The Tucson airplane graveyard is a must-visit site for anyone who loves aircraft (that’s us!). Learn about this amazing place, and how you can visit “the Boneyard,” as it’s unofficially known. Visiting the Boneyard is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson-there’s nothing else like it. Anywhere.
The Tucson airplane graveyard is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check opening status before visiting.
What, exactly, IS the Tucson Airplane Graveyard?
“The Boneyard” is officially known as the 309th AMARG Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (military-speak for a really cool aviation junkyard). 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. 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.
Why is there an Airplane Graveyard 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.
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. Though the Cold War may have ended, the men and women deployed at the Boneyard in Tucson are on constant alert for any future chills in relations between the superpowers.
What can you see at the Tucson Airplane Graveyard?
Despite their placement on an active military base, tours are offered of the Boneyard. Visitors board air-conditioned buses at the adjacent Pima Air & Space Museum for a tour through the Boneyard of stored aircraft inside Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to see the world’s largest collection of military aircraft.
PRO TIP: Reservations are required to visit the Tucson Boneyard, and must be made at least 16 days prior to your visit. Be sure to plan ahead!
The amount of hardware on display is striking. Some of the planes look ready to take off while others are partially salvaged, as if the turkey vultures soaring overhead have been picking them clean. Upon approach the rows of angular F-14 fighter planes emerge like giant metal scorpions lying in wait on the desert floor. Security around them is strict since this particular model is still flown by the Iranian Air Force, which is desperate for spare parts to maintain their fleet.
The tour bus ambles by ranks of abandoned bombers, propeller-driven cargo planes, helicopters and fighter jets while the guide points out the former roles of each aircraft. In an odd twist, new C-27 Spartan cargo planes were delivered directly to the Boneyard. Although recent budget cuts prevent their use, it didn’t stop production of them.
In a sign that the military possesses its own unique brand of humor, a lone ladder waiting for a pilot to climb into the cockpit is 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 makes the grizzled tour guide’s day when groups of unsuspecting schoolchildren exclaim, “Wow! You really can’t see it!”
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?
Yes, all nationalities are welcome on the tour. Be advised that you will be touring an active US Military site; as such, be prepared with proper identification.you must take a guided bus tour, which starts at the adjacent Pima Air & Space Museum
Do you need to make a reservation to tour the Tucson Boneyard?
Yes, Tucson Boneyard tours are only available by advanced reservation.
When can I make a reservation to tour the Tucson Boneyard?
Reservations must be made a minimum of 16 days in advance. Tours can be reserved up to 60 days in advance.
What type of information is required by US citizens to reserve a tour of the Tucson Boneyard?
When making a reservation, adult US citizens (aged 16 and older) must provide the following: Full name as it appears on a driver’s license or valid state-issued photo ID (including middle initial or middle name), plus ID number & state of issue, date of birth and social security number. Be prepared to bring this same ID with you for the tour. For children under 16 years of age you must provide full name and birthdate (no ID required).
Can US citizens use a passport or military ID to reserve a Boneyard tour in Tucson?
NO. US passports and military IDs are not acceptable means of ID for the AMRAD Boneyard Tour.
What type of information is required by NON-US citizens to reserve a tour of the Tucson Boneyard?
When making a reservation, adult NON-US citizens (aged 16 and older) must provide the following: Full name as it appears on a passport (including middle initial or middle name), along with passport number, date of birth and country of issuance. Be prepared to bring this same ID with you for the tour. For children under 16 years of age you must provide full name and birthdate (no ID required).
How long is the AMRAD Boneyard tour?
The tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes long.
Can you walk around the Tucson Boneyard?
NO. The Boneyard is on an active US Air Force Base. Visitors must stay on the bus for the duration of the tour.
How much does the AMRAD Tucson Boneyard tour cost?
Cost of the tour is $10 per person and is non-refundable.
Where do I make reservations for the AMRAD tour?
Contact the Pima Air & Space Museum.
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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