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Tucson Aviation History

Arizona's excellent weather has always made it a popular place for flying.  When World War II demanded that pilots be trained at top speed, dozens of training fields were built all over Arizona. After the war, Davis-Monthan survived as an active base, now training pilots in tank- killing A-10's. The dry desert air facilitates the storage of idle planes and there are lines of huge commercial jets stored at Pinal Air Park about 25 miles north of Tucson just off I-10.

Because of the dry desert climate Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has become the final resting place for much of the finest Air Force in the world. It is amazing to see line after line of behemoth B-52's with their shark fins towering above the other planes just baking in the sun. Even more amazing is to see dozens of the F-14 Tomcats, the star of the movie Top Gun, sitting idle.

Many planes are sold to foreign governments to recoup some of their cost.  Many more are cannibalized for parts.

On a more cheerful note, the dry air has also attracted the best collection of aircraft in the world at the Pima Air Museum. This phenomenal facility just keeps getting better. Not to be missed.

Davis-Monthan Aircraft Boneyard
This is truly an astounding sight, especially when you consider that many of the 4,000 planes you are looking at cost more than a good-sized high school. There is also a sadness contemplating the individualized markings the pilots and crews bestowed on their "birds" which now sit moldering in the desert. Bring your binoculars.

If you park at the northwest corner of Kolb and Escalante, you can walk along the fence on Kolb Road and get a good view of the newer planes on the right.  There are ranks of F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers that were workhorses in Vietnam. Farther on you may be looking at F-111's that were dropping ordinance over Libya only a few short years ago.  F-14's that were streaking through the night skies over Baghdad recently are now providing shade for prairie dogs.

Drive east from Kolb along Irvington and you will see the lines of B-52's in the distance. Don't worry, you can see one up close at the Pima Air Museum. This is a guarded military facility so do not get ideas about getting closer to the planes than the fence.

The Davis-Monthan Aircraft Boneyard is located in the south part of town.  To reach it, drive south on Kolb Road to Escalante (the next main road after Golf Links) and turn right (west). You will be on the northern boundary of the base and will be able to see the rows of planes through the fence. You can also see the planes as you drive south on Kolb, but you cannot stop on this busy street to look. If you are coming from I-10 or from the Pima Air Museum to the south, you will turn left off of Kolb onto Escalante.

Pima Air Museum
It truly is something special when you pull into the parking lot. Looming over the south edge of the lot is an enormous black B-52 looking like the angel of death, as indeed it was.  Big, simple (compared to today's billion-dollar bombers) and very powerful, this bomber has enforced the price of war in foreign skies for over forty years. It is still in service. Called the "Buff" by its pilots and crews because of its toughness and heavy buffalo-like appearance it has a firm place in aviation history.

Entering the museum you pass under an enormous Sikorsky "Skyhook" helicopter perching 20 feet off the ground like a metallic preying mantis. Inside, you pass through a large gift shop and into the indoor aircraft exhibit.  Exhibited are the beautiful and the bizarre including the "Busy Bee", the world's smallest airplane for manned flight.

The heart of the museum is the extensive outdoor collection of aircraft spreading over many acres and including the most famous aircraft of military aviation history.

Right out the back door you are confronted with the fantastic SR-71 "Blackbird" Recently retired after setting a speed record for coast-to-coast flight of 65 minutes, this aircraft is awe- inspiring. Designed like a flying daggers, its leading edges are knife-like and taper only slightly as the lines blend back to the two gargantuan jet engines.  Jetstars, Flying Fortresses, VooDoos, Tigercats, Hustlers and Shooting Stars share the grounds with Cargomasters, Hueys, Trackers, Beavers and Flying Boxcars. There is a Constellation used by President Eisenhower and Korean Mig fighters. An X-15 shares the indoor space exhibit with missiles produced locally at the Hughes plant.

To reach the museum, you drive south on Kolb Road, turn right (west) at Valencia Road and drive to the museum entrance. If you are starting from I-10, get off at the Valencia Road exit and go east to the museum entrance. The address of the museum is 6000 E. Valencia Road.

Titan Missile Museum
Another unique bit of aviation history is operated by the museum in Green Valley about 20 miles south of Tucson on I-19. A Titan IBM missile silo, complete with missile in place, has been turned into a museum.  Open to the public every day except Christmas, hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, last tour at 4:00 pm.


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