Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Aircraft Boneyard

I am sure that those of the readers, who might have seen the Hollywood flick Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” would definitely remember the shots of the huge airport shown in the film. I was always under impression that this airport must have been set up in the film studio itself on a miniature scale using small model aircraft. However, it is quite bewildering that such an airbase is actually in existence near Tucson city: Arizona in USA. There is a small difference though; Tuscon airbase is no airport but a huge cemetery for old disused aircraft. 

This aircraft dumping ground, official known as Davis-Monthan Air Force base is as large as 1430 American Football fields or has an area equal to 2600 acres. It is popularly known as Boneyard, a name which describes it rather accurately, and was built just after second world war.

The weather at this airbase is extremely dry and that perhaps was the main reason for selection of this place, as it was thought that the aircraft based here would not be damaged by rusting. Besides the dry weather, the soil at this place also has some unique kind of properties. Just below an upper layer of dust, the soil consists of an extremely hard layer of soil. Because of this hard layer, it has been possible to park all kinds of aircraft here without constructing a concrete tarmac. A unit of United States Air Force called “309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)” keeps busy on this airbase, looking after the aircraft. It is hard to believe that this airbase has more than 4200 aircraft and 10 space craft parked with a combined value exceeding 35 Billion Dollars.

This one of a kind museum of real aircraft, boasts of F 14 TomCats. The readers might recall that these aircraft had featured in the Hollywood movie, Top Gun featuring actor Tom Cruze. The other aircraft parked here include B 52 Flying Fortress Bombers of cold war era and anti tank A 10 planes. During last 25 years, at least 20 % of the aircraft parked here, were refurbished for use again. Many of such planes were sold to other countries also. The planes which are beyond refurbishing are normally cannibalized to recover spare parts, which can be used in other planes of similar class. The planes that are beyond any use are mainly sold as junk or scrap.

After seeing the pictures of this airbase with row after row of neatly parked aircraft, I was reminded of a childhood memory, which I can always recollect. About 25 miles away from my home town, Pune in India and near a railway station called Dehu Road, there used to be a huge motorized vehicle depot of military transport vehicles, many of them from WWII vintage. This depot used to be along a railway line towards Mumbai. Whenever, I used to travel by train to go to Mumbai, I would keep watching from the train window, long and never ending rows after rows of all kinds of military transports parked in a most systematic way, which only an army can do, as the train moved slowly along. Later on, the depot was moved somewhere else and since then I have always missed that great spectacle of my childhood days, whenever I happen to travel by train. Now I realize that this depot of yesteryear and the Tuscon air base, as seen, curtsey Google earth, both highlight how mind bogglingly large the defense industries really are.

I can imagine that some small kid living in Tuscon and moving along the perimeter of this airbase in his dad's car, must be getting similarly thrilled looking at the rows and rows of modern aircraft as I was once was with the vehicle depot, and later kept dreaming about them.

I wouldn’t call the Davis-Monthan Air Force base as an aircraft cemetery or a Boneyard. I would prefer to call it an aircraft dream factory for the kids.

27 September 2012

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