By Adam Waltz
PHOENIX – The view from behind government warning signs outside Pinal County Airpark makes these 1,500 acres just north of Tucson, Ariz. look like a secretive graveyard for planes.
Actually, Pinal Airpark is a fully functioning public airport, but there are no passenger scheduled flights. Most of the flights coming in and out are private or military.
Built in 1942, the park originally hosted training for WWII pilots.
“We trained just under 10,000 pilots for WWII,” said Jim Petty, Airport Manager of Pinal County Airpark.
Not long after, the CIA grabbed control, making Pinal County Airpark one of the most secure airfields in the country, using it for flights during the Vietnam War.
In recent years, Pinal County opened the park up to the public.
“The public is encouraged to land here on the public side of the airport,” said Petty.
Aluminum 747 heavy-weights will make you feel smaller than small. Most of the planes here are simply being stored. Others are waiting for restoration to possibly be flown again or to be scrapped and recycled. A few unlucky birds have been parked and forgotten.
“A majority of the work done here is aircraft storage,” Petty said. “We do what are called ‘end-of-life’ services where a plane when it’s useful life is completed, a list of parts is generated that the owner wants taken off, and the rest is scrapped.”
The outside of these vintage behemoths are cool, but many of the planes are falling apart.
For one of the planes, a Trans World 747, everything is still very much intact on the inside. This particular plane was built in 1976, which explains the ashtrays in the armrests.
However, this plane is falling apart. Many of the seats don’t have cushions, and oxygen masks are hanging from the ceiling. In the rudder of the plane, which has been damaged from the wind, there’s just enough room for a hawk’s nest.
“The hawks they get a little, I don’t what to say upset, but you know, they don’t like you being here,” Petty said.