Photo Of The Day

Photo: Google/GeoEye

Photo: Google/GeoEye

The Boneyard

 World’s ‘Biggest’ Plane Cemetery Up Close

Before they are put to rest, airplanes undergo funeral-esque rituals known as ‘pickling’. Their engines are removed, the windows covered and the fluids drained. But of course these giants are too big to bury.

In the parched deserts, where a dry climate is an old machine’s best ally, aircrafts young and old lie nose to tail, row after row like fallen soldiers in the secluded airplane boneyards of America.

Planes can be preserved here for years you would be able to see “just about every kind of airplane that the military has flown since WWII,” says John Weeks, an avid field researcher into aircraft boneyards.

Post 9/11, most of America’s boneyards became fairly secretive restricted areas and close-up photography is rare, although satellite images like this high resolution one from Google maps are certainly impressive.

It is however, possible to go on a chaperoned visit of the AMARC site. According to the terrorist threat levels at the time, the nearby Pima Air & Space Museum operates weekly bus tours of the storage area, but you’re not allowed to get off the bus.

Dubbed The Boneyard, but officially known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) facility, this sprawling US airbase is reputed to be the world’s largest military aircraft cemetery.

Spread across the huge 2,600 acre site, equivalent in size to 1,430 football pitches, is a collection of over 4,000 retired aircraft including nearly every plane the US armed forces have flown since World War II.

A series of high resolution satellite images of the four square mile-site have been released by Google Earth. They show in incredible detail the full range of aircraft found at the site.

Among the aircraft are B-52 Cold War-era bombers that were retired in the 1990s under the the terms of the SALT disarmament treaties signed between the US and the Soviet Union.

Also, on show are dozens of F-14 fighter planes which were retired from the US Navy in 2006 and featured in the Hollywood movie, Top Gun. The Boneyard has also featured in a series of films, another one being Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Located in Tucson, Arizona, on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the facility was first set up shortly after World War II. It was chosen for its high altitude and arid conditions, that mean the aircraft can be left outdoors without deteriorating too quickly.

A major industrial centre, AMARG manages an inventory of more than 4,200 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles.

In addition to being a massive plane park, AMARG also refurbishes aircraft, returning them to flying status or preparing them to be transported overland.

Officials at the base say that the parts reclaimed and aircraft withdrawn turns every tax dollar spent into 11 dollars in return.

See it bigger here

Scope out the new high-res Google Map.



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  • Murray Smith

    An answer to the housing “crisis ” ?

    • johcar

      Or an answer to our lack of an Air Force (with teeth)

  • Rex

    An,answer to US no longer having an AIr Force Fighter Plane Wing!

  • TSD

    Definately worth the tour from Pima, but allow lots of time to look around the museum too, lots of interesting stuff.

  • I wonder why all that metal can’t be recycled

    • David Moore

      Because it’s scrap value is tiny compared to a potential reuse as a whole aircraft. High alloy metals are very, very difficult to recycle to any worthwhile degree.

  • Bryan

    and if something bad turned up I wonder how soon many of those could be pulled back into service

    • WeaselKiss

      In Darwin there is a B52 in the aviation museum there.
      As you walk inside on the tour there is a little plaque at eye level:
      ‘This aircraft can be rendered to operational status within 48 hours’.

  • Betty Swallocks

    My brother, who lives in the States, took me on a tour that included Davis-Monthan back in 1986 before it was well-known. At that time there were thousands of Vietnam- and Cold War-era planes, plus a good few hundred ex-WWII ones. No idea if it is still there, but there was a recycling plant that stripped everything reusable out of them and then rendered the airframes down. I suspect that very few of the materials left in the planes still showing up on the image will be able to be incorporated into more modern stuff.

  • Wahior

    See the B-52s in the bottom right corner? The wings are cut off and laid beside the fuselage. The fuselage is cut into three sections. They are then left there long enough for a Russian satellite to confirm they are destroyed. Part of SALT. I guess there is a similar site in Russia with an over passing US satellite.

  • KGB

    I lived in California City, Mohave many years ago. Though not as vast as this, and more modern, there are acres of commercial and military aircraft stored. Edwards Airforce Base has now closed so the ‘plane parking-lot’ is probably larger now. Looks impressive when driving through the desert.