Arizona Airplane Boneyards and Desert Aircraft Storage
Commercial airliners have limited lifespans. Ultimately, they must be retired from service, stored in "airplane boneyards" or graveyards, and finally dismantled and scrapped. Many of these boneyards are located in the dry deserts of Arizona.
Active Airliner Boneyards and Military Aircraft Storage Facilities in Arizona
Continental ExpressJets in storage at Kingman Airport in the Arizona desert
Photo by the PlanesOfThePast Staff
Jetliners eventually reach end-of-life due to airframe wear and/or obsolescence. Some jetliners are temporarily taken off flying status, and must be stored in a environment that is conducive to preservation. Others are kept for spare parts for flying aircraft.
To protect airliners during their storage from wind and sun damage, engines and windows are tightly covered with white, reflective materials. A sealed airliner can thus be stored safely, for years, until the time comes to return it to active duty, or salvage. Eventually, all airliners are removed permanently from service and must be "disposed" of.
Airliner "boneyards" in the deserts of the western United States serve several functions: temporary storage, maintenance, parts reclamation, and scrapping.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson: The World's Largest Boneyard
Davis-Monthan is today the location of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for all excess military and government aircraft. Aircraft from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, NASA and other government agencies are processed at AMARG, which employs 550 people, almost all civilians. It is the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.
Another role of AMARG is to support the program that converts old fighter jets, such as the F-4 Phantom II and F-16, into aerial target drones. It also serves as an auxiliary facility of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and stores tooling for out-of-production military aircraft.
AMARG's typical inventory comprises more than 4,400 aircraft, which makes it the largest aircraft storage and preservation facility in the world. Tours of Davis-Monthan are available through the Pima Air & Space Museum.
Kingman Airport (IGM) in Arizona
The Kingman Airport & Industrial Park is located five miles north of Interstate 40 in Kingman, Arizona. It is home to more than 70 businesses, including the storage of airliners.
When we last visited in May of 2013, dozens of airliners were parked, including those from American Eagle, Continental, DHL, SAS and other airlines.
Pinal Airpark (MZJ) in Marana, Arizona
The Pinal Airpark is located in Marana, Arizona, just northwest of Tucson. It acts as a "boneyard" for civilian commercial aircraft as well as a site for airliner storage and reconfiguration. Old aircraft are stored there with the hope that the dry desert climate will prevent any form of corrosion in case the aircraft is pressed into service in the future.
Among the current tenants at the airpark is the Evergreen Aircraft Maintenance Facility. Now known as Marana Aerospace Solutions, the company offers more than 600 acres of secured ramp and storage area for all sizes of aircraft.
Litchfield Park / Phoenix Goodyear Airport (GYR)
This facility in Phoenix, Arizona was originally constructed during World War II as a naval air facility known as NAF Litchfield Park, and later renamed Naval Air Station Litchfield Park.
In 1941, the Goodyear Aerospace Corporation offered land to the U.S. Defense Plant Corporation. The U.S. Navy used the land to build aircraft flight decks and established a U.S. Naval Air Facility to test fly and deliver aircraft. This necessitated the construction of a landing field, hangar and runway.
The Goodyear facility was used to modify AAF twin-tail B-24 Liberators for use as Navy PB4Y-1 aircraft, and to accept delivery of Navy single-tail PB4Y-2 Privateers.
Its primary role following the end of World War II was that of storage and preservation of obsolete or excess U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard aircraft. Its location in the dry desert was an ideal location for long-term aircraft storage.
At one point, more than 5,000 aircraft were in storage. The Korean Conflict brought the airfield back to active duty in the 1950s. By early 1958 the inventory was down to about 2,500 aircraft. In 1965, the Defense Department decided to consolidate military aricraft storage. Thus, 800 aircraft at Litchfield were moved to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson either by air or by truck for storage, and another 1,000 were salvaged.
Following the closure of NAS Litchfield Park in 1967, the city of Phoenix purchased the airport for a general aviation facility. Today, the airport is home to several private companies offering aircraft maintenance and commercial pilot training, and serves as a reliever airfield for Phoenix Sky Harbor.
Arizona Airplane Boneyard Tours
Virtually all airplane boneyards and storage facilities are limited access sites and do not allow visitors. We encourage potential visitors to check with individual sites to learn about access policies and tours.
The largest boneyard in the world, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, does allow tours of its Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) facility.
Tour tickets must be purchased at the Pima Air & Space Museum, across East Valencia Road from the base. Bus tours also originate at the museum.
Need Help Spotting Airliners?
With the wide variety of jet airliners serving the worldwide travel market today, identification of individual manufacturers and aircraft can be a bit tricky.
On our new website we have included quick and easy guides to spotting the common jet airliners of the day. We include airliners from Airbus, Boeing, Embraer and Bombardier.