The desert Southwest is ripe with unusual plants, unique wildlife, rich mining and railroad history, and unparalleled natural beauty. Of course, Arizona is hardly an exception. However, the desert holds other distinctive secrets beyond the saguaro cactus or eight-foot tall yucca. Two hours south of Prescott lies Phoenix Goodyear Airport, a former naval air base and current aircraft “boneyard.” From the road, the colorful tail fins of various aircraft can be spotted.
Built during World War Two, Phoenix Goodyear Airport started off under the name (Naval Air Facility) NAF Litchfield Park. When the airport upgraded to naval base status later during the war, it was renamed (Naval Air Station) NAS Litchfield Park. Today, a 1941 vintage radar tower can be found on the airport premises. After the war ended in 1945, the airport became a storage facility for excess military aircraft. By 1968, all surplus military aircraft had been relocated to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. Litchfield Park was arranged for closure.
Litchfield Park, later renamed Goodyear Municipal Airport, was purchased by the city of Phoenix to ease traffic out of Sky Harbor Airport. The new name came with the city of Phoenix’s acquisition of the airport. While the airport is not served by any commercial airlines, it has become a hub for maintenance and aircraft upkeep. The 789 acre airport received a fourth name, Phoenix Goodyear Airport at an unknown time. Goodyear has also become a primary base for German flag-carrier Lufthansa’s cadet training program.
Today, Phoenix Goodyear Airport is used for storing decommissioned airliners. The dry and mild climate reduces the effects of corrosion on the aircraft, which allows their owners to return them to service, sell them to a new customer, or cannibalize them for parts. Several classic and large airliners are stored at the facility, such as early Boeing 737s, McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, early Airbus A320 family aircraft, 747s, 777s, 767s, 757s, A330s, and a lone Douglas DC-7. While a seemingly depressing sight, it has become a hotspot for aviation photography. Airport operations officers patrolling the airport kindly wave to spotters instead of demanding they leave the premises.
Goodyear has become host to United Airlines’ modest fleet of 14 737MAX aircraft, which sit with engine covers and aluminum foil protection. With the recent grounding of the Boeing 737MAX, airlines were forced to put their MAX fleets into storage until further notice. These brand new aircraft are a stark contrast to the faded and cannibalized airliners that have been awaiting their fates for nearly a decade.
Not all aircraft at Goodyear are waiting to be scrapped and organized into fields of engine cowlings or parts, however. Rows of newer A319 and A320 aircraft from recently-bankrupt airlines such as Avianca Brazil and Pakistanti carrier Shaheen Air are on display, waiting to be converted and sold to United Airlines. These aircraft have not yet reached the end of their useful life, and are sold at a steep discount.
Other aircraft are not so lucky, like the thirty-two year old McDonnell Douglas MD-82 missing its engines or the dilapidated US Airways Boeing 757. Most airlines remove all branding from the aircraft upon their disposal at the boneyard. American Airlines, for example, paints an additional blue stripe, ridding of the red. Israeli flag-carried El Al simply removes the distinct Star of David from the tail fins of their aircraft, and paints over their name. Nevertheless, the airline the aircraft belonged to is still easily identifiable for aviation enthusiasts.
Phoenix Goodyear Airport is just one of many aircraft boneyards that can be found in the state of Ariz. Kingman Airport near the NV-AZ border is the final resting place of many DHL planes and smaller regional jets. Pinal Air Park and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base can be found in southern Ariz, and have an even larger selection of aircraft.