PHOTO ESSAY: Arizona site holds 'bones' of 4,000 planes

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Plane boneyard: Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
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PHOTO ESSAY: Arizona site holds 'bones' of 4,000 planes
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jet (L) and a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 fighter are seen in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A pair of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 fight jets are seen in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jet is seen in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jet is seen in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The tail of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules, intended to be used to train paratroopers, is seen in a boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A soldier secures the rotor blades of his Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopter while dropping it off to be stored at the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is seen marked to have no more usable parts while it is stored with others in a boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The oldest jet in the boneyard, a Martin B-57 Canberra, is seen on display row at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Base employees walk past a Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet are seen rapped in a less permanent cover while being stored in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Variants of the Sikorsky CH-53 are seen beneath the wings of Lockheed C-5 Galaxy cargo jets in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
An F/A-18 once flown by the Blue Angels is seen stored among other fighter jets in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Short C-23 Sherpa cargo planes, several of which have been acquired by the US Forest Service, are seen stored in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Lockheed D-21 reconnoissance drone is seen with other aircraft in a boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Variants of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules cargo plane are seen in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
General Dynamics F-16 fighter jets are seen in the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 13, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker uses tape to seal a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter from the elements during an early state of preservation before sending the aircraft to the boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base May 14, 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Variants of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters known as Huey are seen stored in a boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Navy training planes are seen with other aircraft in a boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Variants of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters known as Huey are seen stored in a boneyard at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona on May 13, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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TUCSON, Arizona (AP) -- The airplanes are lined up in rows by the hundreds, serving as a striking reminder of the nation's military past.

They carried presidents and astronauts, shot down enemies during war and shuttled American military forces around the globe.

Now, they are scattered across a huge, dusty field at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on the outskirts of Tucson, at a location known affectionately as the "boneyard."

It is the world's largest airplane repository and preservation facility, providing long- and short-term aircraft storage, parts reclamation and disposal for all types of planes.

'The Boneyards' in Arizona Houses Retired Military Planes

As sunrise illuminates the facility's 2,600 acres, the relics it holds evoke thoughts of missions past:

-- An Army One helicopter that transported President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

-- An old TWA jet that was once hijacked and bombed.

-- An aircraft that spent 16 years preserved entirely under Antarctic snow before returning to flight and ending up in the sweltering desert heat

Notably, the last aircraft to leave Saigon as it fell to North Vietnamese forces sits alongside disassembled Cold War bombers. The B-52s have their tails removed -- one of the terms of a post-Cold War treaty with Russia to provide proof the bombers were indeed decommissioned.

The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group was established in 1946 as the 4105th Army Air Force Unit to house planes after World War II.

It quickly expanded to aircraft from all military branches due to Tucson's low humidity, minimal rainfall and high altitude, all of which ward off rust and corrosion. The hard soil makes it possible to move and secure aircraft without the need for pavement.

Today, the boneyard serves as both a testament to U.S. air prowess and a means to keep the country and its allies in flight through reclamation and restoration.

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