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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.

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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.

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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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