Revealing Arizona’s Desert Secrets: Exploring the World’s Largest Aircraft Graveyard

  • February 6, 2024

The World’s Largest Aircraft Boneyard: 309th AMARG in Arizona

A captivating point of interest for both military history enthusiasts and aviation buffs lies in the existence of aircraft boneyards. Surprisingly, the largest of these can be found in the southwestern United States. Established after the conclusion of World War II, the 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309th AMARG) is located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and boasts an impressive collection of over 4,000 aircraft spanning various eras.

History of the 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group

The 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group traces its origins back to its establishment as the 4105th Army Air Forces Base Unit (Aircraft Storage) after World War II. Its primary purpose was to store surplus Douglas C-47 Skytrains (200) and Boeing B-29 Superfortresses (600) that were no longer needed by the U.S. Army. While many of these aircraft were ultimately scrapped, others found a second life during the Korean War.

As the U.S. Air Force became an independent military branch, the site was renamed the 3040th Aircraft Storage Depot, a designation it held until 1956. In that year, it became the Arizona Aircraft Storage Squadron and served as the home for the country’s fleet of Convair B-36 Peacemakers. Remarkably, only four of the 384 strategic bombers delivered were preserved from scrapping.

In 1956, the location’s name changed to the 2704th Air Force Aircraft Storage and Disposition Group. Nearly a decade later, it transformed into the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center, tasked with processing aircraft from all branches of the U.S. military, not just the Air Force. This included the scrapping of the remaining B-47 Stratojets, with only 30 being spared for display in museums across the country.

During the height of the Cold War, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were racing to develop ballistic missiles and satellite technology, the U.S. government needed a facility to dismantle and repurpose decommissioned equipment. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base assumed this role and was renamed the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC).

In 1991, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which required the elimination of the U.S. military’s fleet of Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, a task entrusted to AMARC.

In 2007, AMARC was transferred to the 309th Maintenance Wing and renamed the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. Although physically located in Arizona, it operates under the command of the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Access to the facility is restricted to the military, except for guided tours conducted by the Pima Air and Space Museum, which are currently on hold due to the ongoing pandemic.

Today, the 309th AMARG houses over 4,000 aircraft from various branches of the U.S. military, including the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Navy, and even federal agencies like NASA. Its continued use over the past seven decades is attributed to Arizona’s arid climate, low humidity, and minimal rainfall, making it an ideal location for storing aircraft outdoors rather than in hangars. Additionally, the firm ground prevents aircraft from sinking into the soil.

Annually, around 300 aircraft are brought to the AMARG and categorized into four groups: Long-term storage (Type 1000), where no parts are removed without permission; Parts Reclamation (Type 2000), allowing for parts removal; Flying hold (Type 3000), for aircraft kept in a maintained state; and those in excess of the Department of Defense’s needs (Type 4000), which are either sold whole or in parts.

Several hundred aircraft are processed each year, with 50 to 100 being returned to active service. Over the years, the 309th AMARG has housed aircraft from foreign militaries, including the Royal Canadian Air Force. More recently, it has taken on repair and modification work on various aircraft, including the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.

Intriguingly, the 309th AMARG stands as a testament to the rich history of aviation and military operations in the United States, preserving the legacy of countless aircraft for future generations to appreciate.

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