Did You Know: World's Largest Military Plane Boneyard Is At Tucson's Davis-Monthan Base

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, April 17, 2015 - 4:27pm
Updated: Friday, March 26, 2021 - 9:37am

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Davis-Monthan Boneyard
Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ
This is a B-57 Canberra at the Boneyard in the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Arizona has many unique places. It has one of the largest canyons, largest solar telescope — and the only military boneyard in the United States.

About five miles south of downtown Tucson is the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. It’s the headquarters of the 355th Fighter Wing and home of the A-10 Thunderbolt jet training facility. But did you know Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is also the home of the largest military aircraft boneyard in the world?

Rob Raine is with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, better known as the "Boneyard."

“There are about 3,850 airplanes in storage out here," Raine said. "And the facility is set-up by the U.S. government to store all of the military aircraft that the military needs to store.”

“That’s a name that we’re kind of proud of because it means that we’re doing our job,” said Raine.

On a windy afternoon Raine walks me through parts of the nearly 3,000-acre facility. The Boneyard helps the government avoid millions of dollars in new parts by storing, renovating and recycling its own aircraft.

“Out of those 3,800 airplanes, about 400 to 500 of them are in a storage status that we can pull them out and make them fly again,” said Raine.

A portion of this military base was converted into a storage facility after World War II.  By 1964, the government consolidated all the boneyards across the country at Davis-Monthan.

All military branches, NASA and other government agencies and museums have aircraft stored here. The low humidity, minimal rainfall and little to no severe weather conditions, such as tornadoes, keep them in good condition.

“The other part of it is the ground underneath it. It’s very, very hard. It’s caliche subsoil so it’s about 6 inches of dirt and about 18 inches of this just stone hard subsoil that supports the weight of the aircraft," Raine said. "So you don’t have to tarmac over huge pieces of desert, you just park the airplanes on the desert.”

Name an aircraft and it’s probably sitting here. There’s a C-5A Galaxy transport plane, the largest U.S. military aircraft. There’s also a ski-equipped LC-130, the very same that crashed in 1971 during a resupply mission in Antarctica. And a B-57 Canberra, the type of plane that was the first U.S. jet bomber to drop bombs during combat.

Rob Raine said there’s an interesting mystery about one aircraft here.

During the first years of the human spaceflight program called Project Mercury, a C135 airplane was used to train the Mercury 7 astronauts on zero-gravity flights. The aircraft was nicknamed "vomit comet" for its effect on pilots.

Raine said NASA believes that vomit comet is the one in The Boneyard — and that all seven astronauts signed their names on an inside panel. But, no one has been able to find those autographs.

So, Sen. John Glenn if you’re listening, it seems you’re the only one who can tell us where it is.

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