Some of the Boneyard's 4,000 aircraft. Most will never fly again.
Some of the Boneyard's 4,000 aircraft. Most will never fly again.

Aircraft Boneyard Tour

Field review by the editors.

Tucson, Arizona

The Aircraft Boneyard outside of Tucson is a legendary roadside destination: over 4,000 mothballed aircraft baking in the sun, stretched across four square miles of Arizona desert. It's open for public tours, and inspires all manner of fever-dream conjecturing. Do squatters live in the airplanes? Can the desert heat make aircraft explode? Could Zeppelins, biplanes, or flying saucers be half-buried and forgotten in a back corner? Can a visitor simply hop into a jet, turn a key, and fire it up?

Attack choppers are cocooned against the desert sun..
Attack choppers are cocooned against the desert sun.

The answer to all of these questions is No.

The Boneyard is on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and is run by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) -- which doesn't like the name "Boneyard" (The preferred name is "Air Power Reservoir"). Although the popular image is of an Elephant Graveyard of airplanes, with rusty propellers creaking in the wind, the Boneyard is actually a busy place. Crews are constantly at work either sealing new arrivals against the elements, disassembling other planes for parts, or trucking gutted aircraft to an on-site smelter. Any old, historic aircraft have long-ago been hauled to the Pima Air & Space Museum across the street.

C-130 military transports, sealed to keep out dust and desert critters.
C-130 military transports, sealed to keep out dust and desert critters.

According to museum executive director Scott Marchand, the last time that civilians were able to freely wander the Boneyard was the early 1970s. Today, the public can only view the Boneyard through the windows of a tour bus that leaves the museum twice a day, Monday through Friday. The tour lasts 90 minutes, narrated by a museum guide. The bus does not stop and its passengers do not get out until they return to the museum. Tour-goers need to make their reservations at least ten business days in advance, and must bring along all of their supporting IDs and documents, or they don't get on the bus.

All of this, Scott said, dampens the appeal of the Boneyard for the average visitor. But for "real hardcore airplane nerds" the Boneyard remains a bucket-list destination, a chance to view mile after mile of ghost planes, cocooned as if by some aircraft-eating spider, while a tour guide calls out the names and service histories of the various jet fighters, tankers, cargo planes, helicopters, and bombers.

For such tourists -- and Scott counts himself one of them -- the Boneyard is, "one of the most amazing aerospace spectacles in the world." For everyone else, the museum -- which has 80 outdoor acres of old aircraft that visitors can actually touch -- is probably more satisfying.

Aircraft Boneyard Tour

6000 E. Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ
Bus leaves from Pima Air & Space Museum. Southeast edge of the city. I-10 exit 267. Turn east onto E. Valencia Rd. Drive 1.5 miles. Museum entrance on the right.
M-F twice daily. Must reserve 10 business days in advance. (Virus outbreak may affect access to attraction. Call to verify.)
Tour $20.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Pima Air & Space MuseumPima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, AZ - < 1 mi.
Willard the T-RexWillard the T-Rex, Tucson, AZ - 3 mi.
Tucson Bowl - Cavemen and Leprechaun Bowling ArtTucson Bowl - Cavemen and Leprechaun Bowling Art, Tucson, AZ - 5 mi.
In the region:
Wishing Shrine of El Tiradito, Tucson, AZ - 8 mi.

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