When you think about all the planes that our tax dollars have purchased since the 1930's, you may wonder where they all are now. Certainly some have been lost in battles, but most of them still exist unless someone has dismantled them. Although we have not heard or read it anywhere, driving around Tucson leads us to believe that much of the city exists because of all the military activity here, aviation in particular. There is plenty of empty desert around the city and the hard packed earth is a perfect place to house unwanted/unneeded military aircraft. These vast storage areas are called the "bone yard," but as we discovered today when we visit the Pima Air Force Museum, boneyard is somewhat of a misnomer.
The area around the Davis-Monthan Air Force base houses thousands and thousands of planes that were in good enough condition to fly here under their own power, but are out of date or no longer being used. Once the planes arrive they are washed thoroughly, drained of fluids, batteries are removed, and they are coated with latex to protect them from the hot Arizona sun. The engines are taken out and housed in air tight barrels nearby. The climate is so dry here little other deterioration takes place. In some cases the planes are overhauled and retrofitted and sold to the militaries of countries that we regard as friends. In other cases they are broken down and used for parts, enabling their siblings to stay in the air. And most commonly, the planes are just sitting there, waiting for someone to figure out what to do with them. There are literally thousands and thousands of planes in the bone yard. We've seen some giant piles of shredded metal gleaming in the sun as we've driven around the city. Perhaps some pieces of planes with no future have ended up there.
The Pima Air Force Museum sponsored the boneyard tour and houses just a few planes on its grounds as well. As we wandered around we got the impression that they have one of every plane ever invented, either a reproduction such as the first plane the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, or gimmicky ones like the world's smallest plane. Docents who are Air Force veterans gave tours inside the hangers and the planes outside had scannable tags that allowed us to use our Iphone to download more information. There was a hangar for World War II planes and another housing materials and equipment form the earliest days of the space program.
The museum sold two day passes and if we really wanted to see it all, it would have taken more than one day. But after a while one military plane started looking a lot like another. We just don't know enough about them. But we were especially glad to see the boneyard and learn about the recycling efforts taking place here.