A classmate of mine in the March 1973 airframe and powerplant (A&P) technician course at Northrop Institute of Technology was hired by McCulloch Motors in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Robert P. McCulloch was going to put a J-2 gyrocopter in every garage. That was the last time I saw my former classmate and almost the last time McCulloch's plan — 200 were eventually built — was in the news. Fortunately, another one of McCulloch's plans did pan out. He bought a big piece of land on the lower Colorado river and laid out a city. To promote it, he traveled to London, where he bid on, and succeeded in buying, the London Bridge. He removed it piece by piece and transported it across oceans and deserts to the shores of Lake Havasu, where it was reassembled and still stands.
Today Lake Havasu City is a laid-back town of 50,000 souls. Unlike other towns up and down the river, Lake Havasu City doesn't tout ready access to gambling to lure visitors, although there is a small casino that can be reached by water taxi on the opposite side of the river from the town. Lake Havasu City has its own style.
Robert P. McCulloch Sr. formed McCulloch Motors just after World War II and before long had cornered the small one-man chain-saw market in the United States. He was looking for a location to set up an outboard-motor manufacturing and testing facility when he first saw Lake Havasu, which had formed when the Parker Dam was completed in 1938. In 1963 McCulloch bought 26 square miles of land that eventually became the site of Lake Havasu City. In the early days McCulloch enticed prospective homebuyers to take a look at his "desert paradise" in the middle of the Sonoran Desert by providing free travel in one of his 11 Lockheed Electra airplanes. Those days are over but Lake Havasu City has acquired its own unique panache as a destination.
Lake Havasu City is located on the California-Arizona border in Mohave County, which is the second largest county in Arizona. The area was formed when the Parker Dam was completed in 1938..
Fly-in visitors are welcomed with open arms at the Lake Havasu City Airport by two excellent FBOs. D2 Aero and Sun Western Flyers seem to be in an all-out race to outdo each other as "follow me" carts vie for the privilege of escorting arriving airplanes to their section of the sparkling-clean airport. Pilots who believe that every successful landing is reason enough for the world to grant them a liberal dose of respect will get all that and more when they land at the Lake Havasu City Airport.
Once fliers have touched down and settled in, they'll be surprised at the number and variety of things to do in and around Lake Havasu City. A few of the most exciting, and perhaps a little unusual, events include Winterblast XVIII, the annual Western Pyrotechnics Convention and Fireworks show from February 15 through 18 in 2007; the 11th Annual Queen's Tea featuring an English-style high tea and fashion show on February 25; and Skat-Trak, the world championships of the International Jet Sports Boating Association in October.
Another popular event is the Relics and Rods Run to the Sun — a unique car show featuring pre-1960 street rods. There's also an international sailing regatta, fishing tournaments, races at the Havasu 95 Speedway, and a running series of educational programs sponsored by the Lake Havasu Museum of History. Information about these events — as well as a dining guide, a recreation guide, and a list of daily, weekly, and monthly accommodations — is listed on the Lake Havasu Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site.
Visitors who are more inclined toward physical activity will be able to rent a boat and fish among the many coves and fishing holes that dot the 450 miles of shoreline. Some 875 acres of artificial habitat have been introduced to the lake waters over the past 10 years. Because of combined efforts by federal and state agencies, sportsmen, and environmental groups, the fishing for bass, striper, crappie, and catfish in Lake Havasu ranks as some of the best in the West.
Hiking and camping in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge promise opportunities for a look at desert animal and plant life in an unspoiled setting. Topock Gorge is one of the last stretches of the lower Colorado river still unaltered by humans. The gorge is accessible by foot or boat. Boat tours — with or without tour guides — are a good starting point to see and learn about this pristine area.
Golfers can challenge five nearby courses. The London Bridge golf club has two 18-hole courses, the Havasu Island golf course is a 4,012-yard, par-61 course located near the Nautical Inn Resort & Conference Center, and Bridgewater Links is an executive-style course with views of the London Bridge and Bridgewater Channel.
Golfers with a serious game can test their skills at the Emerald Canyon golf course, a Golf Digest four-star course located 20 minutes south of the bridge, or at The Refuge golf club, an Arnold Palmer design that stretches out to 7,066 yards from the tips and is rated at 72.5 with a 129 slope.
The Lake Havasu City Airport is so clean, well marked, and new looking that it looks out of place in the desert. Located six miles north of town, Runway 32/14 is 8,000 feet long by 100 feet wide. Left traffic for Runway 32 is the most common pattern. Crossman Peak rises to an elevation of 5,100 feet — airport elevation is 781 feet msl — to the east, which necessitates a nonstandard right-hand traffic pattern when landing on Runway 14. In other words, fly the traffic pattern to the river side of the airport for both runway 14 and 32.
Straight-in takeoffs and departures are prohibited, according to the airport Web site. Other prohibited procedures include high-speed taxis, turnouts prior to the end of the runway on departure, and intersection takeoffs. A standard 45-degree entry in the pattern at pattern altitude is a required procedure. Pilots are asked to help ensure the future of the airport by practicing good-neighbor procedures and avoiding the overflight of nearby communities 1.5 to two miles south to west of the airport. Sectional charts depict the limits of the Havasu National Wildlife Area, which begins abeam the airport to the west and extends northwestward along the river for approximately 20 nm.
Practice these directions to ensure safe operations into and out of the impressive airport, which stands like an oasis in the midst of the California-Arizona desert. It's right next to the big lake with the London Bridge.