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Last Updated on May 17, 2024

INSIDE: The Arizona Plane Graveyard (Tucson Boneyard) no longer offers on-base tours. How to see the planes using nearby roads – NEW for 2024!

A few years ago we took a tour of the Arizona airplane graveyard–also known as the Tucson “Boneyard.” It was an awesome way to see the place where over 3,000 surplus military aircraft are stored. Then in early 2020 COVID hit and tours were stopped. We waited, and waited, and waited for tours to resume . . . but 4 years later it looks like it’s not gonna happen. 🙁

Fortunately there are still ways to see the planes without going onto the military base where they’re located.

You just have to know where to look . . .

. . . And you’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you all about it.

The Arizona plane graveyard is a must-visit site for anyone who loves aircraft (that’s us! ✋). Learn about this amazing place, and how you can see “the Boneyard,” as it’s unofficially known−even if you can’t get on base. Visiting the Boneyard is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson-there’s nothing else like it. Anywhere.

View of the arizona plane graveyard from Escalante Road (no fence)

What, exactly, IS the Arizona Plane Graveyard?

“The Boneyard” is officially known as the 309th AMARG Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (military-speak for a really cool airplane junkyard Tucson Az).

It’s located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, on the southeastern edge of Tucson, where it is the final resting place of more than 3,000 aircraft.

AMARG is the world’s largest salvage yard (minus the snarling dogs). And, since those planes−and their respective parts−still have some use, don’t call it an “airplane JUNKyard Tucson AZ.” ‘Cause that would be just plain disrespectful to those retired sunbathing beauties.

The aircraft are lined up in rows set up with military precision, stacked so closely together that from above their wings look like they are holding hands with each other, a sharp contrast to their former roles.

It’s a starkly beautiful setting as, throughout the day, the silver fuselages reflect changing colors of the Rincon Mountains to the east.

Aerial view of hundreds of planes lines up at the Tucson airplane graveyard, aka the tucson boneyard
Tucson Arizona aircraft graveyard: isn’t it a beautiful sight?

Why is there a Plane Graveyard Arizona in Tucson?

The military has a problem. It has thousands of aircraft that are no longer being used, but they don’t want to just send them to the scrapyard like a used ’92 Chevy. So what to do?

It would be impractical to build giant hangars for 3,000+ aircraft, especially when many of them are no longer operational. How about sending them into semi-permanent outdoor storage?

The Sonoran Desert of Arizona provides the perfect location, where the arid climate prevents rust. So now theres a Tucson Arizona aircraft graveyard.

Out-of-service military aircraft at the Boneyard, with Tucson’s Rincon Mountains in the background

Despite its moniker, the “Boneyard” is not a place merely to stockpile airplanes in eternal rest. Some have been mothballed for spare parts and potential future activation.

In 2015 a B-52 bomber old enough to qualify for AARP membership was restored and returned to flying condition (those things are solid! 💪).

Though the Cold War may have ended, the men and women deployed at the Arizona plane graveyard are on constant alert for any future chills in relations between the superpowers.

Can you tour the Tucson Airplane Graveyard?

Arizona plane graveyard in tucson-air force warning sign
Tours of the Boneyard are no longer offered due to security measures

Unfortunately, NO. Due to their placement on an active military base, tours are not offered of the airplane Boneyard Arizona. (They once were, it’s true, but those days are past, and we civilians have to accept that. 🫤)

BUT . . . it’s kind of difficult to tuck 3,000+ aircraft out of sight, so you CAN see them. You just have to know where to look.

The amount of hardware on display is striking. Some of the planes look ready to take off while others are partially salvaged, as if turkey vultures soaring overhead have been picking them clean.

Where is the Airplane Boneyard Arizona?

View of the Tucson airplane graveyard through the fence on Escalante Road

Fear not, we’ll give you a rundown below. But first, we’ll start with a general overview map:

High-level map of airplane boneyard arizona, in context with the city of Tucson
Overview map of the airplane boneyard Arizona, in context with Tucson

In the map above shows the Arizona plane graveyard at a high-level view. This gives you some context of where the Boneyard is with respect to downtown Tucson (which is to the northwest).

Also note Tucson International Airport to the southwest. You can see that commercial airport is less than half the size of the aviation graveyard Arizona! (You need a LOT of space to store over 3,000 planes! ✈️✈️✈️)

Best Places for Planespotting at the Airplane Boneyard Arizona

The best place to see planes is on the northern perimeter of the Tucson airplane graveyard. Additionally, there are a few other places you can spot the aircraft, however they may be little more than fleeting glimpses.

Here’s a more detailed map showing the best viewing spots:

Map of best planespotting locations at the Arizona Plane Graveyard Tucson
Map of planespotting locations at the aviation graveyard Arizona

1. Escalante Road (northern perimeter): Viewing rating-10/10; Photo rating 10/10

View of the arizona plane graveyard from Escalante Road (no fence)
Arizona plane graveyard from Escalante Road

There are a few reasons the viewing the aviation graveyard Arizona from Escalante Road is so good:

  • You’re as close to the aircraft as you might be driving on base (which I remember from my on-base tour years back)
  • There’s plenty of room to park, so you can take your time and ogle to your heart’s content. (Yeah, so I totally did that.)
  • You are level with the planes, with no obstructions to viewing
  • Lots of time to take all the photos you want

NOTE: You do need to be strategic with your camera lens, so you don’t see chain link fencing in your shot−unless you want to get “artsy.” 🤔

In the photo above, I put my camera lens (from my iPhone) in juuuuuust the right spot, up against the fence. So it looks like I’m standing smack-dab on base of the airplane boneyard Arizona.

Then, I opted for the artsy bit, with the chain-link fencing in the foreground. This demostrates just how close you can actually get to the planes! Plus I think it’s kind of cool the way the fencing creates its own frame.

Arizona plane graveyard, with chain link fencing in the foreground
Here’s the Arizona plane graveyard, framed by the fencing

As I mentioned above, there’s plenty of parking along the fence here, so you’ll be able to take all the time you like ogling the aircraft. Here’s a panoramic view of what the road/parking area/boneyard looks like:

panoramic shot of escalante road and tucson airplane graveyard
Panoramic shot of the airplane boneyard Arizona alongside Escalante Rd.

2. E. Irvington Road (northern perimeter): Viewing rating: 8/10; Photo rating: 9/10

Views of arizona plane graveyard from East Irvington Road in Tucson
Partially obstructed view of USAF cargo jets through the fence from E. Irvington Road

Slightly farther east, and a little to the south, you’ll find the northern perimeter of the aviation graveyard Arizona along East Irvington Road. Viewing is very good here, although not quite as good as Escalante Rd (above).

A few points to consider when viewing planes along E. Irvington Rd:

  • The aircraft are fairly close
  • There is an ample parking area
  • You can take as much time as you like looking at (and photographing) the aircraft
  • There is a small berm, partially obstructing the aircraft

This last point is why I only give the viewing here an 8/10 instead of 10/10. There is one area where there’s a break in the berm, however this also coincides with a wash. So if it has rained recently (such was the case when I last visited) you’ll be trudging through a big ol’ mud puddle at this spot.

All of that being said, there are still some darned good views along this area, including this one (below), where there’s a slight rise above the berm: 👇👇👇

Tailfins at Arizona plane graveyard, including coast guard plane
Tailfins against the backdrop of the Santa Rita Mountains to the south

I love this view of the tail fins all lined up, with the Santa Rita Mountains in the background. It’s hard to imagine these beauties are part of any type of aviation graveyard Arizona! (And isn’t that lone plane in U.S. Coast Guard red livery just stunning?!)

Here’s a view along the E. Irvington Rd. fence line, to give you an idea of the terrain. You can see the berm (through the fence) as well as the slight incline on the left of the photo. This is where you can get a better view of those gorgeous tailfins 😊.

view of aviation graveyard arizona along e. irvington road
View of the Tucson airplane graveyard along E. Irvington Rd.

3. East Valencia Road (southern perimeter): Viewing: 3/10; Photos 3/10

The aircraft of the Arizona plane graveyard are not stored as near to the southern perimeter as they are on the northern side. A few things to keep in mind when driving along the southern side of the boneyard:

  • The planes are a farther distance from the perimeter than the northern side
  • Much of the roadway has creosote bushes and other vegetation obstructing your view
  • There is nowhere to park

This last issue is perhaps the most critical. Unless you have someone else driving, it will be difficult to crane your neck to see the planes. (And probably unsafe as well.) It will also be impossible to photograph anything.

However, if you DO have someone else driving, here’s a map showing where you can see the planes:

map showing viewing spots of airplane boneyard arizona along e. valencia rd.
Plane viewing spots along E. Valencia Road

Since my husband was doing the driving, I was, fortunately able to get a photo from E. Valencia Road. I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s worth heading over to the southern perimeter. If you’re a completist, you may want to do it anyway. (Which I totally get 🤩.)

Arizona plane graveyard as seen from S. Valencia Road
Views from the distance along S. Valencia Roadnot so hot

4. Kolb Road (N/S through the center): Viewing 7/10 & 0/10 (zero) ; Photos 4/10 & 0/10

Kolb Road runs north-south and slices right through the center of the Arizona plane graveyard–it essentially bisects it. So you may be thinking, “awesome! We can drive right between all the planes.” And you can . . . sort of.

There are some spots were viewing is pretty good, other areas where it is totally nonexistent. Some things to consider when driving along the Kolb Road portion of the Arizona airplane graveyard:

  • Kolb Rd. is a busy road with a lot of cars
  • There is nowhere to pull over along the road
  • The road is below grade through much of the boneyard; you can’t see any planes.

There is a massive overpass crossing Kolb Road for the Air Force to transport aircraft from one section of the boneyard to the other. Therefore road is actually recessed for much of the distance through the boneyard.

As a result, visibility of planes is ZERO through this portion of Kolb Road. Take a look at this photo to see what I mean:

approach to the large overpass on kolb road at the tucson airplane graveyard
Approaching the aircraft overpass on Kolb Road

The above photo is us driving north through the boneyard. You can see the aircraft overpass in the distance. You can also see the how the road is recessed, with no planes visible here. And how there’s not much room on the shoulders to pull over.

And although you can’t see it in this photo, there are “No Parking” signs all along this portion of the road. So you can’t exactly stop for a quick scramble up the slope for a photo-op.

But the viewing does get better as you progress north of the overpass.

The road begins to gradually slope upward, until you are once again level with the planes, near the northern perimeter (where we began our planespotting journey.) The best area for viewing is the western side of Kolb Rd., between E. Irvington Road and Escalante Road.

PRO TIP: There is no stopping on Kolb Rd, so be sure to have someone else take photos (or have someone else drive and take photos yourself).

Viewing is best while driving north: even though they will be on the opposite side of the planes, you will be driving toward them, instead of away from them.

Here are 2 quick videos I took (while my husband was driving!) heading north on Kolb Road:

And this one is in Slo-Mo, so you can see a bit more:

Driving toward aircraft at the arizona aviation graveyard in tucson arizona
Photo taken driving north on Kolb Rd. at the aviation graveyard Arizona

Also, this is the only place you’ll be to see the front of any of the aircraft. From all other viewpoints you’ll be looking at the back or sides of the planes.

From this viewpoint you can see how the aircraft windshields have been prepped for their long stay in the desert. And how the propellers have been stabilized. They kind of look blindfolded . . . or like they’re wearing masks. 😷

NOTE: Remember, there is nowhere to stop along Kolb Rd. to take photos. And it’s a fairly busy road with a speed limit of 40mph, so no slowing down for a quick “snap.” Be sure to have a “designated photographer” in the car with you (or let someone else do the driving!)

aviation graveyard arizona-closeup of planes along kolb road
Closeup of planes along Kolb Road at the aviation graveyard Arizona

The Stealth Fighter at the Aviation Graveyard Arizona???

Maybe not, but then again, maybe . . . ???

I couldn’t finish this post without sharing a cute anecdote from our experience back in the days when tours were still offered.

As the tour bus drove through the rows of aircraft the driver stopped outside one special spot.

A lone ladder waiting for a pilot to climb into the cockpit angled ten feet into the air, hovering over a set of landing gear and . . . nothing else. A sign in front of it says that this is an F-117 Stealth Fighter.

It made the grizzled tour guide’s day when a few young kids exclamed, “Wow! You really can’t see it!”

Just a little Air Force humor there . . . 😉

AMARG’s sense of humor is evident at this display of the F-117 Nighthawk “Stealth Fighter.”

It’s disappointing that tours of the Tucson airplane graveyard are no longer offered. However with a little careful planning (and a designated driver while you photograph), you can still see much of this incredible sight.

Even if it has to be through the fence.

Viewing the Arizona Plane Graveyard from the Air

This is one you’ll have to do through the magic of YouTube 😊. Below are two of the best videos I’ve found from years gone by:

Like Aircraft? More in the Tucson Area:

Afterwards, the Pima Air & Space Museum offers a fine collection of more than 350 aircraft including a B-24 Liberator, Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the unique Aero Spacelines 377-SG “Super Guppy” cargo plane that is cobbled together from parts of a retired U.S. Air Force C-97 Stratofreighter and a former Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.

Fast facts about the Tucson Airplane Graveyard, aka “The Boneyard”

Can anyone visit the Tucson Boneyard?

Tailfins at Arizona plane graveyard, including coast guard plane

NO. Tours were stopped in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Pima Air & Space Museum (who organized the tours) “the bus tours to Davis-Monthan AFB of the 309th AMARG (AKA “The Boneyard”) have permanently ended. This tour is no longer offered and will not be coming back due to changes in U.S. Air Force security considerations.” 

How many planes are in the Tucson Boneyard?

arizona plane graveyard-jets

According to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, “AMARG is responsible for the storage of nearly 3,200 aircraft and more than 6,300 engines from the five Department of Defense services.”

Where is the best place to see the Boneyard in Tucson?

Map of best planespotting locations at the Arizona Plane Graveyard Tucson

There are multiple viewing spots along the northern perimeter of the Boneyard, on Escalante and East Irvington Road, where you can park and take photos. These areas have places to park. Other roads nearby offer views, but you cannot stop, so views are “fleeting.”

For another Cold War relic head nearby to the Titan Missile Museum, home of the last of the 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert from 1963 through 1987.

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