Amazing stories behind planes at Davis-Monthan AFB's boneyard - New York News

Amazing stories behind airplanes at Davis-Monthan AFB's boneyard

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TUCSON, Ariz. -

If you've lived in Arizona any amount of time, you're probably aware that the state is home to one of the largest airplane boneyards in the world at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

But what you may not know is some of the amazing stories behind some of the planes there.

At Davis-Monthan, there are over 2,000 acres filled with 4,000 airplanes from the old to the new, the big and the small.  Each plane came here for a different reason and every plane has a unique history.

"Every airplane has a story and every airplane has a purpose."

Col. Robert Lepper is in charge of the entire boneyard.  He knows these planes inside and out.

"We love the term boneyard.  Why? Because we are literally known around the world by that term, but it is a bit of a misnomer.. it indicates to most people this is a cemetery and all that happens is airplanes come to die.  The nice part is, when people believe that and they make that comment, they open up the opportunity for me to tell them how many other amazing things happen right here at the boneyard."

Some of these planes will fly again --  some will be used for parts for planes still flying -- and for others, this is their final resting place.

Col. Lepper gave us a behind the scenes tour of some of the most unique residents at the boneyard, starting with a C-130. This is the only plane in the world to have been given an honorary Purple Heart. 

The Purple Heart is usually given to military men and women who were injured in battle.  During Vietnam, this plane was shot and sustained damage to its engines and wings. Technicians were able to fix it, but not before receiving another round of mortar fire.

"The crew decided it was in their best interest.. they took off, saved the airplane and landed as quickly as they could at the next location."

A Navy LC-130F was supposed to fly out of Antarctica in 1971, but as it was leaving, there was a mechanical issue.  Because of weather, it was stuck for a long time.

"It was there for 17 years.  It was buried so deep, all you could see was the top of the tail and the tip of three of the props," said Lepper.

The plane was eventually dug out of the snow, repaired and went on to fly another 10 years before retiring here in the warm Arizona sun.

In 1968, it was the golden era of aviation -- Pan Am was the premier airline.  It's the same year this Boeing 707 was built.  That same plane -- now here in the boneyard -- after flying millions of miles to thousands of destinations across the globe.

She's seen better days, but pieces from this plane have been used on countless KC-135s -- the military version of the 707.

Some may look at this -- and see nothing but heaps of metal in the Arizona desert, but these planes give us a rare glimpse into the history of aviation.

Most of these planes will never leave the boneyard again, but their history and their stories -- they'll continue to soar.

Their wings may be engineless, their tanks no longer full of fuel, but after years of flying high, "The stories here are just unbelievable in nature," said Lepper.

Bus tours of the boneyard are available most days from the Pima Air Museum.

Pima Air & Space Museum
AMARG (Boneyard) Tour
6000 E. Valencia Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85756
Facility is located adjacent to the Museum at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
www.pimaair.org

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