The Mysterious Airstrips of Northern Mexico

November 11, 2014

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julien_harneis/Flickr

A curious place exists in northern Mexico, just across the border from Yuma, Arizona.  It is unknown to most people unless they’ve studied an aviation map.  There, in the desert of Mexico, sits an abundance of dirt airfields.  What could possibly be their purpose?

I noticed this oddity while studying FAA sectional charts of the southern U.S. as a private pilot flying in Southern California.  I had never flown near the area or even close to it, but as you can see from the official FAA aviation chart below, it does exist.  I even put it in my mystery novel, Flapjack. I thought it was the perfect place for a clandestine meeting as a highly prized, stolen invention is exchanged for transport out of the U.S. via Mexico.  The large red circle shows the general vicinity of these dirt strips.  Yuma, Arizona is on the right, Mexicali, Mexico is on the left, and the dark line running through the middle is the US-Mexico border.  Those small, red, unfilled circles are the dirt strips that seem to litter this area.  You can see there are no major towns around the dirt fields. This is desert, mind you. There is no other conglomeration of airfields like this anywhere in the U.S.

sectionalWho are using these airfields, and for what purpose?  Are they being used for hunting trips, sightseeing, or are they just private landing strips on private land?  I tried to find answers but couldn’t find anything of any use.  I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t written about this area that so clearly stands out on a map.  I quizzed other pilots who knew the area and they simply laughed and said, “What do you think they’re used for?”

It wasn’t hard to understand their point.  Many of the fields sit aside a lone roadway that leads to the border.  Some sit farther away but still in the general vicinity.  It was rather obvious that the fields were being used for some unscrupulous activities, probably drug running.  This is pure speculation, by the way.  There was an operation that the U.S. Customs employed up into the mid-90’s called Operation Skymaster.  It employed informants that shipped drugs on planes from South America to the U.S.  In exchange for not being arrested, the pilots became informants, giving information about the drug cartels’ shipments. I couldn’t find a specific reference to this area, but these pilots commonly talked about flying into rough dirt strips, sometimes at night, illuminated by nothing but a light running on a generator.  It isn’t hard to see what these strips are might be used for, and most likely it’s going on today.  These are just the named strips, and it is highly likely that there are many more dotting this area.

Aero CommanderWhat are your thoughts?  Is this grouping of airstrips unintentional, or are these areas really used for what I think? 

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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