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The Arizona Desert is home to the world’s biggest collection of plane wrecks

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Photo Credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Amber Porter / U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

People who enjoy aviation and are also interested in military history frequently visit “boneyards” of aircraft. This is a very popular pastime. You probably weren’t aware of this, but the southwestern region of the United States is home to the largest aircraft boneyard in the entire world. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona is the location of the 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group, also known as the 309th AMARG. In the years immediately following the conclusion of World War II, it was put into operation. The airfield serves as a storage facility for more than 4,000 aircraft spanning a broad range of eras.

The History and Current Operations of the 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group

The 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group was initially established as the 4105th Army Air Forces Base Unit. Later on, the group’s name was changed to reflect its new mission (Aircraft Storage). The United States Army had a surplus of Douglas C-47 Skytrains (200) and Boeing B-29 Superfortresses (600), which is why this facility was established to store those planes after World War II. Some of them were salvaged and put to use in other countries while the Korean War was still going on, but the vast majority of them were destroyed by being turned into scrap metal.

Photo Credit: John van Hasselt / Sygma / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

After the United States Air Force was separated into its own branch of the armed forces, the location was renamed the 3040th Aircraft Storage Depot and continued to operate under that designation up until 1956. During that time, the Air Force was known as the United States Air Force. The same year, it was given the name Arizona Aircraft Storage Squadron and was given the responsibility of storing the entire fleet of Convair B-36 Peacemakers that belonged to the United States. When the 384 strategic bombers were finally retired, only four of them were saved from being destroyed by being declared too valuable to scrap.

Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

In the year 1956, this particular location became the site of the official founding of the 2704th Air Force Aircraft Storage and Disposition Group. After another nine years, it was eventually succeeded by the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center. The United States government established this facility with the intention of processing aircraft from all branches of the armed forces of the United States, not just the Air Force.

This included the disposal of the last of the B-47 Stratojet fleet, of which only 30 aircraft were saved to be exhibited in different museums across the country.

Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

The United States and the Soviet Union’s conflict during the cold war had reached its zenith at this point in time, marking the conflict’s high point. Both countries had worked together in the preceding years to hasten the development of ballistic missiles and satellite technology. The government of the United States needed a place to deconstruct satellites and ballistic missiles so that they could be used for other purposes. After having its responsibilities there updated, the location at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was given a new name, and it is now known as the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC).

Photo Credit: John van Hasselt / Sygma / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

On July 31, 1991, President George H.W. Bush of the United States of America and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). This was an important step toward reducing nuclear weapons. The two countries signed the treaty with the intention of reducing and capping the number of missiles and nuclear warheads in their respective arsenals. It was stated in one section of the document that the fleet of Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses that were operated by the United States Air Force needed to be destroyed. It was possible for the Soviet Union to keep an eye on this situation by using satellite technology in conjunction with in-person inspections.

For the successful completion of this mission, the AMARC was accountable.

Serving as the world’s largest cemetery for decommissioned aircraft and providing related services

After being transferred to the 309th Maintenance Wing in 2007, the AMARC became known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group after being renamed following the assignment change. Despite the fact that it is physically located in Arizona, the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base in Utah is currently responsible for its management. This is the case despite the fact that Hill AFB is located in the state of Utah. The fact that it is managed by the military makes it inaccessible to members of the general public; the only people who are permitted to go there are those who take part in bus tours that are organized by the Pima Air & Space Museum.

Photo Credit: John van Hasselt / Sygma / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

These activities have been postponed indefinitely for the time being as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

At the moment, the 309th Aircraft Maintenance and Repair Group is home to more than 4,000 airplanes that belong to the United States military, including those of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Navy, as well as a wide range of other federal agencies, such as NASA (AMARG). The absence of both humidity and precipitation makes it an excellent choice for storing aircraft outside as opposed to putting them in hangars, which is why the location has remained in use for at least the past seventy years. In addition to this, the ground is fairly hard, which suggests that they do not sink into the soil when they walk on it.

Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
APhoto Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

On an annual basis, approximately three hundred aircraft are delivered to the AMARG, where they are sorted into the following four categories: Long Term (Type 1000), from which no parts may be removed without prior authorization; Parts Reclamation (Type 2000), from which parts may be removed; Flying Hold (Type 3000), from which aircraft are maintained; and those that are in excess of the requirements that are imposed by the Department of Defense (Type 4000). These can be purchased in their entirety or as individual parts and components.

Every year, somewhere between fifty and one hundred aircraft are taken out of service and processed, while another couple hundred are taken out of service and put through the processing.

Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images
hoto Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP / Getty Images

The 309th Air Mobility Artillery Ready Group (AMARG) has, throughout the course of its history, acted as a facility for the storage of a variety of aircraft belonging to a variety of foreign air forces, including the Royal Canadian Air Force. Among these air forces is the Royal Thai Air Force. In recent years, it has become increasingly involved in the repair and modification of aircraft, including models such as the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Both of these aircraft are in service with the United States Air Force.

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