Ever wondered just what exactly an aircraft boneyard is? Have you ever even heard the term “aircraft boneyard” before now? Don’t worry if you haven’t. We’ll explain to you what they are as well as other interesting facts about them.
10. What is an Aircraft Boneyard?
An aircraft boneyard is basically like a junkyard for airplanes. It’s where they go when they’re no longer needed. “As long as there are aircraft flying, military and commercial aircraft boneyards will always be necessary to keep other planes in the air,” aviation author Nick Veronico told the BBC.
The world’s largest aircraft graveyard is located in Tucson, Arizona, and is called The Boneyard. Formally known as the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Group), The Boneyard is a graveyard for military and government aircraft. The world’s largest civilian aircraft boneyard is about 30 miles outside Tucson. It’s called Pinal Airpark.
9. Where are They Located?
Many of the world’s largest aircraft boneyards are found in the dry deserts of the southwestern United States. The weather conditions (e.g. dry heat, low humidity, low rainfall, hard alkaline soil) in these states are perfect for storing aircraft. That’s because they take a lot longer to rust and degrade in these conditions. This is especially important because planes are expensive to build and maintain (We’ll get to why planes in a boneyard need to be maintained in just a moment.).
8. What Happens to the Aircraft Once They Reach the Boneyard?
Upon arrival, the planes are washed, the fuel tanks are drained, and all ammunition, classified hardware and ejection seats are removed. The planes are then sealed off from dust, sunlight and high temperatures, and moved to their final storage destination. But, don’t think that they’re just left there to rot or that they’re just broken up for scrap parts–although some are used for that purpose. At The Boneyard, for example, fighter jets are converted into aerial target drones. And, believe it or not, some of the aircraft nearing the end of their lifespan are put back into service. A shortage of flyable combat aircraft just a couple of years ago forced the military to turn to boneyards. According to CNN, the Marine Corps announced in June 2016 that it was “taking the extreme step of resurrecting 23 F/A-18 Hornets to meet fleet requirements” until the new F-35 fighter they were supposed to be using arrived. It’s arrival had been delayed.
7. You Can Visit Them But…
You can’t just wander around by yourself. There are rules you must follow. In fact, the only way into The Boneyard, if you’re a civilian, is as part of a guided tour. The tour begins at the Pima Air & Space Museum. You’ll need a government-issued ID (i.e. driver’s license or passport) and you can’t take backpacks, large camera cases, firearms, weapons, or illegal substances with you, though carry-on items like small purses and fanny packs are allowed. Oh, and because The Boneyard is part of an active military base, you’ll have to undergo a security check, and once the tour starts you won’t be able to get off the tour bus.
Civilian boneyards are a little different, however. While you can’t wander off unchaperoned at Pinal Airpark, you can take photographs–just make sure whatever your photograph is owned by Logistic Air. You may be able to grab a souvenir or two as well. Noah Landis, an aircraft aficionado, did just that when he visited Pinal Airpark. He nabbed two business-class seats at $350 each, a $300 ottoman, a dozen sections of coach seats that went for $285 for a row of three, ten galley carts at $250 each, overhead storage compartments ($75 each), and some magazine racks ($30 each).
DID YOU KNOW?
You can explore The Boneyard online using Bing. The search engine has a high definition interactive map that reveals thousands of aircraft at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, which The Boneyard is a part of. If you zoom in in “bird’s eye” mode, you can see them in 3D.
6. Some of the Planes are Several Decades Old
Many of the planes in The Boneyard–which was established to store planes after the end of World War II–date back to the Cold War or Vietnam, including retired B-52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. According to The Independent, these planes were “stored with their wings removed and placed on the ground to prove to Soviet satellites they had been taken out of service.”
Speaking of the Soviets, there are boneyards in Russia as well. They contain some of the old Soviet Union’s military aircraft. The largest graveyard is called Rassokha. Inside are the remains of helicopters, military and civilian vehicles and fire engines that are slowly rusting away.
5. Boneyards Save the Government Money
There are over 4,400 aircraft at The Boneyard alone. You would think that with that many planes out of commission it would cost the government a pretty penny. And, while it probably does collectively, the Pentagon says that for every $1 it spends on storing aircraft at The Boneyard, it saves nearly $11 by being able to use spare parts and reuse some aircraft, like the F/A-18 Hornets the Marine Corps used a couple of years ago. Plus, the government makes money off other planes that are no longer useful to the Air Force by selling them to U.S. allies.
4. Surprising Discoveries are Sometimes Made There
Last August, a mysterious U.S. Army spy plane turned up at The Boneyard. The plane had previously spent time flying a secretive mission over Libya and Afghanistan. No one knows exactly who was flying the plane and just exactly what mission they’d embarked on–hence the word “secretive.” What is known is that it flew missions out of Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan in 2011.
And, in 2015, one of the lead aircraft in the D-Day invasion was found in the boneyard of Basler Aviation in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The C-47 transport plane, called “That’s All, Brother,” led a squadron of other C-47s in the D-Day invasion. It had a rare airborne radar that helped it home in on beacons in France. Unfortunately, the radar was the only thing restorers couldn’t find. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “restorers are still looking for one or might replicate it to fit into the brackets where it was attached to the plane.”
FUN FACT: The plane’s name was meant to send a message to Hitler.
3. They Can Double as a Home
At least they can in Bangkok anyway. Back in 2015, CNN published an article about families living in an airplane boneyard in Ramkhamhaeng, a neighborhood in eastern Bangkok. According to the article, if it weren’t for the boneyard, which sits on private land, the families would otherwise be homeless. Inside the airplane homes are a few makeshift curtains hanging over the windows and mats on the floor. The families collect garbage for recycling. According to an article published by The Culture Trip Ltd., the families charge visitors an entrance fee of ß150 (about $4) to receive access to the lot.
2. There are Underwater Airplane Graveyards Too
They’re not aircraft graveyards in the traditional sense–instead they’re buried deep underwater. One such graveyard is in the Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. There you’ll find the World War II plane known as Lockheed P38 Lightning. It was discovered in 2004, 30 meters below the surface. And, then there’s the Chance Vought F4U Corsair plane that crashed into the waters of Oahu, Hawaii in 1946. The crew was on a routine mission from Pearl Harbor but ran out of fuel and crashed into the water. According to News Corp Australia, the remains are in good condition, including the cockpit which is still intact. Lastly, there’s the Mitsubishi G4M1 a.k.a. “Betty Bomber” aircraft that lies 20 meters underwater at the Truk Lagoon in Micronesia.
1. …And Private Airplane Graveyards, Too
Like underwater aircraft graveyards, private boneyards are not traditional boneyards either. The owners of these private boneyards sell off plane carcasses and scrap parts to interested buyers. Many of the scrap parts end up in art galleries such as the one owned by Eric Firestone in New York. He began what he calls “The Boneyard Project” by asking artists to paint discarded nose cones that he had purchased. He later installed them at his gallery in a show called Nose Job. From there, artists were brought in to paint entire planes such as the Lockheed VC 140 Jetstar and a few Super DC-3s.
Have you ever visited an aircraft boneyard. What was it like? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!