January 6, 2003 7:02 AM   Subscribe

The Boneyard (actually the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, AMARC) in the Arizona desert near Tucson, is the Air Force's storage yard for decommissioned aircraft. Nearly 4,400 airplanes and helicopters await recommissioning, recycling, resale, or refurbishment for museums. The aerial photos are impressive. If you want to see it in person, the Pima Air & Space Museum offers tours.
posted by SealWyf (29 comments total)
If I ever make it to the states I'd definitely want to check the place out. It's a perfect geek-tourist spot.
posted by PenDevil at 7:14 AM on January 6, 2003

I love weird roadside crap, so I took a tour there last August. A little disappointing - you're stuck in a bus the whole time, can't get out and poke around the cockpits of old B52s, pretend to battle Zeros over Midway, etc... Still, it's neat in a gee-whiz kind of way.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:21 AM on January 6, 2003

...and I should add a holy-christ-how-much-did-this-all-cost? kind of way.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:22 AM on January 6, 2003

I make it to the Pima museum every time I'm out around Tucson. It's a great place, lots of airplanes you'll never see anywhere else....
posted by Elvis at 7:33 AM on January 6, 2003

Hooray for my old 'hood. Sorry, used to live (and mountainbike) right near it.

Anyway, check out a film appearance for the the Boneyard at the end of Werner Herzog's "Little Dieter Needs to Fly." An amazing documentary.

Nice links too, SealWyf!
posted by Rattmouth at 7:35 AM on January 6, 2003

Thanks, Rattmouth. I think this also may have been the place shown in "The Best Years of Our Lives", one of my favorite post WWII films.
posted by SealWyf at 7:48 AM on January 6, 2003

I'm amazed at some of the relatively late-model aircraft sitting out there -- for example, the S-3 Vikings in the foreground of one shot are early-to-mid-80s aircraft; I'm surprised they're out of service considering how long the A-6 Intruders hung in there. On the other hand, maybe they're among those awaiting recommissioning in case Upper Slobbovia suddenly develops a credible submarine threat and we actually need fixed-wing carrierborne ASW assets again.
posted by alumshubby at 8:10 AM on January 6, 2003

If you're out that way, it's also worth it to check out the Titan Missle Museum. Pretty fascinating... and also a nice break from the desert heat.
posted by ph00dz at 8:13 AM on January 6, 2003

Naval aircraft like the S-3 get a lot of punishment in the form of carrier landings and take offs. A few hard landings may be why they are there. Could be early models that indicated the need for some beefing up or something along those lines too.
They came of age in the 80's, but came online with the navy during the mid to late 70's.
How about the F-16's that were withheld from Pakistan in the late 80's? Just now they are being put into service? They sat there for over a decade???? Wow.
All in all, this type of thing I find interesting. constantly watching Discovery Wings channel. I used to work for Fairchild Republic (maker of A-10) and for Grumman (F-14, A-6, E-2C, HellCat etc....) was in the USAF (CCT)
The Brits used to sell off scrapped planes to anyone who wanted them. I used to ride my motorcycle around the East Anglia countryside and come across planes on farmers lawns and such.
Cool post Seawyf.
posted by a3matrix at 8:31 AM on January 6, 2003

The pictures from Terraserver are also really pretty.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:49 AM on January 6, 2003

There was a cool documentary on the History Channel about this a few months ago. I can't find it on their site, but it was very interesting - they talked about what the "junkyard" is used for today, as well as the history of some of the more famous (infamous) aircrafts located there. :)
posted by MeetMegan at 9:11 AM on January 6, 2003

Oh My. Your tax dollars at work. That's billions of your dollars sitting there. Jesus.
posted by aacheson at 9:11 AM on January 6, 2003

Good links all around.

But, the wastefulness of all this is absolutely appalling to me.

I find it very hard to believe that those thousands of aircraft are of no tactical use.

Most of those airplanes looked absolutely pristine from the photos. I can't believe there's no market for these planes to our low-gdp allies.

I will take a wild speculatory unbacked-by-anything guess and say that 1/2 of those aircraft are perfectly functional and could be back in the air with less than 5% repair cost. I strongly suspect the majority of them are there because the new sportier models came out and they are simply not WANTED. It looked like entire fleets of aircraft were parked out there.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2003

Ynoxas: Repair and transportation costs most likely would be far greater than 5%. I'm familiar with civilian aircraft, and some of the repair costs can be truly outrageous; especially if a plane has been sitting around a long time without regular maintance.
posted by reverendX at 9:34 AM on January 6, 2003

there is a very, very small aerial graveyard between atlanta and chattanooga. mercer air field. nothing compared to the boneyard, but interesting nonetheless.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:38 AM on January 6, 2003


Looking at the inventory from 8/31/01 (last available for semi-obvious reasons), there's less there that a poorer country might want than you might expect. There are a whole bunch of F-4's there that a lower-GDP country might be interested in, but I don't know how competitive an F-4 would be against newer Mirages, etc. Beyond that, I don't know that a poor country would want a fleet of ASW planes or an old F-106, and there's other stuff there that we don't have the money to support, or had to retire for treaty reasons, but don't want other people to have, like B-52's and F-111's.

Even if you could get most of the planes up into the air for a 5% repair cost, all most of them would be good for is getting swatted from the sky by MiG-29's unless you throw in another few zillion in avionics upgrades.

The exceptions might be the F-14, -15, -16, -18 out there, but I assume that those are out there as a strategic reserve caused by the drawdown after '91.

Keeping them out there Just In Case until they're really obsolete is certainly thriftier than just junking them for metal, and a lot of them are out there because the Other People also have newer, sportier models.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 AM on January 6, 2003

There was an article about this place in the Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine a few months ago. They aren't just dumped there, they can be restored to flying conditions but usually to be retrofitted with radio controls so that they can be used as targets to test new weapon systems. There is also this nice presentation at the Koda site.
posted by golo at 11:35 AM on January 6, 2003

The photographs are a little disappointing, actually. I'd always imagined this place being way out in the desert somewhere, one of those road-trip mirages you can never quite believe you actually saw. From the photos, by now the suburbs have crawled right up and around it, making it a bit less magical and a bit more like just another Air Force base.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:37 AM on January 6, 2003

Yes and No, Mars Saxman. The base is located in the valley (or whatever you want to call it), but Tucson doesn't really have suburbs. At least not at all like some other nearby cities (*cough*Phoenix) have suburbs. The people of Tucson work really hard to curb sprawl. The Air Force base and the Boneyard are both pretty far away from the heart of Tucson too. The desert definitely borders them both on a few sides. Definitely don't be disappointed. It is magnificent to behold, as are a lot of things in that part of Arizona. Highly recommended. I miss it all very much.
posted by Rattmouth at 12:09 PM on January 6, 2003

Rev and ROU: I took a further look at the site and it did say that historically about 25% of the planes shipped there reenter service, which is a very good thing. In that respect it isn't really a "graveyard".

What you guys say makes perfect sense, but I can't get over the idea that a state-of-the-art fighter craft from the 80's is still useful in some capacity. If nothing else, just numbers. I mean, yes, a new MIG vs an old F4 might be a forgone conclusion, but what about against 2 F4's? Or 12?

Just seems like an AWFUL lot of very expensive very specialized hardware just sitting and collecting dust.

Plus, it looked like at least some of those planes were cargo-oriented. Those could always be used by us or anyone.

Further, some of this "outdated" hardware would probably be perfectly suited for handling exercises against foes like Afghanistan. Cutting edge technology was not needed there, just basically something jet powered that could haul munitions. But of course I realize that the Afghan campaign was as much for practice and parade value of our tech as anything else.

I wonder if the $/hr to operate one of these older models would be significantly different from a new shiny model?

The other thing to remember is this is not like a junkyard full of old rusted out chevrolet's. This is like finding a warehouse full of Ferrari's and Lamborghini's, maybe 1/4 of them ready to drive away. So what if it's a Countach instead of a Diablo? *wink*
posted by Ynoxas at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2003

PrinceValium: Thank you, thank you, thank you. What a lovely picture.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 12:31 PM on January 6, 2003

I've mentioned this in another thread, but I was an extra in an '80s Road Warrior style rip-off with Adam Ant and Bruce Dern called World Gone Wild, which was filmed mostly in the AMARC. I haven't watched it in years, but there are some pretty cool shots of a bunch of post-apocalyptic ruffians running around with choir boy outfits riding dirt-bikes, chanting to Adam Ant as their leader in the midst of the hulking wreckage of these military aircraft. Possibly worth a look if you want to see this stuff in a cinematic (I use the term loosely) setting
posted by hulette at 2:10 PM on January 6, 2003

What you guys say makes perfect sense, but I can't get over the idea that a state-of-the-art fighter craft from the 80's is still useful in some capacity. If nothing else, just numbers.

Sure. But the ones that are state of the 1980's art are the F-14, -15, -16, and -18, and I can only think they're there as a reserve caused by the post-cold-war drawdown. The F-4's, etc, are state of the 1965 art except for the Wild Weasel antiradiation models. They're probably still useful in a big no-shit war of attrition in an environment where we already had air dominance, but the odds of that are slim.

I mean, yes, a new MIG vs an old F4 might be a forgone conclusion, but what about against 2 F4's? Or 12?

Pilots, at a few million a pop, are propbably too expensive to expend like that.

But I see what you mean. Maybe they could demilitarize and loan out / give away some F-4's and -106's and so on to the Confederate/Commemorative Air Force or whoever might be interested in flying them for show.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:11 PM on January 6, 2003

Comparing combat aircraft to automobiles is not a good one, becuase it is not about the planes. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can hop in a Ferrarri or Greyhound bus and drive it to the Stuffer Shack without killing himself.

The military values a skilled, trained pilot more than the aircraft itself, and equips the aircraft accordingly so.
And what ROU_Xenophobe said about them, too.
posted by blogRot at 2:32 PM on January 6, 2003

ROU: Thanks for the explanation. I'm not an airplane enthusiast and my knowledge is very limited. I had failed to consider the scarcity of good pilots.

blogrot: I know it's a weak analogy, but I'm trying to get across the idea of value. I guess maybe a more forthright comparison would be that this isn't a field full of 1-legged Cessnas from the 60's, these were the best money could buy in a time frame that is not too long ago.

On a related note, what's the "Stuffer Shack"?

I was talking about this with a friend who lives in Tucson and the thought I finally settled on is that perhaps this isn't colossally wasteful in and of itself, but is a monument to the wastefulness our war machine engages in, at least IMO.

Would anyone who knows the original cost of these vehicles mind doing a back-of-the envelope estimate at how much $ is sitting on that airfield?
posted by Ynoxas at 3:03 PM on January 6, 2003

Somewhat closer-up overhead shots of AMARC can also be found in Baraka (1992) -- which should be required viewing for MeFites. (Baraka is a must-see on the big screen in its original 70mm format, but the DVD is a decent substitute. Go rent it, really.)
posted by skyboy at 5:42 PM on January 6, 2003

perhaps this isn't colossally wasteful in and of itself, but is a monument to the wastefulness our war machine engages in, at least IMO

No disagreement there. In a perfect world, that metal and plastic and glass and all those millions or billions of ludicrously skilled man-hours could have gone to something better and cooler than killing human beings and destroying human property.

I wonder if there's been a lunar base worth of stuff that's in or passed through AMARC?

Or maybe that's where my GODDAM FLYING CAR is. 2003 and no flying cars; how wussy are we?

skyboy: AMARC also figures into the fine, fine films Can't Buy Me Love and My Science Project. IIRC.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:07 PM on January 6, 2003

The geek in me wonders if I could sneak into this place with a can of jet fuel, a battery, a box of tools and a pile of technical manuals and get one of these things up in the air.... Yah yah, there a-million-one reasons why I couldn't (so nobody needs to list them) but my first reaction when I see surplus/abandoned machinery is, "I wonder if I could make that work again?"
posted by bicyclingfool at 10:14 PM on January 6, 2003

Would anyone who knows the original cost of these vehicles mind doing a back-of-the envelope estimate at how much $ is sitting on that airfield?

Numbers from the AMARC experience page, costs from or wherever handy if they didn't. Rounding aplenty.

B-52: 30M * 97
EC-135: 52M * 29
KC-135: 26M * 53
A-10: 15M * 150
EF-111: 35M * 33
F-111: 75M * 165 (dunno why F-111's are listed as cheaper than EF-111's; I know it's some sort of artifact)
F-16: 26M * ~350
A-6: 43M * ~160
F-14: 38M * ~100
C-141: 8M * ~120 (that seems suspiciously cheap)
F-15: 43M * ~100
F-4: 18M * ~575 (incl ~225 RF-4)
A-7: 15M * ~200
B-1: 200M * 24 (eventually)

That gets the total up to about $65 billion, but I haven't tried to find out which numbers are 1965/75/85 dollars and which are more current, etc etc. I'd be surprised if the actual cost of them in current terms was less than $33 billion or more than $130 billion.

There's lots of other airplanes there too, of course.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:37 PM on January 6, 2003

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