US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts

a 10 amarc  US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts(Image: Ed Siasoco, cc-3.0)

The mighty US Air Force is set to lose around 200 aircraft from its 4,000-strong fleet, in the latest round of Obama administration budget cuts. It’s unclear which planes will be axed but they’re likely to be mainly older models (some active jets – although heavily upgraded – have been flying since the 1980s).

amarc  US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts(Image: Tom Brandt, cc-sa-3.0)

Meanwhile, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), also known as the most expensive defense programme ever, is still some way from active deployment, and the Air Force’s efforts to replace the B-2 Spirit with a Next Generation Bomber (NGB) remains on the cards.

amarc mothballed aircraft  US Set to Lose Hundreds of Planes in Pentagon Budget Cuts(Images: Alaskan Dude, cc-3.0)

Find out more at Danger Room. Since Wired used an image of a banged-out MiG-21 to illustrate the coming cuts to US military aircraft, we thought we’d leave you with these images of defunct American jets. Last year we reported that the number of aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan AFB, also known as AMARG or the Boneyard, had diminished. Now, it seems, the number is set to once again increase.

Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

AMARG  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?(All images via Google Earth)

Officially titled the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) but known simply as “the Boneyard”, this vast collection of surplus military aircraft in Tucson, Arizona is without doubt the largest plane graveyard in the United States.  But according to a March 2011 Google Earth overview, there’s evidence that the “second largest air force in the world” is shrinking rapidly.

AMARG 2  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

This February 2010 article on Treehugger revealed a plane graveyard with barely an empty parking space available.  But it’s changed dramatically over the past year, as dwindling aircraft numbers reflect the return to service of some and scrapping of others.  Roughly 87 massive B-52 bombers survive in the Boneyard, with around half cut-up to satisfy treaty obligations.

AMARG 3  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

F-4 Phantom numbers have also declined, with many of the stored Vietnam-era warplanes returned to service for use as target drones, while an ongoing process of regeneration and recycling has seen other Boneyard occupants give up the ghost.  But even if the massive 2,600 acre (four square mile) site no longer houses 4,200 aircraft, it’s still one of the most impressive aircraft facilities on the planet.

AMARG 4  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

More to the point, when the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter eventually enters service, AMARG will once again be filled to capacity with a new crop of redundant F-16s and F-18s, among other older airframes.  For the aviation enthusiast – or anyone that wants to be awestruck – a tour of the Boneyard is available from the Pima Air & Space Museum, adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World

abandoned f 4 phantom  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Image: cgull123, all rights reserved)

While they’re a sad sight to the aviation enthusiast, there’s something eerily fascinating about abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards. Whether it’s the sight of yesterday’s cutting edge technology rusting away in the boneyards of the present, or the rich history surrounding military forces and hardware in general, plane graveyards make for great exploring – in this case from the safety of your PC. In this article we examine eight boneyards that highlight present conflicts and past epochs.

MiG-23 Graveyard, Balad, Iraq

MiG 23 graveyard  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: dokmarius (left), cc-nc-sa-3.0; nathanm, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

This ruinous plane graveyard reflects the fate of Iraq’s air force following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Dragged from various hiding places around the former Balad Air Base (now Joint Base Balad), these dilapidated MiG-23s represent an air force that barely got off the ground in the wake of invasion. Lying amid other junk in a neglected airplane boneyard, the abandoned MiGs have been looted by coalition forces and look more like pieces of urban art than once operational aircraft. Explore more of the Balad plane graveyard.

The Famous “A1 Lightning”, Balderton, UK

lightning xn728 balderton  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Image: Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK, all rights reserved)

Speaking of urban art, this English Electric Lightning F.2A is easily Britain’s most famous derelict fighter plane. The Cold War warrior appeared in a haulage yard near Balderton, Nottinghamshire in 1983, after battle damage repair duties at RAF Coningsby. Bought to attract customers to the yard almost 30 years ago, the Lightning has somehow survived despite changes of ownership and periods of dereliction.

derelict lightning f2a balderton  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Simon Thomas; Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK, all rights reserved; David Cowling, cc-sa-3.0)

Despite it’s terrible condition, the abandoned aircraft has become a landmark to drivers on the A1 road and was even the subject of a Paul Smith clothing line. With restoration looking increasingly unlikely, some have called for the jet to be turned into a piece of urban art – if it isn’t already. All in all, the Lightning remains something of an enigma. Personal enquiries to owners past and present yielded few details other than an dogged refusal to give it up. RAF Binbrook, the Lightning’s spiritual home, is also abandoned today.

Russian Aircraft Wrecks

abandoned russian aircraft  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Igor W. Minaichenkov and Vladimir Nazarov, via English Russia)

In the world of plane graveyards and abandoned aircraft, the wilds of Russia and vast expanses of Siberia hold a treasure trove of forgotten Soviet hardware. While the workhorse TU-95 Bear and TU-22M Backfire bombers have seen a resurgence in recent years, it’s unlikely the rusting hulks above ever saw regeneration. While many have doubtless been scrapped since these photographs were taken, some likely remain on their weed-infested dispersals due to the sheer remoteness of the region.

Moscow Aircraft Museum – Plane Graveyard, Russia

plane graveyard moscow  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Eldan Goldenberg (website), NC-SA-2.0)

Siberia isn’t the only place to take in Russian aircraft wrecks. Silently guarding the last overgrown dispersals of a Moscow airfield, this collection of corroding jets and helicopters looks more like a plane graveyard than a functioning museum. It’s a curious site amid a rapidly redeveloping area of Moscow, as decaying Soviet hardware meets modern Russia.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, United States

davis monthan aircraft boneyard  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Roger Smith, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

The most famous aircraft boneyard in the world is a mind-blowing facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where over 4,400 silent fighters, bombers, transports, helicoptors and attack jets make up the world’s second largest air force. From F-4s and F-14s to chopped B-52s and B-1Bs, this is where America’s retired military airborne hardware comes to wait – for recycling, reactivation or spares use.

davis monthan airplane graveyard  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Roger Smith, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

While the B-52s and F-14s are being destroyed to honour treaty agreements, many F-4s will fly again, only to be shot down as target drones over the western bombing ranges. That said, here’s one F-4 Phantom that escaped both the scrapman and the missiles. For more desert plane graveyards of the western United States, check out this article by Ransom Riggs writing on Mental Floss.

Rinkaby Shooting Range, Sweden

rinkaby saab draken  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Andreas Mathiasson, all rights reserved)

In a plane graveyard located in a distant corner of the former Rinkaby military airfield in Sweden, a group of seemingly abandoned Saab 35 Draken fighter planes stand amid other decaying hardware. Ranging from fully intact to twisted metal fuselage remains, the aircraft do not currently appear to be used in live fire exercises but their future is far from certain. Find out more about Rinkaby and its abandoned Saab Drakens.

Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards of the Middle East

plane graveyard middle east  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Jim Garamone; Bahamut0013, cc-sa-3.0; U.S. Marine Corps; jamesdale10, cc-3.0; U.S. Army)

Due to ongoing instability and conflict, parts of the Middle East are littered with abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards. The top two images depict an airplane boneyard known as “the petting zoo” at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Like Balad’s MiG-23 graveyard, the battered jets have been rounded up from hiding places across the base. Many were probably unservicable before the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. The wrecked MiG-29 (bottom) was destroyed during Operation Desert Storm and has lain in the desert ever since.

Predannack Plane Graveyard, UK

abandoned harrier predannack  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: cgull123, all rights reserved; Dave Bellamy, all rights reserved)

In an extensive tribute to the Harrier jump jet on our companion site Urban Ghosts, we explored this plane graveyard at Predannack Airfield on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula. Operated by the Royal Navy, the derelict airframes, including several Harriers, appear reasonably intact despite ominously belonging to the Royal Naval School of Fire Fighting. Only time will tell how long they survive…