Marana Army Airfield
2006 USGS aerial image
|IATA: MZJ – ICAO: KMZJ – FAA LID: MZJ|
|Elevation AMSL||1,893 ft / 577 m|
Pinal Airpark (IATA: MZJ, ICAO: KMZJ, FAA LID: MZJ) is a county-owned, public-use airport located seven nautical miles (13 km) northwest of the central business district of Marana, in Pinal County, Arizona, United States.
Its main function is as an boneyard for civilian commercial aircraft, where the area's dry desert climate mitigates corrosion of the aircraft. It is the largest commercial aircraft storage and heavy maintenance facility in the world. Even so, many aircraft which are brought there wind up being scrapped. Nearby the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base provides the same service to the U.S. government.
Built in 1942 by the Sundt & Del Webb Construction Companies and opened in March 1943, the facility was known as Marana Army Air Field. During World War II, the airfield was under the command of the 389th Army Air Force Base Unit, AAF West Coast Training Center and used as a training base, as part of the 50,000 Pilot Training Program.
Marana conducted basic flight training & the training of transport pilots in instrument flying & navigation, being the home of the 3024th (Pilot School, Basic). Chinese pilots were also trained there. Five satellite airfields were established for Marana during World War II: Picacho Aux #1, Rillito Aux #2 (currently reused as Marana Northwest Regional Airport), Coronado Aux #3, Avra Aux #4, and Sahuaro Aux #5 (currently El Tiro Gliderport).
The infrastructure installed at Marana during World War II was extensive. This included water, sewer, and gas systems that were still used until some problems developed in the 1990s. There was also a massive storm drain system. The airfield also had a railroad spur line & railroad station.
Marana was closed after World War II and in 1948, Pinal County accepted a deed to the property, subsequent to the Air Force's disposal of most of the buildings, waterlines, gas lines, and electrical lines. From 1948-51, Pinal County leased the property to multiple tenants, and from 1951–56, Marana was reused as a contractor-operated USAF flying school, operated by Darr Aeronautical Technical Company.
Marana became the headquarters of all Central Intelligence Agency air operations during the Vietnam War years, when it was the primary facility of Intermountain Airlines, a wholly owned CIA "front" company which was used to supply covert operations in Southeast Asia & elsewhere. Intermountain was infamous for its thinly veiled CIA special ops which included development & use of the Fulton Skyhook, but its cover was its non-scheduled freight & maintenance operations. Marana was the principal continental United States maintenance base for Southeast Asia CIA operations including Air America and Continental Air Services.
One of the more notable aircraft assigned to Marana during its CIA years was a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, AAF Serial 44-85531. 531 was registered September 1957 to Western Enterprises, Inc. of Taiwan (founded by the CIA in 1951). In late 1957 missions were staged from Kurmitola Air Field in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to parachute agents into Tibet. The aircraft was disassembled for parts at Clark Air Base, Philippines between March and October 1958, and it is believed that this plane was eventually scrapped. The serial number 44-85531 appeared again as registered on another B-17G, September 1, 1960 registered to Atlantic General Enterprise, Washington DC (another CIA front) as N809Z. These registration numbers were then changed to the true numbers of 44-83785. Based again at Marana, this aircraft later flew black operations over Vietnam and was used to retrieve two American agents from an abandoned Soviet scientific base in the Arctic using the Fulton Skyhook in Operation Coldfeet.
The Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (WAATS) and other numerous National Guard units are located inside SAHP. The WAATS and is used principally for all ARNG AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter training by the 'Gunfighter University'. It is also extensively used by the British Army for 'Conversion To Role' training for Apache combat operations in Afghanistan.
The Arizona Wing of the Civil Air Patrol often hosts its annual Basic Encampment there as well.
Pinal Airpark also hosts the U.S. Special Operations Command's Parachute Training and Testing Facility. On Mar 28, 2013, Navy SEAL SCPO Brett Shadle was killed during parachute training here and another SEAL was injured.
Since the early 2010s, airport economic development director Jim Petty has opened the facility to the public, giving free tours of the airport and the airplanes stored there.
Facilities and aircraft
Pinal Airpark covers an area of 2,080 acres (840 ha) at an elevation of 1,893 feet (577 m) above mean sea level. It has one runway designated 12/30 with an asphalt surface measuring 6,849 by 150 feet (2,088 x 46 m). For the 12-month period ending January 31, 2004, the airport had 10,628 aircraft operations, an average of 29 per day: 69% general aviation and 31% military.
- 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group
- Arizona World War II Army Airfields
- 37th Flying Training Wing (World War II)
- Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
- Marana Regional Airport
- Pacific Corporation
- Jet Yard
- FAA Airport Master Record for MZJ ( PDF). Federal Aviation Administration. Effective 8 April 2010.
- "Evergreen Maintenance Center, Inc. Appoints Colin Buxton As Vice President of Sales And Marketing". Prweb.com. Retrieved 2014-01-12.
- Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), September 7, 2008, p. 1.
- "Brett Shadle Dead: Navy SEAL Killed In Arizona Parachuting Accident". Huffingtonpost.com. 30 March 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-12.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
- Shaw, Frederick J. (2004), Locating Air Force Base Sites History’s Legacy, Air Force History and Museums Program, United States Air Force, Washington DC, 2004.
- Manning, Thomas A. (2005), History of Air Education and Training Command, 1942–2002. Office of History and Research, Headquarters, AETC, Randolph AFB, Texas ASIN: B000NYX3PC
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pinal Airpark.|
- Pinal Airpark (MZJ) at Arizona DOT airport directory
- Field Guide To Aircraft Boneyards: Pinal Airpark
- Map Explorer article
- Marana Army Airfield in World War II
- Resources for this airport: