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Pinal Airpark Airport (MZJ) and Marana Army Air Field in Arizona

The Pinal Airpark Airport, near Marana, Arizona, northwest of Tucson, is a county-owned airport just north of the Pinal/Pima county line along Interstate 10.

Evergreen Boeing 747-100 Supertanker, N479EV, tail number 979 and other airliners at the Pinal Airpark in Arizona
Evergreen Boeing 747-100 Supertanker, N479EV, tail number 979 and airliners at the Pinal Airpark in Arizona (October 2012)

On the grounds of the airport are a variety of tenants, both private sector and government. One primary function is serving as a "boneyard" for civilian commercial aircraft as well as airliner storage and reconfiguration. Out-of-service airliners are stored there as the dry, low humidity of the Sonoran desert provides an ideal storage environment.

History of the Town of Marana, Arizona

The place name "Marana" first appeared on a map in 1881, when the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived. The name Marana comes from the Spanish word for “jungle” or “impassable tangle.” This was because railroad workers had to chop their way through the mesquite brush and catclaw to make way for the line.

Picacho Peak, 15 miles to the north, was an early landmark for those traveling the desert and the site of Arizona’s only Civil War battle.

The Impact of World War II on Marana

U.S. Army Air Corps recruiting poster

With the beginning of World War II, the War Department had to quickly mobilize its air forces, and train its airmen. The prime areas selected for new training airfields were the deserts of the southwestern United States, which offered wide-open spaces and year-round flying conditions.

Nearly 200 airfields and air strips were built in the southwest, from West Texas to Southern California. More than 60 airfields and strips were built in Arizona alone between 1942 and 1944, the majority in central and southern Arizona.

The impact of the rising tide of military air power came quickly to Marana. Among the dozens of bases built by the War Department in Arizona from 1942 to 1944 as part of that immense mobilization was a dusty airfield just south of Picacho Peak.

In 1942, the U.S. Government bought about 3.5 square miles of the old Aguirre Ranch southwest of Red Rock for construction of an air base.

The air field was built in 1942 by the Sundt & Del Webb Construction Companies in just three months. The construction transformed what was mostly farmland surrounded by desert into a bustling Army airfield, with a "lean-to" kitchen and small shacks with screenless windows. By 1943, the base was in full operation.

The base was originally known as Marana Army Air Field, and was under the command of the 389th Army Air Force Base Unit, AAF West Coast Training Center. Its prime function was a pilot training base, and conducted basic flight training & the training of transport pilots in instrument flying and navigation.

The Marana AAF became the largest pilot-training center in the world during WWII, training over 10,000 flyers. To serve the nearby military facility, the highway from Tucson to Casa Grande was improved and soon became the major road through the Marana area. A German and Italian prisoner-of-war camp was also built northwest of Marana, and the prisoners helped harvest crops.

In addition to the main Marana air field, there also were several satellite fields used for landing and takeoff training:

  • Picacho Auxiliary
  • Rillito Auxiliary (today, the Marana Regional Airport)
  • Coronado or the Red Rock Auxiliary
  • Avra Auxiliary
  • Sahuaro Auxiliary (today, the El Tiro Gliderport)

Marana Army Air Field in the Post-WWII Years

Marana AAF was closed after World War II and in 1948 Pinal County took possession of the property. From 1948-51, Pinal County leased the property to multiple tenants, and from 1951–56, Marana was reused as a contractor-operated USAF flying school, operated by Darr Aeronautical Technical Company.

During the Vietnam War, the airfield was dominated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and used as one of the Agency's primary facilities for global covert air operations. A number of CIA false "front" aviation companies operated there, including Intermountain Airlines. "Air America" had its roots at Marana.

In 1979 Evergreen International Aviation, a provider of passenger and cargo services, took over the facility lease. Three years later, in 1982, Evergreen Air Center opened its doors offering maintenance, initially on Evergreen’s fleet. In 2007 the company changed its name to Evergreen Maintenance Center and conducted business until its acquisition by Relativity Capital.

The last of the small Beechcraft Starship fleet was built in 1995, and by 2003 Beechcraft had decided that supporting a small fleet of airplanes was cost-prohibitive. Raytheon Aircraft thus began scrapping and incinerating the aircraft, with Pinal Airpark chosen as the locale for the work. Several Starships still survive today, some in airworthy condition.

Pinal Airpark Today

Today, Pinal Airpark is the home of Marana Aerospace Solutions, Evergreen Trade Inc., and the Silverbell Army Heliport (SAHP). The airpark covers an area of 2,080 acres, and sits at an elevation of 1,893 feet above mean sea level. It has one runway designated 12/30 with an asphalt surface measuring 6,849 by 150 feet.

Airliners in storage at Pinal Airpark in ArizonaAirliners in storage at Pinal Airpark in Arizona

Marana Aerospace Solutions

Marana Aerospace Solutions offers more than 600 acres of secured ramp and storage area for all sizes of aircraft. Formerly Evergreen Maintenance Center, Marana Aerospace Solutions is internationally recognized as one of the world’s most reliable aviation service facilities. It specializes in comprehensive full-life aircraft care, including heavy maintenance, overhaul, commercial storage, component repairs, paint, interior, detailing, and end of life options.

Marana Aerospace Solutions occupies 1,200 acres and is one of the world’s largest commercial aviation resources and can accommodate over 400 aircraft. It offers three maintenance hangars with 100,000 sq. ft. of space to accommodate the world’s largest aircraft. Marana also offers more than 600 acres of secured ramp and storage area for all sizes of aircraft for storage and parking. It also provides aircraft paint and exterior detailing services. It features a parts removal program, and can arrange for the disposal of aircraft hulls, and can pack, crate and ship aircraft parts and engines.

Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (WAATS)
Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site

Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (WAATS)

Just north of the airpark is the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (WAATS) located at the Silverbell Army Heliport Marana. Co-located at the heliport is the 1st/285th Apache Helicopter Attack Battalion, a unit of the Arizona Army National Guard. The site is used for Apache (ARNG AH-64) helicopter training and military combat training operations.

The WAATS is the premier training site for attack and aero-scout helicopter training for the Army National Guard. The training site also serves both active duty and National Guard aviators with simulation support, utilizing the AH-1 Flight Weapons Simulator or the AH-64 Combat Mission Simulator.

Parachute Training and Testing Facility at Pinal Airpark

Pinal Airpark also hosts the U.S. Special Operations Command's Parachute Training and Testing Facility. In 1992, United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) bought 480 acres of Airpark land in the southwest corner of the leased property for $1,000,000. The acquired property includes the use of the Airpark runway.

Pinal Airpark Location, Driving Directions and Access

Gate area at the Pinal Air Park in Arizona (October 2012)
Entrance gate, Pinal Air Park

Pinal Airpark can be reached via I-10 Exit 232 onto the Pinal Air Park Road ... the gate area is about 3 miles west of Interstate 10.

When we last visited Pinal in October of 2012, dozens of airliners were parked at the air park.

It is our understanding that visitors are not permitted on the airport, so we took several photos (see below) from outside the grounds of the airport. We recommend contacting the airport and/or tenant companies and government agencies for current information on access and tours.

See interactive map below for driving directions to the Pinal Airpark.

Marana Regional Airport (AVQ)

Another airport in the area is Marana Regional Airport (AVQ), purchased by the Town in 1999 from Pima County. It is classified as a general aviation reliever airport for Tucson International.

It is approximately 15 nautical miles northwest of Tucson and 5 miles west of Interstate 10 on Avra Valley Road. The airport is home to more than 310 based aircraft and had more than 110,000 takeoffs and landings in 2010. The airport's main runway is 6,900 feet and the crosswind runway is 3,900 feet.

Aerial Views of the Pinal Airpark

Aerial view of the Pinal Airpark near Marana Arizona
Aerial view of the Pinal Air Park near Marana Arizona

Photos of Pinal Airpark

Evergreen Boeing 747-100 firefighting Supertanker, N479EV, tail number 979,
and airliners at the Pinal Airpark in Arizona (October 2012)
Evergreen Boeing 747-100 firefighting Supertanker, N479EV, tail number 979 and airliners at the Pinal Air Park in Arizona (October 2012)
Airliners parked at the Pinal Air Park in Arizona (October 2012)
Airliners parked at the Pinal Air Park in Arizona (October 2012)
Pinal Air Park can be reached via I-10 Exit 232 onto the Pinal Air Park Road ...
the Air Park is about 3 miles from Interstate 10 (photo below taken in October 2012)
Pinal Air Park can be reached via I-10 Exit 232 onto the Pinal Air Park Road
Gate area at the Pinal Air Park in Arizona (October 2012)
Gate area at the Pinal Air Park in Arizona (October 2012)

Interactive Map of Pinal Air Park area in Arizona


View Larger Map

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

Vintage Postcards from the PlanesOfthePast Collection

Evergreen International Boeing 747
Evergreen International Boeing 747
Evergreen International Boeing 727
Evergreen International Boeing 727

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