Ever wondered what happens to decommissioned military planes? Even if you haven't ever considered that question, the answer might surprise you: retired planes go to a massive graveyard in the desert known as The Boneyard. Okay, it's not technically a graveyard... it's a storage and maintenance facility for aircraft and missiles, and it's the sole repository for out-of-service aircraft from all branches of the US government. What this adds up to is a desert field lined with more than 4,000 abandoned military planes, the largest airplane graveyard in the world.
Its official name is the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or the AMARG. It's located on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and has been collecting airplane skeletons since 1946. Tucson's low humidity, small amounts of rain, high altitude and alkaline soil all rust and corrode metal at a slower rate, making it the perfect place for The Boneyard-- plus, since the ground is hard and dry, they didn't have to pave anything to be able to move the planes around.
Some planes are stored here with the intention of using them again, while others are scrapped, but every plane that comes to stay at The Boneyard has its guns, ejection seats, and classified hardware removed. Then the plane is sealed to protect it from the elements. The facility even once processed old ICBMs, dismantling them and reusing some parts for satellite launches. Fun fact: after the START I treaty in the 1990s, this is where 365 B-52 bombers were dismantled. To do this, they originally used a 13,000 pound guillotine-- before transitioning to saws that allowed them more control. Russia verified the process via satellite.
But, the coolest part of The Boneyard is that you don't need a satellite to visit it. Most boneyards, especially military ones, are totally closed to the public, but the AMARG has a special agreement with the nearby Pima Air and Space Museum that lets the museum offer bus tours during weekdays. The highlight of the hour-and-a-half tour for most is "Celebrity Row", where you'll pass by some of the most illustrious planes in the whole graveyard. Note that you now need a reservation ten days in advance in order to go on the tour. Every visitor has to go through security clearance!
Even if you aren't a military history buff, it's still mind-blowing to see the sheer size of the boneyard, and the rusted shells of some of the military's most powerful planes.