One of the oldest flying aircraft in the US air force is the bomber B-52 Stratofortress, built during the 1950s. Over 700 of them were built during a decade with only above 70 today being used in the active or reserve forces. The retired ones are either in museums or in The Boneyard.
Part of B-52 retired fleet.
During the visit to AMARG, the guide explained us one historical anecdote taking the following picture as the departing point:
B-52 Stratofortress without horizontal tail plane.
The curiosity of the picture: as you can see the aircraft has no horizontal tail plane (HTP).
The story went as follows: as part of Arms Control and Disarmament agreements between the USA and USSR, the USA had to retire a certain number of B-52 aircraft from service (over 300 of them). At some point a soviet delegation visited The Boneyard at Tucson to witness the retirement of those A/C. However, they said that being the AF base right there, side by side of the boneyard, the USSR could not have any guarantee that those B-52s would not be immediately put back into active service just after the soviets had left the city, and thus required that Americans dismantled the HTPs from all B-52s that were to be retired as part of the agreements. In that way they could always check via satellite image whether they had those HTP on or off…
Later on I checked the story in the Wikipedia where you may see the whole background of the START agreement. Some of the aircraft were chopped into 5 pieces. Those you cannot see in the guided visit to Davis-Monthan AFB but you can see them in satellite image here:
The US Air Force’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), known as “The Boneyard”, is one of the places that I had wanted to visit since many years ago. Luca and I visited it a couple of weeks ago.
The Boneyard is an aircraft and equipment storage facility located at Davis-Monthan AF Base near Tucson (Arizona). The are over 4,000 military aircraft stored at the place. Most of them come from the USA (not only from the air force, but from other services as well) but there are some aircraft from foreign countries. The aircraft are stored for several reasons and in different conditions.
- Some of them are maintained waiting for a possible future use of them (be it with US armed forces or through some foreign military sale, that is the case of several old versions of C-130, F-16).
- Other aircraft are kept so their parts can be used as spare parts for other active flying aircraft (e.g. C-130, KC-135).
- Finally, there are aircraft which are stored waiting to be scrapped so the metal can be reused somewhere else.
KC-135 partly scrapped.
Hundreds of C-130.
There are whole fleets of retired aircraft: C-141 Starlifter (retired once the C-17 took over their role), half of the C-5 Galaxy fleet (the A versions, due to budget constrains and fleet strategic decisions), the Vietnam-era helicopters Hueys and Cobras…
The Boneyard can be visited with a guided tour organised by the Pima Air and Space Museum (I will write about this museum in another post). The tour is made with a bus which goes through the Boneyard very slowly and making several stops (though guests cannot exit the bus). The guides are veterans from the US armed forces, who have flown or maintained some of those models that you get to see. The wealth of knowledge that they have about them, the anecdotes and stories that they tell during the tour are worth much more than the 7$ that the tour costs.
The place is impressive, overwhelming. Not only there are thousands of aircraft but the seeing of them fully aligned, whole fleets of different models helps you put things into perspective:
- World commercial airliner fleet (over 100 pax) has about 16,000 aircraft vs. the 4,000 at The Boneyard.
- The largest airline fleets have about 1,200 aircraft.
- Spanish AF has 14 C-130 Hercules vs. the hundreds of them you see at The Boneyard.
- The dozens of retired Lockheed C-5A Galaxy that you can see there have a combined payload capacity of over 5,000 tonnes… which is more than the complete payload capability of any other air force in the world except the US one…
You may want to take a look at satellite images from the Boneyard here: