It was in fall of 1962, and President John F. Kennedy was, with furrowed brow, faced with pending executive decisions. Decisions only leaders of the free world truly understand the gravity of. Russian missiles were likely heading for residence in Cuba, and Kennedy had to decide what to do about that. Russian President Khrushchev was in Moscow, curious if the American naval blockade had any bite. The cold war was heating up, and the planet was on the brink of nuclear war.
The problem was clear; America thought Russian missiles had no business being 90 miles off the coast of Key West, but the Russians didn’t understand the fuss, considering America had their own missiles less than 200 miles outside Russia, in neighboring Turkey. There were decisions to be made, and an arms race to be ahead in. As with wars before it, this largely meant owning the skies to subdue the threat of nuclear mayhem.
So many brilliant aircraft, and in turn, incredible technologies, were born out of this threat. B-52s were built really to drop atom bombs on men, women, and children, and the F-14 Tomcat with its AWG-9 radar and Phoenix missile was a response to the need for destroying long range threats. These are machines built to kill, and now you can go and see them in a sort of petting zoo. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group), affectionately called, ‘The Boneyard.’ You can get a feel for it here in this gorgeous time lapse by Andrew Breese, narrated by some honorable men who flew some of the aircraft in battles that have helped shape your life.
The Boneyard is just outside Tucson in Arizona, and has the nickname ‘Boneyard’ because this is largely where US military aircraft come when they are no longer needed. The climate is suited perfectly to maintenance as it’s dry, and the soil is very alkaline, which assures the aluminum of the airframes withstand the tests of time. But here, the aircraft’s fates are all different, and volatile. Some are to be sold, but most are to be scrapped. Some, of the thousands have been drained of hyds and fluids, and fitted with spraylat in such a way that, if the need came about, they could be operational in days. It’s all amazing, but the vastness, and the history, makes it haunting, and beautiful.
Accessing the Boneyard isn’t the simplest of feats. Peter Lik recently released a series of photos he took there, and I was informed by one of his employees that it took him months to be granted the access he required. So, the vast views you see here in the timelapse are not easy to come by. Which is sad since AMARG is so well suited for many types of photography, such as long exposures and timelapses. It covers such a tremendous space, with almost 5,000 aircraft, and at night there is little to no ambient light. It’s also one of the few places you can go and see the destruction of these aircraft.
You may wonder why this is important as they are ‘just’ aircraft. Thing is, they’re not. These aircraft have souls, and the men and women who flew and serviced them are inextricably linked to these wings and rudders, and ailerons. It’s also one of the only places I can think of where you can see destruction as something really symbolic. What you’re watching when a massive guillotine drops and destroys one of these planes, is yet another piece of the nuclear puzzle being pulled apart. The machines that were built for a purpose, served it well and are no longer needed. There’s nobility in that.