I bought this model kit at a Modellers of Ballarat Annual Show on the cheap. I know, I know, you’re sitting there sucking air in through your teeth going, brother we’ve all been there and done that, and yes I know I’ve done it more than once myself. But what I’d read of the kit said that it should be a reasonably good and easy kit to build. It was big, but not too big, and therefore impressive to show off to other people.
My mother always told me that you buy cheap, you buy dear. And while I only spent a few bucks on this kit (I think it was 10 or 15 dollars outright) the amount of time, thought and sweat that went into it to make it something presentable was a valuable learning experience. In the process I remembered why generally I do not make model aircraft. It did cause me to use skills and techniques I’ve learned over the years to take a pile of plastic, polish the turd as is, and turn out something I can be reasonably proud of. Finally it is a unique form of model in that I’ve never seen a build of a boneyard aircraft. Now that you have some context for the model, we’ll take those of you who know nothing about the boneyard for a virtual tour of the place and give you some idea of what they do there.
So, Andrew: what is the boneyard?
I’m glad you asked me about that.
Aircraft modellers deserve to know about this fascinating unit of the United States Air Force. Located within the limits of the city of Tucson, Arizona Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is home to the 355th Fighter Wing of the Twelfth Air Force, part of Air Combat Command (ACC). The base is better known as home to the Air Force Materiel Command’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). This is the place where all excess military and government aircraft go into storage. Mostly to die, other times to be reborn.
AMARG’s establishment in 1946 as the 4105th Army Air Force Base Unit was to house excess B-29 and C-47 aircraft at the end of the Second World War. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s choice as the primary storage site was due to Tucson’s low humidity, infrequent rainfall, alkaline soil, and altitude of 2,550 feet (780m). These factors combined to reduce rust and corrosion. Additionally the hard soil made it possible to move aircraft throughout the facility without having to pave the storage areas.
What happens when aircraft arrive at the Boneyard?
On arrival at AMARG aircraft undergo several processes to safe them before storage:
- All guns, ejection seat charges, and classified hardware are removed,
- The fuel system is protected by draining it, refilling it with lightweight oil, and then draining it again leaving a protective oil film throughout the system, and
- Seals are applied to ensure dust, sunlight, and high temperatures do not degrade the aircraft using a variety of materials including a high-tech vinyl plastic compound called Spraylat (after its producer the Spraylat Corporation) of which there are two coats applied a black spray to block sunlight and a white layer to help with temperature control within the body of the aircraft
When all the steps above are complete a tug moves the plane to its designated “storage” position.
Storage types at AMARG
There are four types of storage for aircraft arriving at AMARG:
- Type 1000 – long-term storage to be maintained until recalled to active service; “inviolate” – these aircraft have a high potential to return to flying status and no parts may be removed from them (All type 1000 units are ‘re-preserved’ every four years
- Type 2000 – available for parts reclamation these ‘aircraft storage bins’ are used for parts to keep other aircraft flying
- Type 3000 – flying hold aircraft are kept in ‘near flyable’ condition in short-term, temporary storage; usually waiting for transfer to another unit, sale to another country, or reclassification to the other three types
- Type 4000 – excess of DoD needs have previously been gutted and every usable part reclaimed; airframes and parts are sold, broken down into scrap, smelted into ingots, and recycled
Now that you know a little about what the boneyard does for aircraft let’s get into the meat of the build and see what went wrong, and how soon that happened. Onto the build – part 1.