July 27, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Arizona, heaven for airplane fans
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The tour guide, a retired Navy pilot, explained that AMARG has four categories of planes in its collection: those in short-term storage that can still fly; those in storage for more than four years, which may still be flyable; those being stored for parts; and those in final disposition, meaning they're being scrapped out or sent off to museums, VFW posts or schools.
The guide also explained something I should have known but never did: the letter-designation system for American military planes.
It goes like this: A is for attack; B is for bomber; C is for cargo; D is for drone; F is for fighter; T is for trainer; P is for patrol; and so on. That explained a lot, actually, as I had always wondered what names like the F-15, or A-6 meant. Now I know.
We drove and drove and the guide pointed out hundreds of planes on either side of the bus.
Sometimes they were in long rows, with hundreds of the same plane lined up like soldiers. There is also a "celebrity row," which includes some of the more famous aircraft on the facility.
These included an FA-18A Hornet--a mainstay of U.S. military air superiority for years, which was covered in canvas. The guide explained that most of the planes at AMARG have all their windows and openings covered in a latex paint, but that doing so is expensive. The canvas cover is far less costly, he said.
There was an F-100 Super Saber, which the guide said was the first plane in service to go supersonic in level flight; an F-106, an all-weather interceptor aircraft in service from the 1960s through the '80s; a WB-57, which is a NASA spy plane, the guide suggested; and an F-111 Aardvark low-altitude strategic bomber. I'm not sure why it is an "F" plane when it should be a "B." But who am I to quibble?
Oddly placed among these stalwarts of U.S. military air power was the first Boeing 727 ever delivered to United Airlines. It looked oddly familiar, but also very beat up--not a surprise, since it dates back to 1963 and has been sitting at AMARG for years.
Finally, we went through row after row of the scrapped planes. Hundreds of them. Old B-1 Lancers. Then, C-5 Galaxies, the biggest plane ever used by the U.S. military, and the third largest plane ever flown.
Ultimately, the guide explained, AMARG is a profit center. With its maintenance facilities and its business selling planes and parts, AMARG is able to turn every million dollars it spends on planes into $22 million in revenue. Not bad at all, and in its history, it has sold $1 billion in planes and $600 million in parts.
Then, sadly, the bus left AMARG and took us back to the parking lot at the museum. It was a bittersweet moment. I wanted more. But then again, after seeing almost 5,000 planes in about three hours, even I was a little airplaned out.
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