The Pima Air Museum and the Boneyard

Tucson, AZ

The Discovery Owners Rally here in Tucson ended on Sunday, but we stayed on for a few more days to visit more sights in Tucson.  On Monday our friend Larry joined us for a visit to the Pima Air Museum and the nearby airplane “boneyard.”

Entrance to the Pima Air and Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum features a display of nearly 300 aircraft spread out over 80 acres.  It is one of the world’s largest, non-government funded aerospace museums.  There are four hangers displaying fully restored aircraft and over a hundred aircraft are on display outside.  For a small fee you can ride a tram to see the aircraft outside.  The tram is driven by a docent who gives a brief description of each aircraft.

We didn’t take a picture of each of the aircraft on display (don’t thank us) but will show you a few samples.  The first is the “Supper Guppy” transport.  Based on the Boeing C-97 cargo plane and the 377 airliner, the huge “Guppy” super-transport is one of the most unique aircraft ever built. Designed to carry very large, but relatively light cargoes, the Guppies were built from parts of retired U.S. Air Force C-97 Stratofreighters and airline 377 Stratocruisers.

Aero Spacelines 377-SG Supper Guppy

The planes proved to be very useful for carrying segments of rockets.  Much of the Saturn rocket that powered the Apollo Program was transported in the Super Guppy.

The three B-52s on display were of special interest to Larry, as he spent over 4,000 hours flying in one during a career in the Air Force.  The B-52 was design as a long-range heavy bomber to carry nuclear weapons deep into Soviet territory.  It has proven to be a highly adaptable and versatile aircraft.  Serving as a strategic nuclear bomber, conventional heavy bomber, and as a test aircraft, the B-52 has flown in the Air Force for fifty years and late models are expected to serve well into the Twenty-First Century.  The B-52 below was used to carry the X-15, a rocket-powered aircraft made famous by test pilot Chuck Yeager while breaking altitude and speed records in the 1950s, into the air.

B-52 with x-plane spar

B-52 with x-plane spar

The Lockheed C-130 has been in constant production since 1954, giving it the record for the longest production run of any aircraft. The Hercules has proved so successful that they are now in use with every branch of the American military and have served in the military forces of more than 50 nations.

Lockheed C-130

The Hercules has proven to be very adaptable and many have been modified for duties other than cargo carrying. C-130s have served as heavily armed gun ships, weather research aircraft, and with commercial airlines.

After touring the museum, we paid another fee and boarded a bus to go across the street to visit the “boneyard.”  The boneyard, technically the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG),  is an Air Force aircraft and missile storage and maintenance facility located on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.  AMARG takes care of more than 4,400 aircraft, which would make it the second largest air force in the world.  AMARG was originally meant to store excess Department of Defense and Coast Guard aircraft, but has in recent years has been designated the sole repository of out-of-service aircraft from all branches of the US government.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was chosen because of Tucson’s low humidity, infrequent rainfall, alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet, reducing rust and corrosion.  The hard soil makes it possible to move aircraft around without having to pave the storage areas.

Each aircraft is sealed from dust, sunlight, and high temperatures. This is done using a variety of materials, ranging from a high tech vinyl plastic compound sprayed on the aircraft, to simple garbage bags. The plane is then towed by a jeep to its designated “storage” position.

There are four categories of storage for planes at AMARG:

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

AMARG employs 550 people, almost all civilians. For every $1 the federal government spends operating the facility, it saves or produces $11 from harvesting spare parts and selling off inventory.  Congressional oversight determines what equipment may be sold to which customer.  The vast majority of aircraft have seen years of use, but our guide said that once in a while Congress directs the military build a plane they don’t need, so the newly constructed aircraft are flown directly to the boneyard for storage.  No waste there!

Some of the aircraft are old commercial planes.  The government purchased them to use for parts they could then use in military versions of the same plane.

The boneyard is a very interesting place to visit, but after seeing hundreds of aircraft between the museum and the boneyard, we were ready to head home.

Our motorhome needs a couple of repairs and we are going to replace the original shades  with new modern ones that are easier to use.  So, we made arrangements to have the work completed at Premier RV Renovations here in Tucson.  We’ll drive the motorhome over to their shop tomorrow morning so they can take measurements and order parts.  After they finish, we will head north about 225 miles to the Sedona area to do some 4-wheeling and hiking before returning to Tucson for completion of the repairs.

More on our visit to Sedona later . . .

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1 Response to The Pima Air Museum and the Boneyard

  1. Marsha says:

    Pima Air Museum and the Boneyard was on Paul’s bucket list. He really enjoyed it. We had a retired pilot as our guide. He did an excellent job. That Supper Guppy is one BIG plane!

    I am sure Larry had a wonderful time and shared some of his personal experiences. How nice that would be.

    Looks like you had another beautiful.

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