The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard

Visting the Airplane Boneyard at the Puma Air and Space Museum

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.

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
The Pima Air and Space Museum has one of the largest collections of military aircraft, anywhere in the world.

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
Aircraft are stored in the boneyard in various stages of decommissioning.

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!

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
Aircraft in the boneyard come from all branches of the military.

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.

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
The Air Forces largest workhorse, the C-5 Galaxy, has its own parking area.
The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
My personal favorite, the F-15 Eagle, also has a place in the boneyard.

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 Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
There’s not much left to these helicopters

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 Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
Bring an umbrella and a hat when you venture out onto the expansive exterior parts of the museum.

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 Word War II.

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
The museum’s hangars are jam packed with air and space equipment throughout the decades

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.

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard
Jim’s first job in the Air Force was maintaining the B-52D, maybe even this one right here!

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.

The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft BoneYard

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.

Have you been to the Aircraft Boneyard or the Pima Air & Space Museum?

Save the Aircraft Boneyard for later!

Visiting Tuscon? Go to the Military Aircraft Boneyard. You won't regret it!

21 thoughts on “The Not So Hidden Secret of the Aircraft Boneyard”

  1. Brett Stratton

    I remember my cousin telling me that he was taking several F15s to the boneyard. They had most of the electronics removed of course, but it always bothered me that such a beautiful bird was going to the boneyard to die. (Probably) Can you imagine all of our countries hero’s who built, serviced flew these planes? My hats and hearts to them all. Thank you.
    Visiting the boneyard is #1 on my bucket list.

    1. I spent hundreds of hours prepping B52s for the boneyard, seeing those same tail numbers there on our visit was very powerful. Thanks for visiting our site!

  2. What a cool find! It would such a treat to see all the experimental aircraft the the rows and rows of aircraft outside, even if you can’t get off the bus. I’m adding this to my to do list!

  3. As a certified plane nut, this is my padded cell right here! I’ll aim to be admitted next time I’m in Arizona – though that could be a while, given the fact that the SA government is now being run by a circus.

    I’ve visited Seattle’s Museum of Flight and of course the Smithsonian’s amazing establishments, and the thought of five hangars full of historic old planes is exciting.

    RAF Duxford near Cambridge is another place that has an awesome collection, including a hangar full of American aircraft that, like Pima, may be touched and photographed intimately.

  4. the military service also goes back generations in my family, and my hubby’s, so it’s safe to say, I love this.
    Also, I’ve seen plenty of aerial photos of this place but never on the ground. Very cool.

  5. As a certified plane nut, I would have been over the moon. I had no idea they run tours. Must venture out that way on a solo trip. My wife would roll her eyes at the notion.

    But your post is the next best thing. Fascinating photos!

  6. I’ve never been here and I’ve visited a lot of airplane museums/collections. I like all of the outdoor space for the boneyard. I feel like few flight museums allow you such great access to crafts.

  7. This is a cool place I had to skip (sadly) when I visited Tucson. My husband likes planes too (we have visited airplane related museums like the one in Palm Springs) and said he would like to take flying lessons (I am not sure I will ride with him).

  8. I have never been here but I once tried. Hubby had a vague knowledge of this place and though he saw it from the highway. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right place. Some of those planes (like the F-15s) look very modern so I’m surprised they are here.

  9. I’m also a plane fanatic and when I was a bit younger I’d hang out at a park right next to the airport in Montreal to watch the planes coming in for a landing. I’m still crazy about planes and would love getting this tour (although being stuck in the bus kind of sucks).
    We were recently in Belgrade where they had a really interesting plane museum featuring mostly military planes and helicopters.
    Nice post.
    Frank (bbqboy)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top