This weekend, Saturday, November 6 and Sunday November 7, 2021, the Thunder and Lightning over Tucson Airshow at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona will thrill aviation enthusiasts from around the world with a unique mix of aerial and static displays that can only be presented at one of the most unique military aviation installations on earth. But 9 years ago, in 2012, at this same Davis-Monthan Airshow, there was a very special exhibit that only appeared once, and then disappeared forever.
Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, is adjacent to the famous 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the famous aircraft “Boneyard” where retired aircraft are stored for use as parts donors or before their demolition for scrap. In addition to being a massive repository for spare aircraft and parts, the Boneyard is also a living museum, where some of the most fascinating stories in all of aviation sit in quiet repose as their history echoes on into the future long after their demolition.
The Davis-Monthan Airshow is always a special show because of its proximity to unique aviation artifacts and resources like the Boneyard and the Pima Air and Space Museum. But the April, 2012 edition of the show was truly exceptional because of one remarkable, and ephemeral, visitor- a literal “white whale” in aircraft spotting.
The Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed (formerly Airborne Laser) weapons system, aircraft number 00-0001, the only aircraft of its type ever built, was on static display at the Davis-Monthan AFB air show this one time in 2012 before its demolition. It was the only time the public ever got a close look at the most expensive aircraft in history.