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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The Boneyard… What words can possibly do this place justice? It’s surely one of the most famous pieces of aviation real estate in the world. Its dusty, orange soil has had more aircraft types – and in greater numbers – in-situ than anywhere on the planet. Hundreds of thousands of classic designs, legendary types and mass-produced workhorses have ended their flying days here. We are talking an almost incomprehensible number of aircraft, making for an even less imaginable sight over the decades that have gone before. But whilst hulks of once-proud war machines have ended their sky-scudding careers here, sat in endless rows along this Arizona wasteland, that’s not where the story ends. So much work is done here to keep the military machine alive and kicking, on the frontline, doing what it does best, thanks to the ingenious work of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) personnel. When an airplane lands here, the work has only just begun.

Unfortunately, walking around AMARG is nigh on impossible nowadays. Command structure changes, PA changes, security changes and risk advances (and snakes!) have all combined to severely limit access, especially on foot. But all is NOT lost – far from it, in fact. Another chapter in the tale of The Boneyard is the world class Pima Air & Space Museum (PASM). To me, this is absolutely one of the best museums anywhere in the world. Even without a camera (in fact, I recommend doing it with AND without), it’s a seriously cool place to hang out and inhale aviation. It has enjoyed a special relationship with AMARG for decades and its collection is testimony to the machines that have either landed in The Boneyard and been selected for preservation or the museum itself has sourced and restored the airframe. It is a total ‘must shoot – but make sure you spend a good amount of time there (the morning light and the afternoon light make for two totally different shoots here). Combined with AMARG and the sheer amount of aviation in the region, it has to be one of my favourite neighbourhoods in the world! It’s also through PASM that you can book a tour of AMARG. You apply online ( and choose your date and time, and must be around three weeks’ notice to allow for security checks (you must provide photo ID). Full and accurate details are always on the website, but due to the current climate such tours are not available until at least May 2020. The tours last a couple of hours in total. You board at the museum itself and head straight into a stringent security check at the Davis-Monthan AFB main gate. You then pass through the base (strictly no photography) and then enter what is called ‘Celebrity Row’. Here some of the one-off designs or significant types are lined up in a row, purely for visitors. You drive along the entire dusty road and can shoot either side if you have a co-operative passenger opposite you and do it carefully! The tour guide is full of the facts and figures about each of the types on show. You then pass by all of the other main storage areas, with two chances in some areas to shoot as you drive in one way and out the other. It’s a great experience but not without its photographic challenges. Primarily, you are in a coach with tinted windows… This will require you to boost your exposure by around +1 stop, and to shoot RAW to allow for the best chance of colour/tint adjustments (they come out quite flat and green). You will also need to shoot fast! I’m sure it’s just me, but the drivers always seem to go slow passed some pretty standard types, and then speed up by some of the more juicy stuff! And it’s bumpy…! You won’t be able to use a lens longer than about 150mm due to the thickness of the coach’s glass. Finally, reflections. You must wear black, cover your sleeves, and use a rubber lens hood or similar to avoid them – they really are a pain. People do scoff that you cannot get off during a tour, the windows are tinted, hard to shoot, reflections, ‘it’s only a bus tour’… but honestly, you can get some really, really good shots from it, but you have to work at it (like everything else, right?!), and it certainly gives a great insight into the enormity of the site.
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