Our next major stop after Big Bend National Park was supposed to be Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ. Because the distance was too far to travel in one day, we had to plan an overnight stop, and we felt the RV Park at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX was the best option. Neither Fort Bliss nor Davis-Monthan takes reservations. We called Fort Bliss and were told they were averaging ten empty campsites every day so we were comfortable with that, believing we should have no problem getting a site. However, we called Davis-Monthan several times and got no answers or return calls from our messages. We did not want to have to spend time in their overflow without hookups in the high temperatures that were forecasted, so we extended our stay at Fort Bliss.
We had stayed at Fort Bliss previously and had done most of the sightseeing. Rather than see the same sights again, I made an extensive list of all of the maintenance that needed to be done on the truck and trailer, and went to work. I accomplished a lot that week!
The inconsistent actions taken to deal with the pandemic continue to amaze me. Even though the fitness centers around Fort Bliss are open, including their bathrooms and the Post Exchange complex is open with its bathroom, the bathrooms in the campground were closed. Go figure!
After a week at Fort Bliss, we were squared away on our maintenance and, even though we hadn’t heard anything from Davis-Monthan, we pulled out and headed west. Oops, we didn’t get as early a start as we planned. As we were doing the last steps to leave, one of our slide outs refused to retract. I was able to manually retract the slide out and we decided continue with our journey and attempt to do a repair at Davis-Monthan or Lake Havasu.
We checked into the campground at Davis-Monthan and discovered their phones had been out of order for several weeks, hence the unanswered calls. Fortunately they had plenty of full hookup sites available. As soon as we were set up I made a phone call to the dealer from whom we had purchased our trailer and discussed the problem with their service department. Based on that, I decided to try to repair the problem myself. After I removed the fabric underbelly from that part of the trailer, through trail and error I was able to diagnose the problem. Apparently three screws had worked loose and fallen out, or they had never been in place. Regardless the device that is supposed to retract the slide out had become detached. I made a quick trip to the nearest hardware store and purchased what I needed to repair the problem. The next morning I verified everything I had done worked and closed up the underbelly. For a whopping $2.17 I was able to fix a problem that would have cost a couple of hundred dollars through an RV repair shop.
Our primary reason for visiting Davis-Monthan was to visit the “Boneyard.” The Boneyard is acres of mothballed airplanes from all services. Davis-Monthan is the logical choice for a major storage facility. The geology of the desert allows aircraft to be moved around without having to pave the storage areas. The area’s low humidity in the 10%-20% range, meager rainfall of 11″ annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet all allow the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse, Davis-Monthan AFB’s role in the storage of military aircraft began after World War II. By May of 1946, more than 600 B-29 Superfortresses and 200 C-47 Skytrains had been moved to Davis-Monthan. The organization responsible for these aircraft was called the 2704th Air Force Storage and Disposition Group. In 1985, the facility’s name was changed to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center as outdated ICBM missiles also entered storage at Davis-Monthan. It is the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for all excess military and government aircraft in the United States. The boneyard’s typical inventory comprises more than 4,400 aircraft, making it the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.
Unfortunately, bus tours of the Boneyard have been put on hold due to the pandemic. However, the campground is right on the edge of the Boneyard and I was able to see row after row of aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing, jet and propeller-driven. I saw one B-1 Lancer bomber that was in the beginning stages of being mothballed.
We were able to tour the Pima Air and Space Museum. Anyone who loves aviation will love this museum. The first airplane I saw was one that I wanted for my own. It was one that could be built in a home garage from a kit. Many of the early planes were like that, designed to be built by private owners. There were more aircraft than I have ever seen in any one museum, with the exception of the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. The displays are well maintained and informative, covering military and civilian aircraft.
The outdoor displays were numerous, with aircraft of various roles, from many countries. The high temperatures and sun had us seeking shade whenever possible. There are multiple buildings in the complex, and the one I found most interesting was dedicated to 390th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. I have never seen such an in-depth display of an organization’s history. If you visit the museum, do not miss this separate museum!
The next morning we were happy to be able to retract all of our slide outs and we hit the road for Lake Havasu, AZ.