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MASDC, AMARC, AMARG… Some Snapshots in Time; Fighters Part 1

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Not sure what these acronyms stand for? Here’s a more common nickname for these titles – the Boneyard. As in today’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (that’s AMARG), which occupies a large parcel of land on Tucson AZ’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Most of the U.S. military’s surplus aircraft are stored here, either for future use or for reclamation in one form or another. Some Federal Agencies store surplus civilian aircraft here too, and museums hold some of their recent acquisitions here in the Sonoran Desert. More than 4,000 planes are usually on hand at any one time.

Where did the acronyms come from? The site was originally home to a municipal airport that began operations in 1927. Davis-Monthan Field was named after a pair of Tucson military aviators who lost their lives in air crashes. The airport shared military and civilian flight operations until just before World War II, when the airport became the Tucson Army Air Field and civilian operations ended. Later, just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the airport was renamed the Davis-Monthan Army Air Field and bomber training missions began while the U.S. entered the Second World War.

Post war, the Army ceased training, and set up the 4105th Army Air Force Unit to facilitate the storage of surplus C-47 and B-29 aircraft on land adjacent to the air field.
In 1948 with the establishment of the U.S. Air Force, the Field was renamed the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the storage function became known as the 3040th Aircraft Storage Depot, for Air Force and Army aircraft. In 1965, the facility was renamed again, as the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC). With the name change came the need to store almost 500 additional aircraft when the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard moved their mothballed aircraft from Goodyear AZ’s NAS Litchfield Park lots. In 1985, the Center was renamed the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC). Finally, with a change in its higher command structure, the organization became the present-day 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in 2007.

This is the first in a series of Classic Warbirds presentations about the storage facility, with short articles with lots of photos. Groups will contain fighters, bombers, transports, reconnaissance/special use, and trainers. As our modern military trims aircraft from its operational fleet and retires entire weapons systems from its arsenal, we’ll look back at those types that are gone from the skies forever. Keep coming back every few weeks for a new series.

This batch is from the MASDC days when fighters, especially the F-100 and F-106, were being turned into pilotless drones for full-scale aerial target duties. It was during this time that transition from Century Series fighters to the F-15 and F-16 occurred, and the Navy and Marines transitioned from F-4s to F-14s and F-18s too.

Ken Kula

 

Warbirds at the 2014 Reno Air Races

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The 51st National Championship Air Races brought a large number of warbirds to the Nevada desert. Some competed in the air, some competed on the ground, while others were just displayed to honor their military heritage.

The races have always attracted a fair amount of veteran aircraft, especially since three of today’s race classes (Jet, T-6 and Unlimited) are almost exclusively flown using retired military aircraft. Especially with the Unlimited class, airframe and powerplant modifications, plus the eye-catching color schemes may not yield faithful reproductions of past glories. However, at the plane’s core it’s still a warbird – however customized. Easily half of the warbirds at Reno this year were racers; here’s a primer of what each of these three classes attracted.

The T-6 Class has strict rules on modifying North American AT-6, SNJ, or Harvard racers. The airframes and powerplants remain strictly stock; the filling of airframe gaps and polishing is allowed but the Pratt and Whitney radial engines can’t be modified past the original manufacturer’s tolerances on components.

The Jet Class limits participation by aerodynamic design and powerplant, allowing “participation by any non-after-burning jet with less than 15° of wing sweep”. A few attempts with aerodynamic enhancements – like wingtip vortex fences – were noted this year. A sole SIAI-Marchetti S.211 joined Aero Vodochody L-29s and L-39s, and a PZL TS-11 Iskra trainer in the air. All of these are former military training aircraft.

The Unlimited Class requires a piston engine as the sole source of propulsion, but after that, pretty much anything goes. Some aircraft look very stock while others are barely recognizable from their former selves. Fighter aircraft find favor in this class as their speed and airframe strength are desired as building blocks to make the ultimate Unlimited racer. This year, multiple Sea Furies and Mustangs were joined by single examples of YAK-11, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, and F4U Corsair fighters. Add another warbird into the mix… race starter Steve Hinton flew a T-33 while sorting out the airborne participants.

There were two other venues at the2014 Races where warbirds assembled. The Commemorative Air Force displayed a trio of flyable World War II standouts: a Zero, Hellcat, and Spitfire, plus an F8F Bearcat too. In the pits was a private Hawker Sea Fury too.

The National Aviation Heritage Invitational drew an abundance of warbirds, all in pristine condition, to the show. Aircraft with civil and military backgrounds are judged by experts and spectators alike, competing for trophies in 6 classes including Warbirds, Large Aircraft and the People’s Choice. Rick Clemens’ North American A-26C Invader won the Large Aircraft award this year, beating out a PV-2 Harpoon and C-47. Brian Reynolds’ FG-1D Corsair won the Military award, as well as the People’s Choice trophy.

There were some rare sights in the NAHI compound… a Bell AH-1G Cobra shared the ramp with an OV-10B Bronco. A pre-World War II F3F-2 replica biplane fighter wore the markings of the U.S. Marines. Trainers, and a Lockheed Orion monoplane – painted as an Army Air Corps transport, gleamed in the sun.

To be sure, the National Championship Air Races’ allure of noise and speed is a no-brainer, but as a warbird aviation show the event presents quite a showcase of former military hardware too.

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Warbirds Nest in Anchorage

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Alaska has quite a number of warbirds that still earn their keep carrying freight and passengers. If you spend a few days around Alaskan airports, you’ll hear and see retired military transports such as Douglas C-118 Liftmasters (DC-6), C-47/R4D/C-117 Skytrains (DC-3), DHC U-6/L-20 Beavers, and even the odd Curtiss C-46 Commando. Imagine my surprise though when I drove by the ramp at Anchorage’s Merrill Field and spied a few trainers and even a fighter in the distance.

Honestly, the first airplane that caught my attention wasn’t a warbird at all, but a bright orange, rather ungainly-looking monoplane – Alaska Air Museum’s American Airplane and Engine Pilgrim 100B, still wearing its original NC709Y registration. After hastily (and carefully, I might add…) reversing course, I pulled into a parking lot and there sat a number of warbirds near the Pilgrim; a pair of silver T-6s, a yellow Harvard, and – wait – was that a Zero replica? Looking closer, I was amazed to gaze upon an actual Mitsubishi Zero. As I walked up to the chain link fence, a pilot driving through an exit gate mentioned that I could probably get on the ramp for photos if I asked someone inside the adjacent hangar. And so I did, and the door opened for me to the Wings of Freedom Alaska Flying Museum.

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Reading, PA WWII Weekend

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“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”   President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke those immortal words nearly seventy-three years ago and again, reenacted by Delmas P. Wood, in Reading, PA in remembrance of World War Two.

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum holds its annual World War II Weekend and Air Show the first weekend in June.  This year marked the Museum’s twenty-fourth annual show and the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  The three day event is all authentic, featuring more than 1,700 WWII military and civilian re-enactors along with hundreds of encampments representing nations that were involved in “The War”.  For three days the gates open at 8:30 am to the nation’s largest and best known historic commemoration of life in 1940’s America.   The weekend was dedicated to the “Greatest Generation” not to glorify, but to remember the war.  Strolling the concrete walk and taxiways to the sound of music from the times, weekend visitors mingled with men and women attired in period dress along with meticulously restored farm equipment and bicycles.  While “the boys” were overseas fighting fascism, the home front was holding its own.  Authentic displays included a correctly recreated 1940’s house decorated with food stuffs and household items, and a fully stocked department store selling period goods.  Museum quality vintage cars were lined up with gas ration cards in hand at the fully restored visible pump Gulf filling station.  “Flo” was in uniform, cheerfully providing full service including checking your oil and washing the windshield.  Continuing on, sightseers passed by an air raid warden’s station and a pile of scrap metal collected for the war effort.  Listening to a live radio broadcast from the studio of “WRDG”, appropriately clad youngsters were busy playing board games, rolling by on skates and playing jacks or shooting marbles.  And everywhere, the Red Cross was eagerly collecting donations.

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