Aircraft parked in the ARIZONA DESERT in an aircraft graveyard.
Located just outside the gates of Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson Arizona are a series of Aircraft salvage yards. These salvage yards are here to feed off of the steady flow of demilitarized aircraft auctioned off by the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center AMARC.
AMARC is responsible for the storage and aircraft parting out of excess Department of Defense and Coast Guard aircraft. Anything the government sells, which could cause potential injuries or be used by a hostile government is “demilled” before it leaves their control.
Demilling, which stands for de-militarising, can include chopping wings off, or cutting the fuselage or disarming electronic panels and ejection seats. Because of this Demilling process, most aircraft are rendered useless for flying and are destined to become exhibition pieces, broken down for aircraft parts salvage or aircraft parting out, or melted down for scrap metal.
Tucson’s dry climate and alkali soil has made it an ideal location for storing aircraft, a role it has held since it was selected after WWII as a storage site for hundreds of decommissioned B-29s and C-47.
Reclaimed aircraft parts
Post Vietnam, this legacy continues today, as the city boasts the most aircraft salvage yards for reclaimed aircraft spares recovery of any city in the world. The surreal photographs are well known worldwide.
It is possible, on a visit to Tucson, to drive round a field of old 707s from the dawn of the age of commercial jet travel, many with the logos of since bankrupt airlines like Pan Am and TWA. They were originally brought to AMARC for their engines which could be removed and used for upgrades.
A fence keeps you from getting close to the C-123 Providers. C-123s were used to drop millions of gallons of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War to defoliate forests to deny cover to the North Vietnamese. You can’t touch them because of OSHA rules (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). So they could still be there in fifty years. Perhaps they could be declared a monument to soldiers and civilians harmed by Agent Orange.
You can drive slowly under a long canopy formed by the tails of Boeing 747s parked in the Sonoran Desert 20 miles west of Tucson. Beyond a vast expanse of desert and cactuses, mountain peaks rim the horizon. It’s warm. More importantly, it’s dry.
In row after row of silent, abandoned airliners, great jets that once soared over the earth, more than 300 are parked here. Some are going to be worked over and eventually resold to airlines around the world. Others are waiting for the banks or domestic airlines to reclaim them. Many are waiting for mechanics to strip away useable parts before wreckers tear apart the fuselages for aluminium.