How the world's largest airplane boneyard stores 3,100 aircraft

The 309th, a mark stores the world's largest collection of military aircraft in the Arizona desert. They call the ugliest plane out here the yc-14, it was an aircraft that never went into production. 800 mechanics work non-stop reclaiming critical parts and regenerating aircraft so they can go back into service. 

We can't just pull over an airplane like, you can a car. The military have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly. There goal is not to be like a cemetery for the aircraft. These aircraft are worth somewhere between 34 and 35 billion dollars, if you were to try to replace them all, it's a big number.  

There is a massive facility for these military planes get a second chance at life. AMARG got its start back in 1946 after world war II, the army needed a place to store old planes, they chose Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson with nearly 2 000 football fields worth of open desert. There was plenty of space.

Arizona has the perfect weather for storing these assets and it's hot there's little rainfall, no humidity and the soil, that's as hard as concrete. So planes won't sink the dryness as well as the lack of acidity in the soil prevent corrosion on the assets. Aircraft come here from the department of defense military other government agencies and foreign allies. 

There is about 3 100 airplanes, the planes are mostly military. They come from the air force the navy, the army and the marines. They have over 80 different types of airplanes here. Planes and helicopters arrive and are lined up in sections. 

Their stealth aircraft which is actually just wonder woman's. Jet the lc130s have skis along with their landing gear so they can land down in Antarctica and support the national science foundation all across that continent. There is a NASA aircraft, it's affectionately called the vomit comet.

Some aircraft will be here for weeks before they're called back into service. Other aircraft can be here for 50 years like A4 Skyhawk.

Each plane goes through a preservation process before it's put in the desert. Those that may fly again are re-preserved every four years. They're de-fueled then oil is pumped through the engine to preserve it. 

The black material that they have is the base layer that seals up the aircraft and then later of the aircraft around here, the coats on top are white. And those white coats will reflect the heat so it better preserves the assets all on the inside of the aircraft. Like the inside of the C5-A galaxy because the inside of the c5 is the largest cargo aircraft in the air force inventory. One of six deployments colonel barnard's had to Afghanistan, New Zealand, Antarctica. We can fit three HH-60 helicopters and a lot of their equipment that we need as well as all our maintainers. They have just over 60 of them here and every one of them needs 72 tie-downs. Airplanes are designed to fly and when it gets a little breezy out here they want to make sure they stay parked.

But not every plane just sits around collecting dust. US military units around the world can request specific parts off these planes, an aircraft has so many thousands of parts just like a reservoir keeps things in case you need them and then they release what's out of the reservoir as needed. 

In some of the parts, the military can only find here at AMARG. They assurance that there's a part available when the supply system main sources don't get it. They send anywhere from four thousand to seven thousand parts out every year, to the tune of a few million dollars each week worth of supply parts. 

So once the crews reclaim the parts out in the desert and bring them into the end of a building, they get washed, they get non-destructive inspection and they're going to pack and ship these right out the door as fast as they can. 


But sometimes instead of being used for parts, an entire plane will be regenerated meaning they'll pull it out of the desert and wash it down. They have to remove all the coatings that are used to preserve the aircraft out in the desert, after getting a nice shower it's fixed up.

The base also handles aircraft modifications. These aircraft come from US units, that are active right now and then they get some work done on and they go back out to that same unit. They were able to upgrade those and modify them to keep them up with the current standards in the active fleet. 

Complicated individual pieces are sent to separate back shops for fixing. They are in the wing shop, they have all the center portions of the A-10 wings being rebuilt here. And the outer portion being rebuilt there. There is actually hundreds of pieces inside of an aircraft wing. The complexity and the level of structure, it's really eye-opening for many folks.

Each set of wings can take up to 20,000 man-hours to overhaul. Once parts are fixed they go through a thorough inspection. There in the non-destructive inspection area, there is a fluorescent dye penetrant basically that a liquid that absorbs into cracks and they can apply a black light to it.

They have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly, so that they protect that asset and they protect the aircrew that's inside of that asset. So the stakes are pretty high. Once fixed the planes go through a rigorous final flight test.

They take them out to the airspace just south of here close enough. If they found problem in the aircraft, they can get back under the ground immediately and pretty much put them through the ringer.

They test flight controls and the handling, and the injured performance, and all the systems on the plane pretty extensively, at all altitudes. They go out to become full-scale aerial targets.That's a happy ending for a plane pulle from the desert here at AMARG. 

But for other aircraft, this is the end of the line. The planes marked with a big D go through pre-demilitarization and then are destroyed by a third-party contractor. There are some guys that work the mill and they prepare aircraft for disposal. 

They will make sure everything's accounted for because, that the materials, the technology don't fall into the wrong hands. 

While some Americans may not have heard of AMARG, it actually saves taxpayers a lot of money. The assets stored here are worth, somewhere between 34 and 35 billion dollars. And so to make a new one may not be possible versus to rejuvenate an old one might be the best case scenario.

But for the workers, it's not just about saving the military some money, it's also about giving these planes another life. A lot of these airplanes haven't flown for a very long time.

There are very few of US military that are lucky enough to be assigned here because it's just a joy to be able to work with these people every day and be around these airplanes.

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