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Aliens and A330s: Inside Roswell Airport’s Aircraft Boneyard

American MD-80s in Roswell (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Aircraft boneyards are top destinations for aviation enthusiasts who want a sneak peek into aviation history. Located around the United States and the world, these facilities store aircraft for airlines that need to retire an aircraft type, modernize their fleets, or temporarily downsize when they hit a bump in the road.

The most famous American boneyards are located in the country’s southwest; Victorville, Calif. and Tucson, Ariz. host two of the most well-known boneyards in the country. But the boneyard at the Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico is equally notable, both for the aircraft stored there and because the airport has active commercial flights on American Eagle.

As AirlineGeeks has previously reported, the Roswell International Air Center has a storied history. It was previously known as the Roswell Army International Air Field and the Walker Air Force Base. The military base was closed in 1967, and the airport assumed the identity we know today. The airport receives daily regional jet service to and from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and air force jets doing pattern work are a regular sight at the airport.

The airport’s boneyard is host to beloved aircraft in the United States. It is home to dozens of retired American Airlines McDonnell-Douglass MD-80s as well as a mixture of Boeing 737s, 747s, A330s and 767s. There are modern jets waiting to be called back to the skies, and there are old jets more valuable for their parts and metals. There are familiar airline logos, retro liveries, cargo aircraft, and white-tailed aircraft neglected for years.

Such a scene is captivating for aviation enthusiasts. Boneyards like Roswell offer passengers a step into the past they can no longer access. In an industry consolidating into a duopoly between Airbus and Boeing and trending towards twin-engined narrowbodies capable of transoceanic flights, stepping onto an old MD-80 or a 747 configured for passengers instead of cargo brings back the nostalgia that is coming further and farther between on regularly-scheduled commercial flights.

Besides its boneyard, Roswell’s claim to fame is a 1947 incident concerning the debris from a downed military balloon that was recovered in Roswell. For decades since, theorists have speculated that this debris was actually a flying saucer whose existence was being covered up by the United States military. After the Roswell Army Air Field announced they had recovered a “flying disc,” the military quickly changed the statement to say that the item was actually a conventional weather balloon.

Whether it’s due to their history, the storied planes they host, or the theories surrounding them, aircraft boneyards hold a special place in aviation enthusiasts’ hearts. Whether taking a trip to reminisce about aviation history or curious to just look around, boneyards continue to be a favorite among aviation enthusiasts looking for a few extra aircraft.

Check Out These Exclusive Photos from Roswell:

All photos via AirlineGeeks photographer William Derrickson

John McDermott


  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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