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  • The 309th AMARG stores the world's

  • largest collection of military aircraft

  • here in the Arizona desert.

  • I like to call this

  • the ugliest plane out here, the YC-14.

  • It was an aircraft that never went into production.

  • Eight hundred mechanics and engineers work nonstop,

  • reclaiming critical old parts and regenerating aircraft

  • so they can go back into service.

  • I can't just pull over an airplane like you can a car.

  • And we have to make sure that

  • these aircraft are safe to fly.

  • Our goal is not to be like a cemetery for the aircraft.

  • That's Col. Barnard,

  • a 25-year Army veteran mechanic.

  • As a commander here, I am in charge of the whole operation.

  • The assets stored here are worth

  • somewhere between $34 billion and $35 billion,

  • if you were to try to replace them all.

  • It's a big number.

  • She took us inside this massive facility

  • to see how these military planes

  • get a second chance at life.

  • AMARG got its start back in 1946.

  • After World War II, the Army

  • needed a place to store old planes.

  • They chose Davis-Monthan Air Force Base here in Tucson.

  • With nearly 2,000 football fields worth of open desert,

  • there was plenty of space.

  • We're known worldwide as the boneyard.

  • Our guys take pride in being boneyard wranglers.

  • Arizona has the perfect weather

  • for storing these assets.

  • It's hot, there's little rainfall,

  • no humidity, and the soil?

  • It's as hard as concrete.

  • So planes won't sink.

  • The dryness, as well as the lack of acidity

  • in the soil, prevent corrosion on the assets.

  • Retired aircraft, or assets,

  • come from all over the world.

  • We have about 3,100 airplanes.

  • The planes are mostly military.

  • They come from the Air Force, the Navy,

  • the Army, and the Marines.

  • We have over 80 different types of airplanes here.

  • Planes and helicopters arrive

  • and are lined up in sections.

  • So we're driving down display row here,

  • or celebrity row as some people call it.

  • We do have a sense of humor here.

  • That's our stealth aircraft,

  • which is actually just Wonder Woman's jet.

  • The LC-130s have skis along with their landing gear

  • so they can land down in Antarctica

  • and support the National Science Foundation

  • all across that continent.

  • We're coming up on a NASA aircraft.

  • It's affectionately called the vomit comet.

  • Some aircraft will be here for weeks

  • before they're called back into service.

  • Other aircraft can be here for 50 years.

  • Like this A-4 Skyhawk.

  • Each plane goes through a preservation process

  • before it's put in the desert.

  • Every four years, planes are preserved again.

  • They're defueled,

  • then oil is pumped through the engine to preserve it.

  • The black material that we have on here

  • is the base layer that seals up the aircraft.

  • And then later, as you can see,

  • the rest of the aircraft around here,

  • the coats on top are white.

  • And those white coats will reflect the heat

  • so it better preserves the assets

  • all on the inside of the aircraft.

  • Like the inside of this C5-A Galaxy.

  • The inside of the C5 is the largest cargo aircraft

  • in the Air Force inventory.

  • I have deployed on these.

  • On one of eight deployments

  • that Col. Barnard has had - to Turkey,

  • Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Antarctica.

  • And we can fit three HH-60 helicopters,

  • and a lot of our equipment that we need,

  • as well as all our maintainers.

  • We have just over 60 of them here.

  • And every one of them needs 72 tie-downs.

  • Airplanes are designed to fly,

  • and when it gets a little breezy out here

  • we want to make sure they stay parked.

  • But not every plane

  • just sits around collecting dust.

  • US military units around the world

  • can request specific parts off these planes.

  • An aircraft has so many thousands of parts.

  • Just like a reservoir keeps things in case you need them.

  • And then we release what's out of the reservoir as needed.

  • And some of the parts

  • the military can only find here at AMARG.

  • We are that assurance

  • that there's a part available

  • when the supply system main sources don't get it.

  • We send anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 parts out every year

  • to the tune of a few million dollars each week

  • worth of supply parts.

  • Scott and James here are removing the engines

  • from the back of this T-38 as a reclamation effort

  • because these have been requested to go back into service.

  • So once the crews reclaim the parts out in the desert

  • and bring them into the end of this building,

  • they get washed, they get non-destructive inspection,

  • and they're going to pack and ship these

  • right out the door as fast as we can.

  • But sometimes, instead of being

  • scrapped for parts, an entire plane will be regenerated,

  • meaning they'll pull it out of the desert and wash it down.

  • We have to remove all the coatings

  • that are used to preserve the aircraft out in the desert.

  • After getting a nice shower, it's fixed up.

  • What our team is working on here is a C-130

  • that's being regenerated for foreign military sales.

  • In this hangar, the current project that we're working on

  • is F-16s in post-block repair.

  • It's a package of structural improvements

  • on the aircraft to extend their flyable life.

  • The base also handles aircraft modifications.

  • These aircraft come from US units

  • that are active right now.

  • And then they get some work done on them,

  • and they go back out to that same unit.

  • So we're able to upgrade those

  • and modify them to keep them up with

  • the current standards in the active fleet.

  • Complicated individual pieces

  • are sent to separate back shops for fixing.

  • Here in the wing shop ...

  • We have all the center portions

  • of the A-10 wings being rebuilt here.

  • And the outer portions being rebuilt there.

  • There's actually hundreds of pieces

  • inside of an aircraft wing.

  • The complexity and the level of structure,

  • it's really eye-opening for many folks.

  • Each set of wings can take

  • up to 20,000 man hours to overhaul.

  • Once parts are fixed,

  • they go through a thorough inspection.

  • We're here in

  • the non-destructive inspection area.

  • Pete's working on a fluorescent dye penetrant.

  • It's basically a liquid that absorbs into cracks,

  • and we can apply a black light to it.

  • And you can see there's a crack right here that shows up.

  • This crack right here on this part in the landing gear

  • could cause catastrophic failure on the landing gear.

  • Not a single crack

  • on an entire plane can get past this team.

  • We have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly

  • so that we protect that asset,

  • and we protect the air crew that's inside of that asset.

  • So the stakes are pretty high.

  • Once fixed, the planes go through

  • a rigorous final flight test.

  • Pilot Scott Thompson is testing these regenerated F-16s.

  • I will take them out to the airspace just south of here.

  • Close enough to where if I do have a problem

  • I can get back onto the ground immediately

  • and pretty much put them through the ringer.

  • We test flight controls, and the handling,

  • and the engine performance,

  • and all the systems on the plane

  • pretty extensively, at all altitudes.

  • They go out to become

  • full-scale aerial targets.

  • That's a happy ending for a plane

  • pulled from the desert here at AMARG.

  • But for other aircraft, this is the end of the line.

  • The planes marked with a big D

  • are destroyed by a third-party contractor.

  • So these are our guys that work the D-mill,

  • and they prepare aircraft for disposal.

  • Well, and I will get out of the way of the crowbar.

  • I'm pretty good at destruction too,

  • but you guys are being super careful about it,

  • which you should be.

  • The planes are demolished for good reason.

  • We'll make sure everything's accounted for

  • and that the materials and the technology

  • don't fall into the wrong hands.

  • While some Americans

  • may not have heard of AMARG,

  • it actually saves taxpayers a lot of money.

  • The assets stored here are worth

  • somewhere between $34 billion and $35 billion.

  • And so to make a new one may not be possible,

  • versus to rejuvenate an old one

  • might be the best-case scenario.

  • But for the workers,

  • it's not just about saving the military some money.

  • It's also about giving these planes another life.

  • A lot of these airplanes haven't flown

  • for a very long time.

  • I flew a lot of them operationally back in the day.

  • It's great to get back in them and bring them back to life.

  • These airplanes have a lot of stories to tell,

  • and it's wonderful to spend time with them

  • and think about that.

  • There are very few of us military

  • that are lucky enough to be assigned here.

  • It's just a joy to be able to work with these people

  • every day and be around these airplanes.

The 309th AMARG stores the world's

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How The World's Largest Airplane Boneyard Stores 3,100 Aircraft | Big Business

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/26
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