THE BONE YARD

January 24, 2017


I entered the Air Force in 1966 and served until 1970.  I had the great fortune of working for the Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) headquartered out of Write Patterson Air Force Base in Cleveland, Ohio.  Our biggest “customer” was the Strategic Air Force Commend or SAC.  SAC was responsible for all  ICBMs our country had in its inventory.  My job was project engineer in a section that supported the Titan II Missile, specifically the thrust chamber and turbopumps.  I interfaced with Martian, Aerojet General, Raytheon, and many other great vendors supporting the weapons system.   Weapons were located at the following sites:

  • 308 Missile Wing—Little Rock Air Force Base
  • 381 Missile Wing—McConnel Air Force Base
  • 390 Missile Wing—Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
  • 395 Strategic Missile Squadron—Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Little Rock, McConnel, and Davis-Monthan each had two squadrons or eighteen (18) per site.  There were fifty-five (55) operational Titan II missiles in the SAC inventory, each having atomic war heads.  This, by the way, was also the missile that launched the Gemini astronauts.

During my four years in AFLC, I had an opportunity to visit Little Rock AFB and Davis-Monthan AFB for brief TDY (temporary duty assignments). Each time the “mission” was to oversee re-assembly of turbopumps that had been repaired or updated. The seals between the turbopumps and the thrust chamber were absolutely critical and had to be perfectly flat to avoid leakage during liftoff.  Metrology equipment was employed to insure the flatness needed prior to installation.  It was a real process with page after page of instruction.

An underground missile silo is a remarkable piece of engineering.  A city underground—living quarters, kitchen, adequate medical facilities, communication section, elevators, etc.  You get the picture.   All of the Titan II sites were decommissioned as a result of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) during the mid 1980s.

OK, with that being said, one remarkable area located at Davis-Monthan AFB is the “resting place” for many, if not most aircraft that are no longer in the operational inventory.  This is where they go to retire.  While at Davis-Monthan, I had an opportunity to visit the boneyard and it was a real “trip”.

THE BONEYARD:

Davis-Monthan AFB’s role in the storage of military aircraft began after World War II, and continues today. It has evolved into “the largest aircraft boneyard in the world”.

With the area’s low humidity– ten to twenty percent (10%-20%) range, meager rainfall of eleven inches (11″) annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet, Davis-Monthan is the logical choice for a major storage facility.  Aircraft are there for cannibalization of parts or storage for further use.

In 1965, the Department of Defense decided to close its Litchfield Park storage facility in Phoenix, and consolidate the Navy’s surplus air fleet into Davis-Monthan. Along with this move, the name of the 2704th Air Force Storage and Disposition Group was changed to Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) to better reflect its joint services mission.

In early 1965, aircraft from Litchfield Park began the move from Phoenix to Tucson, mostly moved by truck, a cheaper alternative than removing planes from their protective coverings, flying them, and protecting them again.

The last Air Force B-47 jet bomber was retired at the end of 1969 and the entire fleet was dismantled at D-M except for thirty (30) Stratojets, which were saved for display in air museums.  In 1085, the facilities’ name was changed again, from MASDC to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) as outdated ICBM missiles also entered storage at Davis-Monthan.  In the 1990s, 365 surplus B-52 bombers were dismantled at the facility.

AMARG:

The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), or Boneyard, is a United States Air Force aircraft and missile storage and maintenance facility in Tucson, Arizona, located on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. AMARG was previously Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, AMARC, the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center, MASDC, and was established after World War II as the 3040th Aircraft Storage Group.

AMARG takes care of more than 4,400 aircraft, which makes it the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world. An Air Force Materiel Command unit, the group is under the command of the 309th Maintenance Wing at Hill Air Force BaseUtah. (NOTE:  My time in AFLC was spent at Hill Air Force Base.  I was specifically assigned to the Ogden Air Material Area or OAMA.)  AMARG was originally meant to store excess Department of Defense and Coast Guard aircraft, but has in recent years been designated the sole repository of out-of-service aircraft from all branches of the US government.

In the 1980s, the center began processing ICBMs for dismantling or reuse in satellite launches, and was renamed the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) to reflect the expanded focus on all aerospace assets.  A map of the boneyard may be seen below.  The surface area is acres in size.

map

As you can see from the following digital pictures, aircraft of all types are stored in the desert at Davis-Monthan AFB.

bone-yard

The aircraft below are F-4 Phantom fighters that served in Vietnam.

f-4-phantom

The view below shows you just how many acres the boneyard requires.

bone-yard-2

 

AIRCRAFT INVENTORY USED BY AMARG:

AMARG uses the following official “Type” categories for aircraft in storage:

  • Type 1000 – aircraft at AMARG for long-term storage, to be maintained until recalled to active service. These aircraft are “inviolate” – have a high potential to return to flying status and no parts may be removed from them. These aircraft are “represerved” every four years.
  • Type 2000 – aircraft available for parts reclamation, as “aircraft storage bins” for parts, to keep other aircraft flying.
  • Type 3000 – “flying hold” aircraft kept in near flyable condition in short-term, temporary storage; waiting for transfer to another unit, sale to another country, or reclassification to the other three types.
  • Type 4000 – aircraft in excess of DoD needs – these have been gutted and every useable part has been reclaimed. They will be sold, broken down into scrap, smelted into ingots, and recycled.

STORAGE PROCEDURES:

There are four categories of storage for aircraft at AMARG:

  • Long Term – Aircraft are kept intact for future use
  • Parts Reclamation – Aircraft are kept, picked apartand used for spare parts
  • Flying Hold – Aircraft are kept intact for shorter stays than Long Term
  • Excess of DoDneeds – Aircraft are sold off whole or in parts

AMARG employs 550 people, almost all civilians. The 2,600 acres (11 km2) facility is adjacent to the base. For every one dollar ($1) the federal government spends operating the facility, it saves or produces eleven dollars ($11) from harvesting spare parts and selling off inventory. Congressional oversight determines what equipment may be sold to which customer.

An aircraft going into storage undergoes the following treatments:

  • All guns, ejection seat charges, and classified hardware are removed.
  • All Navy aircraft are carefully washed with fresh water, to remove salty water environment residue, and then completely dried.
  • The fuel system is protected by draining it, refilling it with lightweight oil, and then draining it again. This leaves a protective oil film.
  • The aircraft is sealed from dust, sunlight, and high temperatures. This is done using a variety of materials, including a high-tech vinyl plastic compound that is sprayed on the aircraft. This compound is called spraylatafter its producer the Spraylat Corporation, and is applied in two coats, a black coat that seals the aircraft and a white coat that reflects the sun and helps to keep internal temperatures low.  The plane is then towed by a tug to its designated “storage” position.

The Group annually in-processes an undisclosed number of aircraft for storage and out-processes a number of aircraft for return to the active service, either repainted and sold to friendly foreign governments, recycled as target or remotely controlled drones or rebuilt as civilian cargo, transport, and/or utility aircraft.  There is much scrutiny over who (civilians, companies, foreign governments) can buy what kinds of parts. At times, these sales are canceled. The Air Force for example reclaimed several F-16s from AMARG for the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Courses which were originally meant to be sold to Pakistan, but never delivered due to an early-90’s embargo.

CONCLUSIONS:

I have absolutely no idea as to how much money in inventory is located at D-M but as you might expect, it’s in the billions of USD. As always, I welcome your comments.

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One Response to “THE BONE YARD”


  1. It looks a Stunning place to walk. I’ve often seen pictures of these places on the internet, they are just incredible. What an interesting career you’ve had too!

    Like


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