The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as “The Boneyard”, is the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world. AMARG is over 2,600 acres and contains, on average, 4,000 retired aircraft.
While driving to the Pima Air and Space Museum we could see the aircraft lined up for miles on either side of the road. We drove under an underpass that is used to move aircraft from one side of the Boneyard to the other … I really wish I could see a plane go over!
The ninety-minute bus tour of AMARG begins at the Pima Air and Space Museum and costs $7.00. You need to have valid government ID on you as it is an active Air Force base and you can’t take any bags with you, but you really don’t need to carry extra stuff, as you are not allowed off the bus during the tour. You can take cameras with you and you may take pictures of anything you want, other than base security when you are entering through the gates. For the most part my pictures taken through the windows of the bus turned out okay.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all send their equipment to AMARG once it has reached the end of its service life. Some countries, such as Norway, send their military aircraft to AMARG for winter storage and we also saw some planes from private military contractors stored on the site.
The boneyard started as part of the Army Air Force as a facility to store excess B-29s and C-47s (DC-3s) after the Second World War. Tucson was picked as the perfect location because of its low humidity, 2 to 3%, and because of the soil. The soil forms a very hard surface that allows aircraft to move around easily. Can you imagine the cost if they had to pave the entire 2,600 acres!
The planes in the first part of our tour are stored for repurposing so all of the aircraft in this area of the Boneyard have coverings and coatings applied to the aircraft when they arrive. We were told this is done to protect the planes from animals, reptiles, and the elements. These planes are often started up to keep their engines in working order and I’m sure you can imagine what would happen if an animal got into the engine before it was started!
Shortly after the tour began we arrived at Hollywood Row. Hollywood Row is lined on both sides with examples of the inhabitants of the boneyard. As I mentioned above AMARG is 2,600 acres with aircraft spread all over, so this mile-long stretch is full of all the aircraft you might want to see.
One of the ones I found interesting was the C-130E
This plane earned a Purple Heart for its service. I couldn’t remember the whole story behind the Purple Heart other than the aircraft lost wings a few times but continued to fly after being repaired and that there was a plaque on the flight deck that told the story. So off to the internet I went and I was able to find out exactly what was on the plaque “On June 1, 1972, the plane took a mortar round through the No. 3 engine while parked on the tarmac at Kontum Air Base. A maintenance team changed out the engine, but the new one failed to start. Pilots had to force the plane to take off with only three engines under “heavy mortar attack,”.
The aircraft was hit with several more mortar rounds during takeoff, puncturing the wings and damaging the other engines. The plane could climb to only 1,000 feet but made an emergency landing at Plieku Air Base, where mechanics determined it needed two new wings and four new engines.
After receiving the repairs, the plane continued to serve in the Pacific region. It later arrived at Ramstein Air Base, where it became an airlift workhorse. The wing last deployed 7865 to the Persian Gulf region last year. The aircraft flew its last combat mission on Nov. 13, ferrying cargo and troops around Iraq.”
Our tour guide said it was almost impossible for a plane to receive a Purple Heart!
There were so many more stories and planes to see but it was hard to get pictures since we were on the bus. I did get several shots of the various sections of planes.
After touring the repurposing section of the boneyard we headed over the overpass to the other side were they prepare the aircraft that will be shredded … yes they actually shred the old planes, although we didn’t see that area.
In this area AMARG staff dismantle the planes and remove as much as they can to sell for parts before shredding the plane.
Are you wondering what the value of the planes in the boneyard is? 23 to 27 billion, based on the purchase value … who knows what they are worth at today’s prices! I think the boneyard is definitely worth a visit 🙂 You don’t need to do the tour of the Pima Air & Space Museum in order to take the bus tour of the boneyard but you do catch the bus at the museum … and go early as the boneyard tours fill up fast!
Until next time …