Not just a Boneyard: Looking back at my visit to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)
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Not just a Boneyard: Looking back at my visit to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG)

Aug 23, 2023

In 2019, I was selected to be a member of the U.S. Air Force Sustainment Center Civic Leadership Program (CLP). I have never forgotten lessons learned on that excursion.

This was especially meaningful to me, my uncle Auston Blankenship proudly served in the United States Air Force for twenty-eight years and logged 24,000 flight hours. Six members of the CLP program had the opportunity to travel to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona – also known as "The Boneyard."

On the day of our recent tour, Tucson treated us to a beautiful morning, filled with desert blooms and cool breezes. From my hotel window, I could see different types of aircraft along with monuments.

As I strolled through the area, I saw the following message "Peace is our Profession." Those words stuck with me, and I will remember the phrase for the rest of my life.

As we entered through a special secondary security gate, the marquee flashed a personalized welcome sign.

Our bus took us past static bombers, fighters, cargo planes, helicopters and more on the way to the low-slung buildings that contain the administrative support of AMARG.

Colonel Neil Aurelio, AMARG commander, met us at the 309th Headquarters, and gave us an overview of what many know as the Boneyard. We soon learned that it is so much more. It covers 2,600 acres and holds about 80 different types of 3,000 aircraft.

In 1946, Tucson was chosen for the storage of aircraft because of its low humidity and the strong sub-soil known as "caliche," which is soil that has been naturally cemented together and is strong enough to keep the tons of aircraft from sinking into the earth.

In 1964, the Secretary of Defense designated AMARG as the sole storage, reclamation and disposal management for the Department of Defense, and today it houses aircraft from not only the Air Force, but the Navy, Marines, Army, Space Force, NASA, Homeland Security, Forest Service, Smithsonian Institute, National Science Foundation and the FBI.

Lt. Gen. Stacey Hawkins, Air Force Sustainment Center commander, stated that there are various reasons for an aircraft to be retired, and that classification helps identify which is still valuable for its parts.

For example, the recently retired E-3 out of Oklahoma's Tinker Air Force Base was sent to AMARG in order to keep the other E-3s serviced while we wait for the next generation of radar planes.

(And if you’ve seen the new E-7s, you have to be as impressed by them as we our group.)

Once an aircraft comes to AMARG, it is divided into one of the four categories of storage, anywhere from ‘Do Not Touch’ to ‘Reclaim Until Disposed’; stripped of its fluids; washed; and sealed. After that, it is covered in two layers of a rubber-type coating to preserve it.

If the aircraft is called back into service, the coating is peeled away to access the part that is needed. The majority of the aircraft are classified as Reclaim Until Disposed, making them easily accessible for parts.

But back to the reclamation process, which is what AMARG is about. As we rode through the many acres, Col. Aurelio shared that they receive about 6,000 reclamation requests each year from all over the world.

This process requires identifying which aircraft has that functioning part, pulling the requested parts, cleaning, verifying and inspecting the part, then packaging and shipping to the customer, wherever they may be.

Aurelio shared that they have cut the process down from one week to one day!

What they do at the Boneyard has saved taxpayers more than $3 billion over the past 10 years, all by reusing various parts of retired aircraft.

While on our tour of one of the three massive hangers, we met a packaging artist who hand-sculpts the material used to support wings being sent across the Atlantic Ocean. Once safely there, the wing can be used to repair a fighter plane in the field.

If not for her skill, these wings could arrive damaged, slowing down our readiness to defend our democratic Republic.

In addition to reclaiming parts, the 309th has a 3,000 square foot covered maintenance space where they work on anything from a C-130 to a T-38. While we were touring, we were able to watch the technicians work on row after row of F-16 Falcons.

We also noticed some wooden platforms in the rafters and found out that they serve as nests for the Great Horned Owls who have taken up residence in the pavilion. They keep the many desert animals in check, and the crew enjoys watching their families grow.

As we wrapped up our tour of the facility, Lt. Gen. Hawkins and his assistants were able to don protective coveralls and help with the protective coating each aircraft receives during in-processing.

AMARG is already preparing to receive the next generation of aircraft, many of which are manufactured with newer materials and will require updated methods of storage.

I personally witnessed the huge misconception about the boneyard.

Many people have the opinion that the Boneyard is nothing more than a salvage yard, that planes are simply sent there because they no longer have value. The work they are doing is incredible.

Think about your Thanksgiving turkey, everything is cleaned from the carcass with nothing left but the bones.

The personnel at Davis-Monthan clean all of the usable parts from the aircraft, thus saving the tax payers billions of dollars.

The Air Force Sustainment Center is one of six centers in the Air Force Materiel Command. It prepares the Air Force's most sophisticated weapons systems for future competition.

AFSC relies on the people and processes to produce to our promise of providing sustainment and logistics readiness; depot level maintenance; supply chain management and operations; and installation support.

Please join me in saluting the members of the armed forces every day and always remember "Peace is their Profession."

Note: A civic leader and community banker, Mary Blankenship Pointer writes occasionally for The City Sentinel newspaper and other news organizations.

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