Warplanes: American Combat Aircraft Reserve


April 22, 2024: A few of the U.S. Air Force's B-1B swing wing bombers are returning to service. B1s first entered service in the 1980s of which thirteen were retired in 2021 and sent to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. This is where aircraft are put in long-term storage and kept in good condition so they can be quickly regenerated for active service. Four of the B-1Bs were kept in Type 2000 storage, which means these aircraft are the easiest to return to active service quickly. AMARC fills 500-2,000 spare parts orders each month, and not just for American aircraft, but for those of allies as well. Australia keeps its 1960s era F-111's flying with spare parts from old U.S. F-111s stored at AMARC. The U.S. Air Force A-10, built in the 1970s, and not a popular air force candidate for a new model, is kept flying (because it's so damn useful) with parts from AMARC. Even when parts are still in production, a wartime surge, as was experienced during the Afghanistan campaign will outstrip the manufacturer's ability to produce them. In this case, AMARC delivered parts for the F-18 and continues to do so for other heavily used aircraft.

AMARC was set up in 1985, consolidating boneyard operations already there and from other locations in the United States. In that first year, it delivered spare parts worth half a billion dollars. While the airframes, stripped of all their more valuable parts, are worth only about 25 cents a pound as scrap, some of the parts are worth their weight in gold. Engines, which often comprise a third (or more) of an aircraft's value, are the most valuable single items. And each engine consists of thousands of parts, some of which are worth quite a bit, even if the engine is no longer in use by any aircraft. Other nations cannibalize their retired or obsolete warplanes, but few have organized the operation as efficiently as the United States.

In 2019 the Airforce retired its remaining B-1Bs while keeping some for AMARG. While about 76 120-ton B-52s are maintained in service, because they are cheap to operate and get the job done, twenty of the 170-ton B-2s are kept in service because they can quickly fly to anywhere on the planet and drop up to 80 precision smart bombs on targets. Entering service in the late 1990s, the B-2s’ 11,000 kilometer range and ability to be refueled in the air enables them to quickly reach anywhere on the planet while cruising at 900 kilometers an hour. The B-2 has a two man crew and most B-2s carry a cot so one crew member can get some sleep while the other flies the plane. The B-2 can fly on autopilot, but you need at least one pilot available to deal with any emergencies. The Air Force is considering building a smaller version of the B-2 that will operate autonomously without any pilots on board. The United States has been doing that for decades using large surveillance UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). UAVs have proved very reliable, even when crossing the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans on their own. The Air Force is headed for a pilotless future and so far, that seems to be a reasonable goal.

Despite that, the air force plans to keep some B-52s operational, each with a four or five person crew, until the 2050s. At that point B-52s will have served for a hundred years. The DC-3 twin prop transport entered service in 1936 and many are still operational, and some will continue flying into the 2040s or later.




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