/ Modified mar 10, 2014 2:29 p.m.

Event Provides Rare Glimpse at Military Aircraft 'Boneyard'

Officials at Tucson's Davis-Monthan hosted a 5K and 10K run/walk to educate people about a mostly-off-limits site.


Andrew Turk wants to go to the Air Force Academy...he’s also an athlete. And he was able to combine the two to win a 5K run through the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base last weekend.

Turk and hundreds of other runners had a rare chance to tread between the aircrafts that make up the largest air force fleet in the world, other than the United States Air Force.

The airplane storage site in Tucson, known as “the boneyard,” is the 309th AMARG unit, or Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group. Officials there hosted a 5K and 10K run/walk event March 1 to educate people about a mostly-off-limits site.

“I’ve never actually run through a boneyard like this, it’s really cool,” Turk said after the race, as F-22 jets practiced for an air show overhead. “I’ve taken several tours here with Pima Air and Space Museum and I’ve always wanted to get out of the bus and walk around.”

That’s the point, said Col. Robert Lepper, the commander of the 309th AMARG unit.

“A lot of people know about the boneyard. Very few people understand the boneyard,” Lepper said.

The 2,600-acre site is typically only open to employees and the occasional bus tour. It’s not a place anyone can walk around, so Lepper said he wanted to give people a more intimate look at the site.

This year’s race was the second, another was held in 2013, and Lepper said he wants to make it an annual event.

“We wanted to give people an opportunity to see the vast national treasures that are here,” he said. “Most people hear the term boneyard, and think all that happens is airplanes come here to die, but so much more than that happens here every day.”

By that, he means restoring aircraft so the U.S. government can sell them to other countries’ air force fleets.

“The two biggest purposes are we will regenerate it, we’ll take it back to flyable status. We do that with about 100 airplanes every year,” Lepper said. “Most of those we sell to our allies so they have capable planes they fly all over the world.”

The AMARG employees also use grounded airplanes to keep others in working shape.

“The second use is to reclaim parts,” he said. “Those parts are used to keep aircraft around the world flying, so it’s direct war fighter support...keeps the operation moving for the entire department of defense each and every day.”

Turk and other participants said they hadn’t competed in any events that compared to the scenery of the boneyard.

“I spent quite a bit of time just looking at the airplanes, especially on their heritage row, I stopped about every other plane and took a picture really fast and kept on running,” Turk said.

Runner José Saldamondo said he liked the 5K race so much he’ll be back.

“It was definitely interesting, definitely for next year I’ll do the 10K for sure,” Saldamondo said. “It was definitely interesting. There was a couple of times I actually stopped and looked around at the airplanes. It’s really cool.”

Race entry fees cover cost of holding it, plus the public Fourth of July fireworks celebration the base sponsors every year, said Lt. Erin Ranaweera, with the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Public Affairs office.

Even those who may be expected to have a little more access to the site were in awe of the experience, such as Scota Rawls, who is married to Trey Rawls, the vice wing commander for the 355th Fighter wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

“I think part of what sticks out as you’re running down the various aisle ways is just the history, the years and years of history taking you back and going forward, and how cool it is to be a part of something like that,” she said. “I kept thinking if these airplanes could talk what stories would they tell?”

But even she isn’t able to see the airplanes up close any other day. Like others, she’s taken a bus tour and wanted to get closer to the aircraft.

“I wish they’d let me come out here and do this in the middle of the week,” she said.

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