Pima Air and Space Museum and the Davis-Monthan Boneyard

Went out to Tucson last weekend ahead of some business meetings I had in Tempe on Tuesday. Primary purpose: visit the AMARG and the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base airplane boneyard (I think “boneyard” sounds less ominous than “graveyard”, although I suppose maybe it shouldn’t). Tours of the boneyard are facilitated by the Pima Air and Space Museum, located around the corner from the base. The museum and the boneyard were both cool.

b-52 at the pima air & space museum in tucson

The B-52 above was one that dropped several of the x-planes — you can see the spar on the right wing where the planes were carried pre-drop.

A-10 flying at Davis-Monthan AFB

Above is an A-10 Warthog banking hard over the top of Davis-Monthan AFB as seen between the prop blades of the DC-6 that used to be John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One.

c-133b cargomaster and the pima air & space museum yard

Above is a Douglas C-133B and the view from the far end of the museum’s 75 acres of airplanes.

Highlights:

  • 75 acres of airplanes is a lot of airplanes.
  • There aren’t many ropes keeping you away from the aircraft. If you want to get down on your belly and see what the underside of a B-52 looks like, you’re welcome to do so.
  • Oh — right, so on the Sunday we were there, the air force base was doing practices for the spring and summer air show season, including having civil pilots get qualified to join air force pilots for “heritage flights” (in which a couple of old planes, piloted by civilians, fly in formation with a couple of current air force planes). This meant we got treated to an air show with aerobatic maneuvers from an F-22, F-15, A-10 (I’m an A-10 fan), F-4 Phantom, P-51, and P-40.
  • Actually those last three didn’t do anything aerobatic, but the first three did a lot to make up for it.
  • Like, for instance, the F-22 stopping and hovering mid-air. Pretty trippy.
  • They actually have three B-52s there — that’s an imposing-looking, ominous airframe. IMHO.
  • They also had a nice collection of WWII bombers — a B17, a B24, and a B29. Again, with full belly-based viewing privileges.
  • The docents were all pretty old and friendly.
  • They had a couple of Lockheed Constellations and a Sud Aviation Caravelle — I’d never seen either of those up close before.
  • Included pretty much every American jet fighter up through the F-15.
  • Also included a bunch of huge ol’ cargo planes.
  • It’s just a lot of airplanes and a lot of access to those planes.

Other notes:

  • It’s at least a one-full-day museum. If you go see the boneyard, which we did, it’s at least a day and a half.
  • It was pretty cool seeing how different the aircraft designs have been throughout the Air Force’s history. In a world where every commercial aircraft built in the last 50 years still looks like a 707, it’s nice that *someone’s* trying.
  • You have to make reservations to take the tour of the boneyard itself. Those tours only run on weekdays.
  • You’re only allowed to see the boneyard from the tour bus.
  • It’s kind of hard to get good pictures through the windows of the bus — all the photos above were taken at the museum.
  • It was weird to see so many recent airframes among the retirees at the boneyard (including B-1 bombers). Also strange that we’re still building new C-130s when there are apparently hundreds that have already been retired. I can only hope that someone’s done a cost-benefit analysis on some of this stuff.

Anyway: cool trip. Many planes. Nice weather. Recommended.

bkd

5 comments

  • Game Dame

    Wow, very cool! I’ve been waiting to see these pics. I absolutely LOVE the 2nd photo — what a great eye and quick timing on getting that shot! Some pretty amazing planes, it seems like.

    I think I know why they still build old airplane models. It’s not the models that go bad, it’s the materials. And even those last a very long time with proper maintenance. Those B-52s are amazing. Wish you had more shots of those. Were there any C-17s? Most amazing plane I’ve ever seen take off… but never been up close to one. Also, my step sister jumped out of C-130s in the Air Force Academy. (Apparently, a certain number of jumps is required for you to graduate, even if it’s not your “major” or whatever.)

    Thanks for posting these.

  • bkdunn

    I actually took something in the vicinity of 250 shots over that day and a half. If I get un-lazy enough, I’ll try and shepherd them all into my Flickr account. I definitely got more photos of B-52s. They had three of them there in various paints.

    The thing about the C-130s is that they’re in the paddock of “planes that could be put back into service if we needed to” — which kind of seems like they shouldn’t be so fatigued from a materials standpoint. Although I can see not wanting to put the latest and best equipment into an airframe that’s only got five years of life left. Still, as a taxpayer, awkward to look out over the billions of dollars of aircraft idling out in the desert…

    (And I wish *my* college had offered a major in parachuting.)

  • Miquela Faure

    I’ve driven by that boneyard before. Quite impressive, even from the other side of a chainlink fence.

  • bkdunn

    The views from the road are pretty good! Although you miss out on the tour guide going off on Russian ideas about fair play.

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