One of Arizona’s most mysterious and fantastic sights is the aircraft boneyard of the Pima Air and Space Museum. If you love airplanes, the military, and just quirky types of things this is an activity for all ages.
I love airplanes! For a brief period, until my money ran out, I took flying lessons when I was 15 years old. I loved being in control, soaring through the air (C’mon I know you are surprised!) I loved the feeling that I could go anywhere. In fact, I clocked up a few hours on a small Piper Cub prop plane, but never soloed, maybe someday. To be honest, I was afraid of the landing part. Such a chicken!
However, I do have a love for all kinds of aircraft, and I love an air show, a transportation museum, all of it. So, on our Tucson itinerary, I was really excited to visit the Puma Air and Space Museum so I could check the rows and rows of retired military planes at the aircraft boneyard off of my bucket list.
Maybe because of my love of planes, I also have a long history with the United States Air Force. My dad was enlisted while I was growing up and we moved from base to base, always hearing the sounds of the jet engines overhead. Just like many folks, we used to head out to the airfield and watch them take off, scream by in high speed turns, or just practicing their touch and goes. I loved the Air Force life and enlisted myself not long after high school to become an aircraft electrician where I worked on helicopters, cargo planes, and jet fighters. That was fun!
A Visit to the Airplane Boneyard
So, last summer we were finally going to Tucson, Arizona. I’d never been before and had wanted to go ever since I first heard that there was a place that old, dead airplanes were laid to rest called, in Air Force slang, “the Boneyard.” As you drive through this part of Tucson, you can occasionally glimpse the tails of aircraft poking up above the earthen berm that lines the road. There are some places where you can actually see a part of the boneyard, rows upon rows, of plastic encapsulated planes. The boneyard seems to be a massive collection, hidden in plain view.
What most people don’t know, is that you can visit the boneyard, even if you are just a regular civilian. In order to access the Boneyard, unless you have been granted access through military channels, you must go to the Pima Air & Space Museum, located on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and sign up for the tour. Then you can climb on the bus with 25 or so fellow enthusiasts and go for a cruise around the boneyard. Unfortunately, as it’s an active military area, you are not even allowed to get off the bus at all, but even still it’s an impressive sight.
The Aircraft Boneyard has approximately 5,000 planes and helicopters in its inventory which changes daily; it’s impossible not to be awestruck by the sheer size and numbers of the aircraft. As we were riding by the huge fields full of just about every kind of winged vehicle imaginable, I recognized some of my favorites like the huge C-5s as well as smaller jet fighters like the F-15s, all lined up wing to wing. I was wonderstruck, and a part of me, hearkening back to those flight line days, wanted to jump off the bus and go really explore.
The Pima Air & Space Museum
The tour over, the bus took us back to the main part of the museum which was impressive in its own right. Even though the main reason I was there was for the boneyard, I couldn’t help but love the five hangars full of historical and experimental aircraft, with two full hangars dedicated to World War II.
The exhibits were full of information; many were interactive, and you could even climb in some of the static displays. The outdoor area was just like walking among the aircraft as if they were still in commission. You could get up close, even touch them, and feel dwarfed by their immense sizes.
Pima Air and Space Museum – Practical Information
- Take exit 267, Valencia Rd, off I-10 and follow the brown signs to Pima Air and Space Museum.
- Sign up for the boneyard tour immediately after arrival, as seats are first come first served.
- Plan on 4 to 5 hours for your visit. This includes time to explore the hangars and grounds of the museum and the 1.5 hour long boneyard tour.
- Be mindful of the weather. In winter dress in layers including a light jacket. In summer, dress for the heat, wear a hat, and sunscreen. Wear comfortable shoes, you will be doing lots of walking.
- Plan your museum visit carefully, alternating between indoors and outdoors exhibits.
- The Flight Grill, located in the museum, is an excellent option for lunch or an early afternoon dinner.
- The Pima Air & Space Museum website has all the information you need.
It was easy to spend quite a few hours there, so we took advantage of the museum café and had some great burgers. We also couldn’t stop ourselves from buying a few souvenirs at the shop. If you plan to be in Tucson, not only do we highly recommend the Pima Space & Air Museum, but while you are there sign up for the bus tour of the Boneyard. You’ll love it.
Have you been to the Aircraft Boneyard or the Pima Air & Space Museum?
Save the Aircraft Boneyard for later!