Airplane Boneyard

Yes, I’m officially on Sabbatical. BUT there were three experiences still to share. This is number one…


Where do military planes go to die? Tucson Arizona. Specifically, the airplane boneyard at Davis Monthan Airforce Base.

I’ve wanted to come here ever since seeing the 1987 “hit movie” Can’t Buy Me Love.

In the Beginning

After WWII, the government faced a quandary: what to do with all the planes? One bomber came off the plant every 30 minutes and now they were back home.

Enter a storage facility in Arizona: chosen for the weather and soil. The hard-packed clay is rich with calcium, which means the planes can sit on the desert floor.  At its peak, the facility housed 6,000 planes after Vietnam.

airplane boneyard

Life in the Boneyard

With 3,800 crafts on site, they’re here for three purposes.

  • Flyable Hold–20% of the planes here will fly again. They’re simply in storage. The Vipers will be sent to White Sands Missile Range and the Gulf of Mexico, transitioned to drones for “blank” missiles to have target practice. 
  • Parts Reclamation–stripped as needed to repair operational planes.
  • Disposal–once fully stripped, they’re cut into parts. Those parts are melted and used to make circuit boards! The military base used to sell the carcass to nearby scrapyards, but policies changed after 9-11 and now they’re disassembled on-site.

Protection from the Elements

cover seems

Spray latex protects against the sun, wind, and rodents. All seams are covered.

Military Precision

It’s incredibly well organized, and beautiful in the patterns and repetition. The planes are parked with precision–valets would be very happy.

airplane boneyard from the sky

A star on a plane indicates that the crew shot down an enemy aircraft. Earn five stars and you’re called an “ace.”

The planes are gorgeous and terrifying. Some sleek, some massive. Some slow, some stealthy, flying 15 miles above ground, at night, undetectable. It’s a sea of grey with sports of color, stars, and patriotism. Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

What Do Aircraft Do?

Transport and bomb, test and train, search and destroy. Each plane has a letter that tells you its mission.

aircraft abbreviations


Have you ever been to a junkyard or boneyard? What did you learn?

Disclosure: these photos are from Flickr. My tour wasn’t allowed to leave the bus, I had an aisle seat, and the windows were shaded with an appliqué that still had air bubbles.

2 Responses


Very cool – and I still reference the dance from that movie 🙂

Kind of sobering. All that detritus of war. How many schools, medical research centers, and high speed rail lines could have been built and maintained with the resources poured into those “bones”?
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