construction of the Starships. We even talked about John Travolta's home in Jumbo-Lair. The guard (who shall remain nameless) was really very congenial and allowed as to how Travolta had flown into KMZJ on a scouting mission to purchase a Boeing 727. The guard confirmed that Travolta was easy to talk to and just a down right good guy.
Well things were winding down and I popped the big question - "Could I take some photos of the Starships????" The guard said that photography was discouraged (or did he say - not allowed??). I asked if it would be alright if I pre-flighted my plane "over there by the Starships". He said, "Sure" then announced that he would be going into one of the buildings for about twenty minutes and would not be able to see what I was doing.
The resulting pictures are shown below
Hope you find them interesting.
It was a fun adventure (even though a little overblown and dramatized).
Pinal Air Park - Starships|
Click on pictures for full sized view
These photos were taken under some stress and are not the best quality - sorry.
|Pinal Air Park - Starships - Epilog|