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Military Aircraft Boneyards, Storage & Disposal After World War II

Military aircraft played a key role in the United States's victory over enemy forces in World War II.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawks stacked vertically to save space before being scrapped and melted at Walnut Ridge Army Air Field, Arkansas after World War IICurtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters stacked vertically at
Walnut Ridge, Arkansas after World War II
(Photo by Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum)

However, once peace was assured, the military found itself with a huge surplus of planes. The United States had manufactured about 294,000 aircraft for the war effort.  Of that number, 21,583 (7.34%) airplanes were lost in the United States in test flights, ferrying, training accidents, etc., and 43,581 were lost en route to the war and in overseas operations.

By 1944 the U.S. Foreign Economic Administration began a program to scrap certain obsolete, damaged and surplus military planes overseas.   Following the war, estimates of the number of excess surplus airplanes ran as high as 150,000.  Consideration was given to storing a substantial number of airplanes, but the realization that the expense to store them was too great ... many needed to be sold or scrapped.

Some U.S. military aircraft overseas were not worth the time or money to bring back to the States, and were consequently buried, bulldozed or sunk at sea. Most, however, were returned home for storage, sale or scrapping.

What to Do with Tens of Thousands of Surplus Aircraft After World War II

Within a year of the signing of peace treaties, about 34,000 airplanes had been moved to 30 locations within the U.S. The War Assets Administration (WAA) and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) handled the disposal of these aircraft.

The RFC established depots around the country to store and sell surplus planes.  By the summer of 1945, at least 30 sales-storage depots and 23 sales centers were in operation. In November 1945, it was estimated a total of 117,210 planes would be transferred as surplus. 

Post WWII Boneyards

Storage & Scrapping Depots after WWII

Walnut Ridge AAF

Pyote AAF

Active Boneyards & Storage Facilities

Davis-Monthan AFB AMARG

Kingman Airport

Mojave Airport

Pinal Air Park

Abilene Regional

Other Boneyards

A study was conducted to determine the most cost effective way to dispose of planes; it was determined that too many man-hours were required to dismantle planes for parts, and the cost for storage areas for the parts was too high.

So the method of "salvage and melt" was adopted. Main components such as engines, armament, instruments and radios were removed from each plane. The remainder of the aircraft was cut into pieces, and pushed in a large furnace, or smelter. Aluminum was the prime metal sought after, melted and poured into ingots for sale and shipping.

Airlines procured a number of transport planes, primarily DC-3 and C-54 aircraft, for building up their post-war inventories of commercial airliners.

Others planes were transferred to civilian control, or to the Air Forces of allied countries. A few, such as the "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar" (see photo below), would be preserved for display in museums.

The remaining planes were classified as 1) "obsolete" or 2) "eligible for the strategic aircraft reserve". The jet revolution made many aircraft obsolete, including the P-38, B-17 and B-24, among others, while planes like the B-29, A-26 Invader, and C-47 were destined for the reserve.

Planes were then assigned an airport, at places like Kingman and Walnut Ridge for short-term storage and subsequent disposal, or Davis-Monthan or Pyote for longer-term storage.

Where to Store the Excess Military Aircraft Fleet

In early 1945 the Air Technical Service Command (ATSC) began to research locations suitable for storage of excess military aircraft. Air fields near coastlines subjected aircraft to mold, corrosion and rust. Locations in the north were subject to snow storms and other inclement weather. Eventually, workable storage locations were identified.

Disposal and Sales Depots for Obsolete Military Aircraft after World War II

Most obsolete planes were transferred to one of 28 storage locations, including these seven large disposal facilities:

Kingman Army Air Field

The Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona was built at the start of World War II as an Aerial Gunnery Training Base. It was one of the Army Air Corps largest airfields, training 35,000 individuals.

Aircraft parked and awaiting sale, or the furnaces, at Kingman AAF after World War IIAircraft parked and awaiting sale, or the furnaces, at Kingman AAF after World War II

Between 1942 and 1945, the U.S. Army Air Forces acquired approximately 4,145 acres in Mohave County and established the Kingman Army Airfield. Training activities were completed by April of 1945, and the field was placed on standby.

After the war, the airfield was one of several used by the military to store large numbers of surplus planes. Kingman offered huge open spaces, good weather for aircraft storage, and three runways, one of which was 6,800 feet in length.

The RFC quickly established Sales Depot No. 41 at Kingman, and by October of 1945 planes were being flown in, parked, and processed. Planes were typically parked by type. As many as 150 airplanes a day were soon flying into Kingman, and the total aircraft inventory by the end of 1945 reached about 4,700.

The contractor was the Wunderlich Contracting Company of Jefferson City, Missouri, who received an 18-month contract from the federal government for $2.78 million to reduce about 5,500 aircraft to aluminum ingots.

Active duty military personnel typically flew the aircraft into Kingman, and civilian employees would handle parking and classification. To accommodate the large numbers of employees, tent cities were erected on site. In subsequent months, brand new aircraft directly from assembly lines were disposed of at Kingman.

Three furnaces were operated at Kingman for melting the airplane components.

It is estimated that about 5,500 airplanes were flown to Kingman in 1945 and 1946 for sale and disposal. Among the Kingman inventory were B-17, B-24, B-25, B-26, Consolidated B-32, P-38, P-63 and A-20 aircraft.

... about Kingman Army Airfield and Kingman Airport, with photos

Walnut Ridge in Arkansas

Fighter boneyard at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, post World War IIFighter boneyard at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, post World War IIFighter boneyard at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, post World War II

Walnut Army Air Field, located in northeast Arkansas, was activated on August 15, 1942, with the arrival of the initial contingent of key military personnel. Designed for 5,114 military personnel, and 976 civilians, the Air Field had three 5,000-foot runways, a huge apron covering over 63 acres, four large hangars, base engineering building, and fully equipped 203 bed hospital.

After the war was over, Walnut Ridge was an ideal site for surplus aircraft storage because of its large land area and large parking ramp.

As many as 250 planes arrived each day. An estimated 10,000 to 11,000 warplanes were flown to Walnut Ridge in 1945 and 1946 for storage , sale, or scrapping. At least 65 of the military’s 118 Consolidated B-32 "Dominator" heavy bombers were flown to Walnut Ridge, many straight from the assembly line in Fort Worth. Also, large quantities of Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters were stored there awaiting the smelter; many of these were stored vertically to save space.

... about Walnut Ridge Army Air Field

Cal-Aero Academy, Chino, California

Cal-Aero Field / Chino Airport

Cal-Aero Academy was a civilian aviation school, established before World War II, and later contracted by the AAF to train pilots. While working with the Army, the school trained Army Air Cadets to fly Stearmans and BT-13s.

The Cal-Aero Academy was closed on October 16, 1944, after training 10,365 fighter and bomber pilots for the war effort.

Cal-Aero Field was located east of Los Angeles, near Chino and Ontario, California.

Aerial view of surplus military planes in storage at Cal-Aero Field in California after WWII (Photo courtesy of William T. Larkins)Aerial view of surplus military planes in storage at Cal-Aero Field in California after WWII (Photo used by permission of the photographer, William T. Larkins)

After the war, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) established a sales depot at the inactive Cal-Aero Field, although it was referred to by the RFC as "Ontario". The agricultural area around the airfield was an excellent storage location for surplus military aircraft.

Nearly 1,900 aircraft would be transferred to Cal-Aero, of which about 500 were sold and the rest dismantled.

Among the aircraft types sent to Cal-Aero were the following:

Aerial view of surplus C-46 Commandos in storage at Cal-Aero Field after WWII
Aerial view of surplus C-46 Commandos in storage at Cal-Aero Field after WWII
(Photo used by permission of the photographer, William T. Larkins)

One smelter was operated by the Sharp & Fellows Contracting company to melt the aircraft parts from Cal-Aero, offsite at Norco, CA.

Many C-46 Commandos were sent to Cal-Aero Field (see photo to the right) for storage, sale and disposal. In later years the C-46 planes went back to war, serving in both the Korea and Vietnam conflicts for various U.S. Air Force operations, including resupply missions, paratroop drops, and clandestine agent transportation. It also has seen use in many nonsked airlines and cargo operations.

Beginning in the early 1970s, the airport became the center of the warbird restoration movement in Southern California. Cal-Aero Field today is known as Chino Airport.

Curtiss C-46A Commando, S/N 42-3649, for sale at Cal-Aero Field, California, post-WWIICurtiss C-46A Commando, S/N 42-3649, for sale at Cal-Aero Field, California, post-WWII
(Photo used by permission of the photographer, William T. Larkins)

Chino Airport (CNO) is classified as a general aviation reliever airport, due to its close proximity to Ontario International Airport. It has become a major source of economic and recreational opportunity for the county of San Bernardino, which maintains the airfield.

It is also the home of two excellent aircraft collections, the Planes of Fame Air Museum and the Yanks Air Museum.

The airport is also the venue for a large, popular air show each May. The most recent Planes of Fame Airshow was on May 3 & 4, 2014, with the theme "Mighty Eighth Air Force".

Albuquerque Army Air Base and Oxnard Field

Albuquerque in the 1930s was served by two private airports, West Mesa Airport and Oxnard Field. In 1935 it was suggested that the city build a new public airport, and ground was broken in 1937. Albuquerque Municipal Airport opened in 1939 several miles to the west of Oxnard Field, with two paved runways.

Construction of Albuquerque Army Air Base began in January of 1941 and was completed in August 1941 on land adjacent to the municipal airport. The base provided advanced flying training and transition training in combat-ready aircraft, primarily the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator.

Albuquerque Army Air Base ...aircraft storage, 1946Albuquerque aircraft storage, 1946

The name of the facility was changed to Kirtland Army Air Field in February of 1942.

In March 1945, Kirtland Field was converted into a B-29 Superfortress base. From Kirtland Field, Manhattan Project scientists were flown back and forth to Wendover Army Air Base and Los Alamos.

With the end of World War II, Oxnard Field began receiving surplus military bombers and fighters. The field received over 1,500 old planes onto its unpaved runways, such as obsolete B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, as well as P-38 and P-51 fighters and other aircraft. The aircraft were to be sold or demolished at the site, and most were in fact recycled by the Compressed Steel Corporation.

Oxnard later became part of Kirtland Air Force Base, the Air Force's main facility for integrating new weapons designs produced by Sandia Laboratory with operational USAF aircraft and equipment.

Clinton Naval Air Station

Clinton Naval Air Station was located 15 miles southwest of Clinton, and 120 miles west of Oklahoma CIty. It was established in 1942 as a training station for naval aviators.

After World War II was over, the facility was closed in June of 1946. It served as a boneyard for over 8,000 US Navy planes. By April of 1946, over 8,800 military planes were stored at Clinton, mostly F6F Hellcats, FM Wildcats and TBM Avengers.. While some were sold to individuals or companies, most were dismantled, melted in one of the two furnaces on site, and sold as scrap to the Sherman Machine and Iron Works of Oklahoma City.

In 1949 the base was transferred to the City of Clinton, only to be reclaimed by the Defense Department in 1954 for the establishment of Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base. The base was revamped and new runways were built to accommodate the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress of the Strategic Air Command. The base was closed in 1969.

Other post-WWII Naval storage and reclamation facilities were located at NAS Litchfield Park near Phoenix, and NAS Norfolk in Virginia. Litchfield Park remained on active status until 1965 when its operations were transferred to Davis-Monthan AFB.

Altus Army Air Field

Altus Army Air Field in Oklahoma was activated in early 1943, and served as an Advanced Flying School until April of 1945. The primary training aircraft were the Boeing-Stearman Kaydet T-17 and the North American T-9.

After the students perfected their skills with these planes, they transferred to units that prepared them to fly the type of aircraft they would use in combat over Europe and in the Pacific theater during World War II. With an average of over 300 days of weather conducive to flying each year, a generally flat landscape and few obstructions, the base was well situated for young airmen to hone their flying skills.

B-17 Flying Fortress "Memphis Belle" would be stored at Altus Army Air Field after this tour was completedB-17 Flying Fortress "Memphis Belle" would be stored at Altus Army Air Field after this public relations tour was completed

Between 1945 and 1953 it would serve as a boneyard for thousands of surplus World War II era military aircraft.

About 2,500 planes were stored, sold or scrapped there after WWII, including B-17, B-24, B-25, P-38, P-40, P-51 and P-47 aircraft. Most of the B-17s sent to Altus for storage were new "G" models right off the assembly line, which created a strong market to private sector buyers.

The B-17F "Memphis Belle" was honored in 1943 as the first B-17 heavy bomber to complete the then-mandatory 25 missions. The plane and its crew returned to the United States during the summer of 1943 for a highly publicized public relations tour. In 1945 "Memphis Belle" was discovered at Altus awaiting disposal, and the City of Memphis was able to obtain the historic plane. The aircraft was subsequently saved and restored.

By May of 1948, the inventory of aircraft was decimated, and the facility was turned over to the City of Altus for use as a municipal airport. In 1953 the airport was reopened as Altus Air Force Base, which remains an active facility today.

Searcy Field in Stillwater, Oklahoma

Stillwater Municipal Airport was built in 1939, and improved in 1943 with the additional of three 5,000 foot concrete runways. The U.S. Navy operated the facility as an outlying field for NAS Clinton, Oklahoma. After the war, Searcy Field was transferred to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and used to store nearly 500 aircraft. The inventory included B-24 Liberators, B-17 Flying Fortresses, P-40 Warhawks, Navy PB4Y-1 and other aircraft types.

In February of 1946 the inventory of 475 surplus planes at Searcy was purchased by Paul Mantz, a recognized aviation expert, at a cost of about $117 each. He kept 11 of the aircraft for his own use, and the remaining 464 were cut up and shipped to St. Louis, Missouri, where they were melted.

Victory Field in Vernon, Texas

About 1,300 planes were stored, sold or scrapped at this airport west of Wichita Falls, Texas.

Longer-Term Military Aircraft Reserve Storage Facilities

By 1947 the WAA had disposed of about 65,000 planes. However, some aircraft would be stored in reserve and retained for future return to active duty.

Planes were stored at several locations across the country, including Victorville in California, Pyote in Texas, Warner Robins in Georgia, and Davis-Monthan in Arizona.

Victorville Army Air Field in California

Aerial view of Victorville Army Air Field, August, 1943Victorville Army Air Field, August, 1943

Victorville Army Flying School was constructed between 1941 and 1943 as a flight training school, located 8 miles northwest of Victorville, California, and about 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

It was renamed Victorville Army Air Field in April of 1943. After the creation of the United States Air Force, it was renamed Victorville Air Force Base in January of 1948, and later to George Air Force Base in 1950 in honor of Brigadier General Harold Huston George.

In October of 1945, flight operations ended, and the base was placed on standby status and used for surplus aircraft storage, primarily B-29 Superfortresses, AT-7s and AT-11s.

George AFB was closed by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 1992 commission, and now is a successful and active facility for business and industry, known as the Southern California Logistics Airport.

B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Pyote Air Force Base, 1946B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Pyote Air Force Base, Texas, 1946

Pyote Army Air Field in Texas

This field was located west of Midland, Texas, east of Pecos, and north of Fort Stockton, along present-day Interstate 20. It was built for bombardment crew training in 1942, and named Pyote Army Air Field.

After the war, control of Pyote Air Force Base was transferred from the Second Air Force to the San Antonio Air Tech Service Command and became an aircraft-storage depot. During this time, the base served as a storage facility for as many as 2,000 aircraft (B-29, B-17, B-25, A-26, C-47, and others), including the "Enola Gay". Due to the large number of snakes at the site, it was often called "Rattlesnake Bomber Base".

During the 1950s the base was abandoned. The remaining large hangars gradually disappeared over the years. Today only runways and a few ruins mark the location of the base.

... about Pyote Army Air Field

Warner Robins Army Air Depot in Georgia

In June 1941, after much competition, the War Department approved the construction of a depot in middle Georgia peanut-farm country near the Southern Railroad whistle-stop town of Wellston.

Warner Robins Army Air Depot, 1944Warner Robins Army Air Depot, 1944

Construction began in September 1941 on the new depot 15 miles south of Macon, Georgia.

In January 1942, it was named "Robins Field" in memory of Brigadier General Augustine Warner Robins. In October 1942, the depot's name was changed again, "Warner Robins Army Air Depot."

The rapidly growing town of Wellston changed its name to Warner Robins in September of 1942.

Warner Robins Army Air Depot eventually assumed overall command of the Air Service Command's installations in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, a portion of Florida, and North Carolina. Warner Robins supported approximately 6,500 Army aircraft in this area with depot maintenance and supply.

The depot's complement began a steady decline after the war, and by March of 1946 only 3,900 employees remained. In the post-war era, the depot assumed the task of storing surplus war material and thousands of vehicles. The depot also cocooned and stored 250 B-29s. In February of 1948, the airfield was re-designated Robins Air Force Base.

In addition to its normal mission, the depot returned most of the stored B-29s to active service during the Ko

rean War. During the war, Robins AFB overhauled and modified B-29 and F-84 planes as well as repairing F-80 and F-86 fighters. In 1951, the Air Force began a $3.5 million construction project. When this project reached completion in 1952, the Air Force made Robins AFB a permanent installation.

Today, Robins AFB remains an active base.

... about Robins Air Force Base and Museum of Aviation in Georgia

Litchfield Park / Phoenix Goodyear Airport (GYR)

This facility in Phoenix, Arizona was originally constructed during World War II as a naval air facility known as NAF Litchfield Park, and later renamed Naval Air Station Litchfield Park.

In 1941, the Goodyear Aerospace Corporation offered land to the U.S. Defense Plant Corporation. The U.S. Navy used the land to build aircraft flight decks and established a U.S. Naval Air Facility to test fly and deliver aircraft. This necessitated the construction of a landing field, hangar and runway. The Goodyear facility was used to modify AAF twin-tail B-24 Liberators for use as Navy PB4Y-1 aircraft, and to accept delivery of Navy single-tail PB4Y-2 Privateers.

Its primary role following the end of World War II was that of long-term storage and preservation of obsolete or excess U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard aircraft. Its location in the dry desert was an ideal location for long-term plane storage.

At one point, more than 5,000 airplanes were in storage. The Korean Conflict brought the airfield back to active duty in the 1950s. By early 1958 the inventory was down to about 2,500 aircraft. In 1965, the Defense Department decided to consolidate military aricraft storage. Thus, 800 aircraft at Litchfield were moved to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson either by air or by truck for storage, and another 1,000 were salvaged.

Entrance gate to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Home of the 36th Air Division, as seen in this historic postcardEntrance gate to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Home of the 36th Air Division

Following the closure of NAS Litchfield Park in 1967, the city of Phoenix purchased the airport for a general aviation facility. Today, the airport is home to several private companies offering aircraft maintenance and commercial pilot training, and serves as a reliever airfield for Phoenix Sky Harbor.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base

By May of 1946, more than 600 B-29 Superfortresses and 200 C-47 Skytrains had been moved to Davis-Monthan. In addition, about 30 other aircraft were stored that were destined for museums, including the "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar".

Over the long-term, Davis-Monthan would become the only permanent storage and disposal facility for all branches of the U.S. military.

... about Davis-Monthan AFB and view photos of the AMARG boneyard

Photographs of Post-World War II Aircraft Boneyards

Aerial view of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, May 1946,
showing more than 600 B-29 Superfortress and 200 C-47 aircraft
Aerial view of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, May 1946, showing more than 600 B-29 Superfortress and 200 C-47 aircraft
Aerial view of surplus military aircraft in storage at the Kingman, Arizona aircraft boneyard in 1946
Aerial view of surplus military aircraft in storage at the Kingman aircraft boneyard in 1946
Aerial view of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, in November, 1945
(Photo by the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum)
Aerial view of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, in November, 1945
B-32 Dominator bombers stored at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, after World War II
(Photo by the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School Museum)
B-32 bombers stored at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, after WW II
B-29 Superfortress bombers in storage at Pyote Air Force Base, Texas, circa 1946
B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Pyote Air Force Base, 1946
Boeing B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay" ... in storage at Pyote AFB after World War II
Boeing B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay"
Boeing B-29 "Bockscar" in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB
Now restored and on display at the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio   more about Bockscar
Boeing B-29 "Bockscar" in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB
B-29 Superfortress cocooning at Warner Robins Air Material Area in Georgia, July, 1946
B-29 Superfortress cocooning at Warner Robins Air Material Area in Georgia, July, 1946
Aerial view of surplus military aircraft in storage at Cal-Aero Field, California after WWII
(Photo used by permission of the photographer, William T. Larkins)
Aerial view of surplus military aircraft in storage at Cal-Aero Field, California after WWII (Photo used by permission of the photographer, William T. Larkins)

Bomber Scrapping and Smelting Process at the Kingman Army Air Field boneyard in Arizona

Rows of B-24 Liberators await the scrap heap at Kingman AAF in Arizona
"Old Black Magic" 0333 in the foreground as appeared in LIFE Magazine
Lines of B-24 Liberators await the scrap heap at Kingman AAF in Arizona
B-24 Liberator "Missouri Miss" meets the guillotine at Kingman Army Air Field
B-24 Liberator "Missouri Miss" meets the guillotine at Kingman Army Air Field

... about scrapping of B-24 Liberators after World War II

Map of locations of active and post-WWII airplane boneyards and plane storage facilities in the United States

click to view interactive map of airplane boneyards and aircraft storage facilities in the United States

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