Challenged for room in your laydown yard or other surplus storage areas? Imagine the space that the military and commercial airlines require to store their spare aircraft.A sprawling 2,600 acre site on the David-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson is reputed to be the world’s largest military aircraft cemetery, housing over 4,400 aircraft. Dubbed “The Boneyard,” but officially known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the site was chosen by the military because of Tucson’s low humidity, infrequent rainfall, alkaline soil and high altitude of 2,550–2,900 ft (780–880 m), which reduces rust and corrosion. Additionally, the hard soil makes it possible to move aircraft around without having to pave the storage areas. Similar storage fields are located in the desert southwest.
The Tucson facility is spread across a site equivalent in size to 1,430 football fields. AMARG averages an inventory of more than 4,400 aircraft and 40 aerospace vehicles, including nearly every plane the US armed forces have flown since World War II. If operational, this would represent the second largest air force in the world. In addition to being a massive plane park, AMARG is also equipped to refurbish aircraft, returning them to flying status or preparing them to be transported overland.
There are four categories of storage for planes at AMARG:
- Long Term: Aircraft are kept intact for future use Parts Reclamation: Aircraft are kept, picked apart and used for spare parts
- Flying Hold: Aircraft are kept intact for shorter stays than Long Term
- Excess: Aircraft are sold off whole or in parts
An aircraft going into storage undergoes the following treatments:
- All guns, ejection seat charges, or classified hardware are removed.
- The fuel system is protected by draining it, refilling it with lightweight oil, and then draining it again.
This leaves a protective oil film.
- The aircraft is sealed from dust, sunlight, and high temperatures. This is done using a variety of materials including a high tech vinyl plastic compound called spraylat, an opaque white color sprayed on the aircraft, to simple garbage bags. The plane is then towed by a jeep to its designated storage position.
AMARG employs 550 people, almost all civilians. For every $1 the federal government spends operating the facility, it saves or produces $11 from harvesting spare parts and selling off inventory.
The Group annually in-processes an undisclosed number of aircraft for storage and out-processes a number of aircraft for return to the active service, either repainted and sold to friendly foreign governments, recycled as target or remotely controlled drones or rebuilt as cargo planes. There is much scrutiny over who (civilians, companies, foreign governments) and what kind of parts they may buy.
Depending on the demands of the military or for commercial purposes, an aircraft or a whole squadron may be put back into active duty. The aircraft have to be reconditioned and tested so they are safe to fly. The reconditioning process includes putting in new avionics, electronics, updated safety measures plus testing and painting. Not unlike the savings afforded by putting any other surplus equipment back into service, reconditioning of old aircraft is usually a cheaper way of getting more aircraft into service than buying new ones, and saves the United States billions of dollars annually.
Reprinted from ASSET 2.0, the Investment Recovery Business Journal, Vol. 3, 2010
© The Investment Recovery Association