DTC Sky Trail

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Overview of the DTC Sky Trail

You are about to embark on an historical adventure, an adventure which will reveal one of the desert’s best kept secrets, and enrich your appreciation of our nation's tremendous capacity to coordinate and mobilize its mighty strength for good. 

During the opening days of the national emergency created by World War II, a massive military training center, designed to prepare American troops for combat in the deserts of North Africa was developed in the southwestern Arizona and southeastern California deserts.  Today, the relics of this center serve as a reflection of the massive mobilization required for us to win the war against the Axis powers.

The best way to see the DTC/C-AMA by far is from the air.  Low lying campsite outlines are clearly evident from several hundred feet up, while being obscured from passing motorists by desert scrub vegetation.  The terrain in this massive facility also lends itself perfectly to an aerial tour of a string of facilities from an airplane.  This DTC Sky Trail provides just one possible trip.  There are many other camps and features that are not included, such as many in neighboring Arizona.  This DTC Sky Trail, however, follows the route between the populated areas of southern California and Laughlin, Nevada, and covers the center of the Desert Training Center facility.  

Flight Information Introduction
The terrain surrounding the DTC/C-AMA is rugged and mountainous, with elevations ranging from sea level to nearly 12,000 feet.  The DTC Sky Trail itself is approximately 150 nautical miles, although you may find yourself traveling much farther by exploring the camps more closely.  Count on spending at least three hours for the full tour.  There is no fuel available along the route, so insure you have adequate fuel aboard including a comfortable reserve.  Fuel can be obtained in Laughlin, Needles, or Kingman to the north; and Twentynine Palms, Bermuda Dunes, Thermal, and Blythe in the south. 

The DTC Sky Trail runs from Camp Young near Chiriaco Summit in the south to Camp Ibis near Laughlin, Nevada in the north.  The tour is sequential, and can be followed in either direction (south-north or north-south). 

Many of the features are visible only from certain angles and altitudes, requiring some experimentation and exploration.  In most of the divisional camps (except Camp Young), the most distinctive features are the headquarters circle (see image), where a flagpole would have been placed.  These indicate the administrative centers of the camps.  The roadways and rock-lined walkways are visible from low altitude (500' AGL), while the larger outlines of the camp can only be fully appreciated from higher altitudes, several thousand feet above ground level  (AGL).  Be cautious of the obstructions in the area, including towers at Rice and Essex.  Power lines do not have the eye-catching colored balls, and some lower obstructions are not charted. 

DTC Sky Trail check list
This list is not intended to prescribe every item required for a safe flight on the DTC Sky Trail, but instead provides items unique to the sky trail experience.

  • Study the route of your flight on a current VFR Sectional Chart noting nearby obstructions, Special Use Airspace (SUA) and controlling agencies, radio frequencies,  surface elevations, etc. 

  • Print out the route, trail chart waypoints and Docent Narrative pages for use in charting your route, programming your GPS receiver and reading during your flight.

  • Obtain a Full Briefing from FSS by telephone: 1 (800) 992-2743 (DUATS won't provide SUA status.)
    In addition to the usual forecast weather, NOTAMS, etc., request the status of all Special Use Airspace (SUA) along your route of flight specifically including Restricted Areas, MOAs, MTRs, and other possible active hazards.  Request the telephone numbers and frequencies of SUA controlling agencies.

  • If FSS is unable to provide adequate status information of SUA, contact the controlling agencies directly by telephone, and arrange for in-flight radio contact if deemed necessary. 

  • Pack a First Aid Kit appropriate for your flight, plenty of drinking water, a warm jacket, and a handheld radio if available.

  •  Plan your flight carefully, and file a VFR Flight Plan, so someone will come looking for you if you don't arrive at your destination on time.

  • Use current information.  The information on this web site is necessarily likely to be out of date.

  • E-mail a report of your DTC Sky Trail experience to: WebMaster@SkyTrail.info

Weather Concerns
Because of the convective turbulence that can be generated by air in contact with the hot desert floor becoming heated and rapidly rising in its search for equilibrium, it is recommended that you plan your flight for the cooler months between October and March.  If you intend to fly the DTC Sky Trail during other months, it is recommended that your flight begins as early in the day as possible.  After 1300 PST low level convective turbulence can cause a very uncomfortable ride and difficult photography.  In the summer, afternoon thunderstorms are frequent.  While individual thunderstorms can be quite nasty with violent up and downdrafts, and the possibility of hail damage.  Seldom are they of sufficient quantity to completely block a flight route.  Instead, it can be necessary to fly around an area, or wait for the storm to move on or dissipate.  Fall, winter, and spring are cooler and generally less turbulent.  Keep in mind, however, that winters can be cold.

Wind generated turbulence can also be a problem in this mountainous desert terrain.  If the winds are forecast or reported to be greater than 10 knots, it would be prudent to choose another day for your Sky Trail experience. 

Carry an emergency kit and a warm jacket in your airplane.  Your kit should contain aerial flares and smoke signals, a signal mirror, and reflective Mylar “space blankets,” as well as a snake-bite kit, and medical supplies.  You should also carry plenty of drinking water (at least one gallon per person) for emergency use, and while en route on the DTC Sky Trail.  This desert area is very sparsely populated and assistance can be a great distance from a forced landing site.  If you are forced down, stay with your aircraft, or if you are sure you can make it, attempt to stop a motorist on a nearby road.  Activate your Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT).  Attempt to contact any aircraft you see or hear in the sky on the emergency frequency: 121.5 MHz.  It will be cold at night in the desert, so keep warm in a sheltered place with the Mylar blankets and layers of clothes.  Cellular telephone service in this area is the exception; don't count on it.

To the west of the DTC Sky Trail route, the R-2501 Restricted Areas east of Twentynine Palms are unlimited in altitude and continuous in operation.  Although a good-sized portion of the DTC/C-AMA resides under R-2501, viewing it by aircraft is not practical.  The tour steers well clear of this area, so watch your position, especially near Cadiz.  Remaining north of the railroad tracks will assure staying out of R-2501.  There are also several Military Operations Areas (MOA) throughout the area.  The prudent Pilot In Command (PIC) will have contacted Flight Service and/or the controlling agency as shown at the top of your current VFR Sectional aeronautical Chart or in the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) to determine the active status of these Special Use Airspace areas, as well as the numerous Military Training Routes that traverse the route.


Below is an overview of some of the pertinent Federal Aviation Regulations of concern while you're navigating the DTC Sky Trail:

There are charted towers near Rice and Essex that extend several hundred feet above the surface.  There are also electrical power transmission lines near many of the camps.  There also may be uncharted obstructions, so be cautious and use good judgment when flying near the surface (FAR 91.119).  Be sure to request the current altimeter setting from Riverside Radio or ATC.

Because you will be flying from 600 to 1,000 feet AGL, well within 3,000 feet of the surface, there is no requirement to observe the Hemispherical Rule (FAR 91.159) governing correct VFR cruising altitudes with regard to direction of flight, however when you are above 3,000' AGL do fly even altitudes + 500' when westbound, and odd altitudes+500' when eastbound.  Most of the camps along the DTC Sky Trail route lie within Class G airspace, which lies under Class E airspace with a floor of 1,200 feet AGL.  Although there is no requirement to be in communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC) in this airspace, it is a good idea to contact Riverside Radio and/or the controlling agency for the current status of the Military Operation Areas (MOA) and Military Training Routes (MTR) and other SUA at the time of your flight. 

You may generally contact the Flight Service Station (FSS) on frequency 122.2 MHz.  Consult a current Airport/Facility Directory or Phoenix Sectional Chart for FSS Remote Communications Outlets (RCO) co-located with the radio navaids in the area: Twentynine Palms (TNP), Blythe (BLH), Parker (PKE), Goffs (GFS), and Needles (EED). 

Military Operation Areas
The DTC Sky Trail route takes you under the Turtle Military Operation Area (MOA), which at the time of this writing, has a floor of 11,000 feet from 0600 to 1600 PST Monday through Friday, so it is not a factor.  Two other MOAs, Bristol and Quail are nearby.  The floor of Bristol MOA is 5,000 feet MSL, 0700 to 1500 PST, Monday through Friday.  The floor of Quail MOA is 10,000 feet MSL, 0700 to 1700 MST, Monday through Friday.  Although these MOAs are not a factor at the altitudes you will be flying, it is a good idea to contact Riverside Radio for their current status at the time of your flight. 

Military Training Routes
MTRs are a very real hazard to low-level aircraft operations.  There have been a number of fatal military/civil Mid Air Collisions (MAC).  Usually the military pilot ejects safely, and the civil aircraft and its occupants are mercilessly disintegrated.  While FAR §91.113 requires all PICs to maintain
vigilance in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) so as to see and avoid other aircraft, it is virtually impossible for the general aviation pilot to visually spot minimal frontal silhouette of a light-gray colored,  oncoming jet fighter traveling in excess of 500 knots.

Several low-altitude, high-speed  Military Training Routes exist near or traverse the Sky Trail route, including the following (at this time):

  • Near Chiriaco Summit:      VR1257 and VR289

  • Near Desert Center:          VR1265 and VR296

  • Near Rice:                          VR206 and VR296

  • Near Cadiz:                        VR1265 and VR289

  • Near Goffs:                         VR1225, VR289, and VR296

  • Near Ibis:                            VR1265

 (There may be other MTRs; always check a current VFR Sectional Chart)


The Aeronautical Information Manual advises the following regarding MTRs (abridged):

AIM 3-5-2 (b): The routes at 1,500 feet AGL and below and generally developed to be flown under VFR.

AIM 3-5-2 (c): Generally, MTR’s are established below 10,000 feet MSL for operations at speeds in excess of 250 knots. [!]

AIM 3-5-2 (c)(2): VFR Military Training Routes (VR): Operations on these routes are conducted in accordance with VFR except flight visibility shall be 5 miles or more; and flights shall not be conducted below a ceiling of less than 3,000 feet AGL.

AIM 3-5-2 (d):  Military training routes will be identified and charted as follows:
1.  Route Identification
 (a) MTRs with no segment above 1,500 feet AGL shall be identified by four number characters; e.g., IR1206, VR1207.
     (b) MTRs that include one or more segments above 1,500 feet AGL shall be identified by three number characters; e.g., IR206, VR207.
2.  Route charting.
     (f) Nonparticipating aircraft are not prohibited from flying within an MTR, however, extreme vigilance should be exercised when conducting flight through or near these routes.  Pilots should contact FSSs within 100 NM of a particular MTR to obtain current information or route usage in their vicinity.  Information available includes times of scheduled activity, altitudes in use on each route segment, and actual route width.  Route width varies for each MTR and can extend several miles on either side of the charted MTR centerline.  Route width information for IR and VR MTR’s is also available in the FLIP AP/1B along with additional MTR (SR/AR) information.  When requesting MTR information, pilots should give the FSS their position, route of flight, and destination in order to reduce frequency congestion and permit the FSS specialist to identify the MTR which could be a factor.  ...

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Hits: [an error occurred while processing this directive] Date of last edit: January 08, 2012 21:38:52 -0800
© Copyright: L. Dighera, 2011; All Rights Reserved: LDighera@att.net