Endlessly Interesting Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

Posted on September 26, 2013

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Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Tucson, Arizona, has history.  Its opening ceremonies were conducted in 1924 by none other than Charles Lindbergh.  It has history for Lila, too:  its mission is “to deploy, employ and sustain expeditionary combat and combat support forces while enabling critical JFACC and HLS operations.”  In keeping with that mission, the fine folks at D-M AFB flew Lila and the other 1500 members of her assigned unit  off to the first Gulf War, and brought us home the same way.  Senior base officers were there to see us off on our mission, and were there again to welcome us home… despite the fact that we arrived well past midnight, more than 8 hours delayed after our first chartered plane got a little wrecked at a very foggy refueling stop (but that’s another story).

Our deployment looked a lot like this shot from the base's Facebook page, except we left in the afternoon.

Our deployment to the first Gulf War took place in the afternoon, but our return many months later looked a lot like this shot from the base’s Facebook page.  We arrived in the wee hours of the morning, and senior base personnel were standing at the foot of the staircase to welcome us home.  Much appreciated!

Davis-Monthan is famous for its extensive – VERY extensive –  “boneyard,” more properly known today as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG).  The boneyard originated after the end of World War II; vast numbers of aircraft had been produced for wartime purposes, and the smaller postwar military faced a huge excess.  As the below YouTube video describes, some aircraft were scrapped in-theater at the end of the war, but others were stored away at the boneyard in case of future need (and some planes were soon put back to work for the Korean War), for spare parts, to reclaim the materials, or to reconfigure them for some other purpose.  Despite the “boneyard” moniker, it is not a graveyard where old planes go to die; it is a refurbishment and recycling center where they go to be regenerated.

In the years since it was established, other aircraft boneyards have gradually been closed and their assets transferred to Davis-Monthan.  The dry climate and broad, flat expanse of desert make it a convenient place to store old aircraft with minimal degradation of materials.  Today, it is THE destination for just about any decommissioned government aircraft:  all of the military branches, NASA, Border Patrol, even the White House, send their old stock here.   As the video tells us, the boneyard had an all-time high of over 6000 stored aircraft; today, the number is around 4000.  It might not sound like much until one considers the huge space required for such enormous airframes as B-52 bombers with their 185-foot wingspans, or, say, a C-5 with its 222-foot wingspan (yep, bigger than a Boeing 747).  All in all, the boneyard occupies 2600 acres of desert adjacent to Davis-Monthan’s airstrip, with its longest axis being some four miles long.

Some of the 2600 acres of the boneyard.

Some of the 2600 acres of the boneyard.

Want to see the boneyard for yourself next time you are in the Tucson area?  There are tours available!  Check out the Pima Air and Space Museum web page for details.

Like any active base, Davis-Monthan is more than just its mission, its history, or even a fascinating oddity like the boneyard.  It’s the people who live and work there, and their families.  You can check out some of the highlights of life at Davis-Monthan through the base’s Facebook page (something Charles Lindbergh could not have dreamed of).  Have a scroll through their photos!

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