Where Planes Go to Die: A Guide to Aircraft Boneyards

Apr 16, 2017

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What happens to planes after they’ve touched down for the last time? Circumstances may vary, but many commercial and military aircraft meet a shared fate in a desert purgatory known as a boneyard, where they’ll basically do one of two things: sit for years, baking under the sun, slowly decomposing as their parts are used for replacements on active aircraft — or wait for another carrier to pick them up and breathe some new life into them.

At their core, boneyards are not graveyards so much as long-term storage facilities. Sitting wingtip to wingtip, planes can remain on permanent pause for months, years and even decades. The arid, dry heat of the desert provides the perfect climate to maintain old airframes since humidity would corrode and rust the metal and plastic materials found in many of these former flying machines.

Airline operators, film crews and tourists often frequent these “boneyards” for parts, repurposing and refurbishment or freight. Consequently, many frames kept at these facilities have missing fragments whether they’re vertical stabilizers, doors, flaps, engines or landing gear, since they’ll be used on active aircraft needing those parts. Note that in-service airplanes also fly into these boneyard airports, which are utilized for their maintenance and refurbishment facilities, and for that reason, nearly all of them remain off limits to the general public. While some airframes have decades of operation behind them, others have fallen victim to defunct airlines and expired contracts — some have even come directly from the manufacturer, still awaiting a buyer.

These boneyards are an AvGeek’s paradise. Where else can you take a trip back in time on such an enormous scale and feast your eyes on dozens of United 727s and KLM MD11s, Lockheed Tristars and DC10s; 747s and B-52s? The most committed visitors photograph the aircraft and registration numbers so they can go home and research each plane’s life story.

And the best part? Most of these sites are located in the deserts of California, Arizona and New Mexico, as you can see in the Google Map above — we’ve also included several outside the US that are worth stopping by if you happen to be anywhere near Bangkok or remote parts of Spain, the Australian Outback or Kyrgyzstan. If you’re planning to visit any of these in person, be sure to obey all warning signs and avoid any restricted areas during your boneyard adventures. Consider this your go-to guide for visiting aircraft boneyards around the world.

In This Post

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (DMA)

  • Where: Tucson, Arizona
  • What’s there: The largest official aircraft boneyard in the world, with more than 4,000 military aircraft parked here, spanning decades-worth of technology and innovation. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, the US military consolidated old aircraft that had been used in conflicts to a single base — even today, military aircraft arrive at Davis-Monthan with plans to sit indefinitely.
  • Open to the public? Yes. Davis-Monthan offers guided tours of the boneyard on a first come, first served basis from the comfort of climate-controlled open-air buses.
  • How to get there: An easy 11-mile drive from Tucson International Airport (TUS); then, drive all the way around the runways to get to the front entrance.
Image courtesy of Melanie Stetson Freeman via Getty Images.
Image courtesy of Melanie Stetson Freeman via Getty Images.

Mojave Air and Space Port (MHV)

  • Where: Mojave, California
  • What’s there: The remains of roughly 1,000 commercial aircraft from around the world, either retired or awaiting re-entry into service. The Mojave Air and Space Port and its nearby industrial park also house research and development testing facilities as well as several companies that work on advanced aerospace design.
  • Open to the public? No, but its website does offer a self-guided driving tour. Some of the best views can be seen from just northeast of Mojave on CA-14, or adjacent to the runways along CA-58.
  • How to get there: From LAX, Mojave is a just little more than 100 miles north, depending on your route — with typical Los Angeles traffic, though, we’d recommend allowing at least 2.5 hours to make the journey.

Kingman Airport (IGM)

  • Where: Mohave County, Arizona
  • What’s there: Built as an aerial gunnery training base on 4,145 acres after handling enormous swaths of WWII era aircraft in the 1940s and 1950s, Kingman has maintained an impressive boneyard that keeps hundreds of aircraft alongside its active maintenance hangars. Although some old warplanes have been scrapped or moved to Davis-Monthan, mentioned above, its largely regional jet collection — which includes planes that once operated for Delta and United, along with some very sleek DHL DC-8s — is a sight to see.
  • Open to the public? No, but historic Route 66 passes right by the airport, and visitors have said pulling over to take photos through the fence is relatively easy — one, in particular, noted that it helped to have a larger vehicle to stand on top of for the best sight lines, but that views would be nice regardless. For more information about the airport or to try and arrange a visit, contact the city of Kingman at 928-757-2134.
  • How to get there: Unless you’re actually flying into Kingman, we’d recommend flying into McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas and driving southeast. The trip is roughly 110 miles, so you should see Kingman a little under two hours after you leave the LAS. If you’re coming from Phoenix, the drive will be closer to three hours.

Southern California Logistics Airport / Victorville (VCV)

  • Where:  Victorville, California
  • What’s there: Alongside its sizable boneyard, Victorville houses active, state-of-the-art painting, maintenance and cargo facilities — it’s called a “logistics airport” after all — and its longest runway is more than 15,000 feet long, capable of handling fully loaded 747s. Pictures reveal VCV has quite the 747 collection, from legendary operators of the type like British Airways and Cathay Pacific. Modern 787s and 777s also frequent the airport for restoration and/or painting.
  • Open to the public? No. Unfortunately, access is restricted and spotting the aircraft from the surrounding area is notoriously difficult. We’ve heard reports of spotters using vehicles that can handle dirt and sand tracks on the northeast end of the airport. Ambitious visitors recommend, if possible, that you hike up near the surrounding houses with some binoculars or take a ride in a small prop plane for the best views. Others warn of squatters and even gangs in these abandoned buildings around the airport, so proceed with extreme caution if you choose to set up shop close to these houses.
  • How to get there: Drive just over 100 miles to the northeast of LAX. Allow at least two hours for the trip, with traffic.

Pinal Airpark (MZJ)

  • Where: Marana, Arizona
  • What’s there: Built for the military in the 1940s and former home of secretive CIA operations, Pinal Airpark is one of the largest commercial aircraft storage and heavy maintenance facilities in the world. Like VCV, Pinal maintains an awesome assortment of heavy jets, but also houses aircraft big and small from airlines all over the world: Varig, Hellenic, Surinam Airways, Mexicana, Evergreen and Delta, among others. The boneyard and its associated full-service facilities serve as the airport’s primary function.
  • Open to the Public? Miraculously, yes. Just in the last few years, the airport has opened to the public under Economic Development Director Jim Petty. Those interested in a tour of the grounds are encouraged to call 520-866-6545 with any inquiries.
  • How to get there: Pinal sits just 35 miles northwest of Tucson and about 90 miles southeast of Phoenix. From either city, you can take Interstate 10 to exit 232. From there, drive the last four miles to MHZ.

Roswell International Air Center (ROW)

  • Where: Roswell, New Mexico
  • What’s there: Originally built as an Air Force base during WWII, Roswell closed in the late 1960s after serving B-52, B-47s and other classics. Several years later, the airfield reopened as a multipurpose air center, and today operates active repair and refurbishing facilities on the premises. Along with numerous UFO and supposed alien sightings, Roswell has developed its own boneyard full of aircraft from all over the world. ROW serves as American Airlines’ preferred storage and retirement facility, which explains the airport’s impressive collection of MD-80s and 757s. The inventory here changes from time to time, but like other boneyards, some of its oldest planes have been here for years.
  • Open to the public? No, but contact the on-site Walker Aviation Museum for more information. Although it’s not technically affiliated with the active boneyard, the museum offers guests the opportunity to visit the site and ask employees about the best plane spotting areas nearby.
  • How to get there: Roswell Air Center is located about five miles south of central Roswell, which is three hours southeast of Albuquerque (ABQ). Or you can fly there — Envoy Air and Skywest operate service to Roswell (ROW) from Dallas (DFW) and Phoenix (PHX) for American Airlines.

Phoenix Goodyear Airport (GYR)

  • Where: Goodyear, Arizona
  • What’s there: Another airport built in the 1940s for WWII aircraft in the American Southwest, Goodyear once kept 5,000 (mostly US military) planes on the premises. By the late 1960s, nearly all of them had been scrapped or relocated to Davis-Monthan as part of a Defense Department consolidation effort — Goodyear was designated as a general aviation airport, meant to handle private props and jets. Today, the site remains active, with aircraft repair, storage and refurbishment facilities, and continues to serve general aviation aircraft to alleviate traffic strains at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX). After AirTran was acquired by Southwest, some of its 717s sat at Goodyear until Delta purchased them and introduced them into its fleet. From Continental 737s and Varig 757s to China Southern 777s, freighter MD-11s and an Iberia A340, Goodyear’s storage facility and boneyard shouldn’t be missed.
  • Open to the public? No, but head to the west side of airport along South Bullard Avenue for the best views.
  • How to get there: Located in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear, this is one of the most accessible boneyards in terms of its geographical location — a mere 25 miles west of PHX.

Alice Springs Airport (ASP)

  • Where: Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
  • What’s there: In 2012, Alice Springs Airport became the first official “large-scale” aircraft boneyard located outside the US. As in the States, Australia’s desert and constant dry heat have created the perfect environment for storing and preserving aircraft for extended periods of time.
  • Open to the public? Sort of. ASP is an operational commercial airport, handling daily flights to major Australian cities like Sydney (SYD), Melbourne (MEL), Adelaide (ADL), Brisbane (BNE), Darwin (DRW), Perth (PER) and Ayers Rock Airport in Yulara (AYQ). For inquiries about visits, call 617-3171-4570, or head over to its website.
  • How to get there: Known as a gateway city to the Australian Outback, Alice Springs is remote, but you can still hop a regional flight from any of the cities mentioned above. Otherwise, it might be a fun road trip adventure for #AvGeek explorers wanting to take on the Outback.

Teruel Airport (TEV)

  • Where: Teruel, Spain 
  • What’s there: Teruel Airport, located in the arid central/eastern region of Spain, is home to the largest boneyard in Europe. The site and its nearby maintenance buildings house a surprisingly large number of aircraft from mostly European, Russian and South American carriers — recently defunct Russian airlines UTair and Transaero have parked a sizable portion of their fleets at Teruel indefinitely. It makes sense that the planes are here in Spain and not thousands of miles away in the US, especially considering many of them were not retired due to age, but rather were parked here because their respective airlines had ceased operations. It’s likely some will be leased or purchased, possibly given another opportunity to fly.
  • Open to the public? No, but roads surrounding the airport offer great views of the aircraft that are stored there.
  • How to get there: Teruel is a roughly 100-minute drive northwest of Valencia Airport (VLC), and three hours east of Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD).

Manas International Airport (FRU)

  • Where: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  • What’s there: Right after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, FRU retained 60 Soviet aircraft, a mix of helicopters, airliners, and prop planes. The collection is smaller today, but some of these abandoned airplanes still make up the boneyard that’s adjacent to this Central Asian airport.
  • Open to the public? Not really. Manas International is an active airport, serving over a dozen airlines to major cities like Moscow (DME), St. Petersburg (LED) and Dubai (DXB), but does not offer tours of the Soviet boneyard. If you do happen to pass through FRU, hopefully your flight taxis past, providing a brief boneyard view.
  • How to get there: Located on the premises at FRU. While there are roads that pass by the fields housing the aircraft, at this time we are unsure how accessible they are to the public. As of right now, the view from inside the terminal or out your plane window may be your best bet for spotting these old Soviet flying machines.

Bangkok’s Airplane Graveyard

  • Where: Bangkok, Thailand
  • What’s there: While not an official site, this lot-turned-scrap-yard in Bangkok is perhaps one of the coolest boneyards we know of — this site is truly an airplane graveyard. Located along Ramkhamhaeng Road on the east side of the city, the lot is littered with the remains of two MD-82s and 747s, which may have once belonged to Orient Thai Airlines, as well as oxygen masks, lavatories, strewn metal and enough scattered junk to resemble a real-life crash site.
  • Open to the public? Not really. It’s technically located on private property, but with a little cash in hand, the lot morphs into a park you can explore. Some tourists have reported that up to three families may even use the planes here as shelter, while others may charge visitors a few bucks to take a look around. By our accounts, paying the small fee is worth it — just be respectful of anyone who resides within the aircraft or in any of the nearby homes.
  • How to get there: From BKK, the lot is a 15-20 minute drive, accessible by a ride down Ramkhamhaeng Road or on foot over the adjacent canal. Of course, travel times from other parts of the city will vary based on where you’re coming from.

For more information, including the history of many of the airports listed here, check out this great Airplane Boneyards website. Already seen that one? Try this one, too.

Have you been to an aircraft boneyard? Are there others you’d add to our list? Sound off, below.

Featured image courtesy of John van Hasselt – Corbis via Getty Images.

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