Framework

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March 29, 1946: B-17s are parked at former Kingman Army Airfield, Ariz., awaiting disposal following World War II.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: Surplus World War II B-32 bombers sit at Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona awaiting disposal.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: A B-17 that flew 157 missions over Europe sits at the old Kingman Army Airfield awaiting scrapping. The aircraft was riddled with holes. This photo was published in the April 1, 1946 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: A B-17 "Stormy Weather," that flew 109 missions sits at the old Kingman Army Airfield awaiting scrapping following World War II.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: B-24 "Gambler's Luck" at former Kingman Army Airfield, Ariz., awaiting disposal following World War II.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: World War II surplus B-25s sit at old Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona. The aircraft on right has a damaged nose and bent prop.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: B-24 being worked on at former Kingman Army Airfield, Ariz., disposal site for surplus World War II aircraft.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: After an aircraft is released to the War Assets Administration, the blue-and-white United States insignia is painted over. Over 7,000 retired Army aircraft were retired at the old Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 1946: Covering five square miles and streching for 6½ miles along U.S. Highway 66, more than 7,000 Army bombers, fighters and training planes are parked at former Kingman Army Airfield, Ariz. This photo was published in the April 1, 1946 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: Covering five square miles and streching for 6½ miles along U.S. Highway 66, more than 7,000 Army bombers, fighters and training planes are parked at former Kingman Army Airfield, Arizona.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: About 3,600 engines sit dismantled at the old Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona. Engineless B-24 Liberators are in the background. This photo was published in the April 1, 1946 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: Three-bladed propellers sit at the old Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona. This photo was published in the April 1, 1946 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: Workers move propellers at the old Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona, as World War II surplus aircraft are dismantled for scrap.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: Surplus World War II B-32 bombers sit at Kingman Army Airfield in Arizona awaiting disposal.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

March 29, 1946: Capt. H.M. Varner next to the Swoose, a B-17D that served the entire war, starting in December 1941 flying missions in the Phillipines. The Swoose was at the old Kingman Army Airfield slated to be destroyed, but was saved and flown to Los Angeles as a possible war memorial. This photo was published in the April 1, 1946 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA

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Warplanes go to Arizona desert to die

Following World War II, thousands of aircraft were sold or dismantled at airfield near Kingman, Arizona.

Gene Sherman, Times Staff Representative, reported in the April 1, 1946 Los Angeles Times:

KINGMAN (Ariz.) March 31. – Thousands upon thousands of gallant war birds which fought America’s battles in the skies over Europe and the Pacific are coming to a broad desert plateau five miles from here to die among the cactus and sagebrush.

Covering five square miles and stretching for six and one-half miles along U.S. Highway 66, more than 7,000 retired Army bombers, fighters and training planes are parked row on row at the old Kingman Army Airfield, now Storage Depot 41 of the War Assets Administration.

In no other place in the world, said Carl W. Berg, supervisor of the depot, have so many aircraft been concentrated in one area at one time. Billions of dollars–and untold heroic victories in the clouds–are represented in the acres of fighting ships glinting in the Arizona sunshine.

Many of the ships with low flying time will be sold intact, either to be flown or to be salvaged for commercial ventures. But thousands more, the “war-weary” battlers of the blue, are being stripped of their equipment and will be crushed into scrap metal.

The planes began arriving from all points of the world last Oct. 10. During last December, one a minute landed at the depot, formerly a flexible gunnery training base with an Army population of 17,000 officers and men. …

Some of the big, four-engined ships limp in from overseas bases with one or two engines dead, barely arriving at their final resting place in one piece. A few, however, come almost directly off production lines, brand-spanking new – “boot” planes without a chance to show the world a combat record.

When they land, the Army obtains a release from the W.A.A., the blue-and-white United States insignia is painted out and they are taxied through the mesquite to await their fate.

Originally, 20,000 aircraft of all sorts were expected at the depot, but a month ago Army authorities reduced deactivation of planes to a trickle. The tense world situation was said to have influenced this decision.

Now only a few planes a day arrive at the depot and 20% of all craft with 100 or less flying hours are “pickled.” This means preservation oils are forced into their engines and movable parts are protected against corrosion and the elements. Such ships can be airborne within 24 hours, according to R. J. Perry, assistant supervisor.

Among the types of ships stored at the depot – and the standard price being asked for them by the W.A.A. – are 2567 B-24 Liberators for $13,750 each; 1832 B-17 Flying Fortresses, also for $13,750 each; 141 Billy Mitchell medium bombers for $8250 each; 478 P-38 Lightnings at $1250 each.

Other types include B-32’s, the super bombers comparable to famed B-29 Superfortresses; A-26’s, America’s newest and fastest medium bombers, available at $2,000 apiece; P-61 Black Widow night fighters at $6,000 apiece; P-47 Thunderbolt fighters at $3,500 each; P-40’s of Flying Tiger fame at $1,250 each and A-24 Navy diver bombers at $1,650 apiece. …

Most of the old planes will be sold to concerns which will cannibalize them for parts and turn the material to other commercial uses than aviation. Before the planes are offered for sale they are stripped of all confidential equipment, such as bomb sights, radar and some radio installation. …

Many famous ships languish in the purple shadows of the desert mountains. The Swoose, one of the last B-17’s out of Manila before the (Japanese) took the city and noted for her helter-skelter exploits, is one. …

Silent and dusty, Ol’ Gappy is another fallen warrior of the desert. She boasts 157 combat missions from Jan. 21, 1944 to April 25, 1945, and apparently her sobriquet was appropriate, for she is patched from nose to tail where flak punctured her. A right wingtip, bright compared to the dullness of the rest of the fuselage, tells a silent story of the mission of terror when she returned with more prayer than wing. …

A previous From the Archives post is on The Swoose.

The images in this photo gallery were taken by staff photographer Phil Bath on March 29, 1946.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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1 Comment

  1. August 24, 2014, 1:44 pm

    I've been out to Kingman AAFB years ago, and I can only imagine the "parking lot" of B-17's that was out there, in the summer of '46. It is a shame and a travesty, that more of these fighting ladies, could not be saved, for museums or for airshow use.

    It should be noted that operations and maintenance of the B-17 would not have been expensive and the one of the classified units, on board the B-17, was the Norden Bombsight , which was used by the Navy and Army Air Corps and finally the Air Force, as late as 1967.

    By: Steven Moshlak

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