Aircraft Boneyard: Where “Dead” US Military Planes Get a Second Life
When US military and government planes have served their purpose, they are brought to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group or 309 AMARG, which earned the moniker the “Boneyard.”
The aircraft boneyard is located in Tucson, Arizona, specifically in the Sonoran Desert, a perfect storage facility with low humidity (only 10%-20%), meager rainfall, and relatively high altitude that prevent or at least postpone metal corrosion.
The Sonoran Desert also has a hard alkaline soil, so there is no need to pave the surface to store and move around the aircraft.
The Fate of the Airplanes
As of this writing, there are more than 4,400 airplanes and 13 aerospace vehicles from NASA, Air Force, Army, and other federal agencies, making it the world’s largest aircraft and preservation facility.
Contrary to popular belief, not all aircraft brought to the “Boneyard” are there to “die” or be dismantled and scrapped. In fact, about a third of them are restored to be pressed back into service or displayed in aircraft museums across the country.
Meanwhile, some old fighter jets, such as the F-16, are restored as aerial target drones for missiles.
The Facility After World War 2
With the end of the Second World War, the US found itself with a large surplus of aircraft, about 65,000. But over the years, these airplanes were distributed to around 30 airfields and major depots, including the Walnut Ridge in Arkansas and the Kingman Army Field in Arizona.
Other aircraft, meanwhile, were refurbished and restored for civilian use or museum display, while the remaining planes were scrapped, melted, and sold.
However, a small percentage of the military aircraft surplus was restored to be used for the Korean War, which started in the early 1950s.
Not Just for Storage
The “boneyard caretakers” will remove all the guns, hardware, and ejection seat charges before storing each military aircraft. Also, they fill up the fuel tanks and drain them to create a fine protective coat before the complete sealing process (or “shrink wrapping”) takes place.
However, the 309 AMARG is not just a storage-cum-resurrection facility for military aircraft. Its more important purpose is to prevent the planes and their parts from being sold on the black market. In fact, even though the facility is well guarded, some fighter jets were deliberately destroyed to prevent them from entering into the wrong hands.
For example, the F-14 Tomcats brought to the facility in the mid-2000s were chopped into 2-by-2-foot pieces just to make sure that no radicals can get their hands on these fighter jets nor their valuable parts.
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