Visiting the Boneyard

Feb 08

The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, often called The Boneyard, is a United States Air Force aircraft and missile storage and maintenance facility located just a few miles from our campground. They are responsible for storing, refurbishing and destroying thousands of aircraft that are not currently usable by the US Armed Forces.

The Boneyard as seen from above (thanks to Bing maps)

The Boneyard as seen from above (thanks to Bing maps)

If you look at the Boneyard from above, it looks like the coolest toy plane collection ever. Over 4000 planes and helicopters lined up neatly in rows in the Arizona desert. There’s actually a whole lot more than just the aircraft.  All of the manufacturing jigs from the planes are also stored there in case they needed to re-fab a part of a plane and they didn’t have any more spare parts.

Can I interest you in a C-130 transport?

Can I interest you in a C-130 transport?

On the ground, though, you start to get a sense of the scale of the operation. Many of these planes are huge (C-130 and C-5s in particular) and it takes a lot of space to store them. The fighter planes are even more numerous and are packed in tightly. Some of them have already had parts removes to service other planes that are still in active use. Some are nearly ready to fly and could be back in active duty within a month or two.

Some planes are more ready to go than others.

Some planes are more ready to go than others.

In some ways, it’s a bit sad to see so much hardware just waiting to be destroyed. I’m sure that many of these planes and helicopters have quite the distinguished history. According to our guide, only about 20% of the planes in the main part of AMARG will return to service and once you cross the road to the older part of the Boneyard that number drops to less than 10%. Some of this is due to planes that are past their expected lifetime – they are only expected to last for so long and once they “time out”, they are sent to the Boneyard to be scrapped. Some of the planes are destroyed because of the START treaty that requires that we destroy a certain number of B-52 bombers. If you look closely on the overhead view, you can see a few clusters of B-52s that have been clearly cut up and are left in place so that Russian satellites can confirm that they are no longer usable.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get out of the bus to take pictures because it is an active Air Force Base and they have security rules. Thats’ a bummer because it would have been fun to get a lot more, close-up shots. Fortunately, the Pima Air & Space Museum is the start and end point of the bus tour and you can get much closer to their collection of planes.

Two birds, one stone

Two birds, one stone

Pima has a great collection of planes, both military and civilian. Many of them are on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio though they have quite a nice collection of their own. We didn’t have too long to walk around but I got to check out most of their outdoor display and get a few shots in. If you’re in the Tucson area and you are fascinated by airplanes, Pima Air & Space Museum and the Boneyard bus tour are must-do activities!

 

This one is for you, Mom.

This one is for you, Mom.

4 comments

  1. 'becca /

    Do they still have all the SR 71 Blackbirds at PIMA and the boneyard?

  2. They have an SR-71 at Pima but I didn’t see any at the boneyard.

  3. Mickey Kampsen /

    Very cool and a great story! Thanks!

  4. Sounds fascinating. Had to enlarge the photo of the TWA plane to understand your comment. Dad went on a trip from Wright Pat and they visited the Boneyard and other interesting Air Force points of interest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *