A view of Davis-Monthan AFB shows thousands of retired aircraft sitting in the desert. Davis-Monthan AFB

They go through great lengths to preserve them, even sealing them with an opaque white, hi-tech vinyl plastic compound called "spraylat." F-14 in storage

Such an enormous stash of aircraft makes me wonder what they're being kept for. I'm sure there are a few uses for some of them but certainly not all of them. There can't be a big demand for spare parts from obsolete planes. It seems like they would want to scrap them.

Are they being kept in case there is some sort of all-out war and they need cobble together a bunch of F-4's and C-141's to support the air force? Would that even be feasible?

Does it somehow cost more to scrap them than the materials are worth?

Why are they keeping so many retired planes?

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, spare parts, not just for the US, but to anybody that we sold those aircraft to. Also some of them are stored in a way that makes them relatively easy to put back in service, like the F15 in the second picture. Not sure they would need to go back as far as the F4, but the F15 is still in service, and still being built until 2019. It has been in service for 44 years at this point, making parts for older aircraft hard to find yet valuable. See this 309th Boneyard article on Wikipedia. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 20 '16 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Ron Beyer I can understand ones like the F-15 which are still in service. Even a few of the older ones for spare parts. But they have row after row of things like F-4's and C-141's that are no longer in use. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Feb 20 '16 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer - Well QF-4s don't grow on trees :P btw, that's a F-14 $\endgroup$ – Hephaestus Aetnaean Feb 20 '16 at 23:05

Some aircraft sold or loaned to outside military forces are built in batches. These aircraft stay in service for a longer period of time than those in the advancing military power, making spares very difficult to obtain and replacement aircraft for those lost in action are going to be impossable to get. I remember on 19 Squadron in RAFG Wildenrath (1979/82), the F4 Phantom was very demanding on which panels and parts would swop between aircraft. The Phantom also went through many states of evolution and when our Govenment decided it was cheaper to buy more F4 aircraft, they had to consider the spares, fitment and training that would be needed to keep our units similar. The Phantoms that were purchased I believe came from the boneyard. Of course, the 'all out war' theroy also holds true, if a planet size war was to break out, and you recall all your old pilots.... easier to shove them in aircraft they flew 30-40 years ago than train them in the newer stuff.... going to get very messy up there and replacing pilots/ planes will be a priority, numbers can sometimes win wars. Life expectancy of our frontline pilots were 2/3 sorties at best, Ground crew in fixed bases were 2 days at most..... I miss the old days.

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