Sleeping Giants: A visit to the Air Force's Boneyard

Somewhere in the Arizona desert, roughly 1600 military aircraft sit, temporarily surplus to the Pentagon's needs. Some will be scrapped, while others are cannibalized for spare parts, but as the employees of the Air Force's Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center point out, most are just...sleeping.

A Flash-based presentation of Kodak's eMagazine and Second Story, 'Sleeping Giants' is a three-part presentation about the facility, commonly referred to as the Boneyard - despite the fact that many of the aircraft parked here will eventually be sold to other countries or returned to active service. (Albeit very brief service in some cases.)

For each of the three sections, Hibernation, Awakening, and Flight Out, a brief text introduction precedes an imaginative audio/video presentation. The presentations themselves also serve as lessons in employing the bells and whistles of Web design to maximum effect, while maintaining realistic expectations of the average surfer's capabilities.

This rare and admirable feat is accomplished through the use of moving 'pictures in picture' - accompanied by audio clips of the workers at AMARC. While all the images are stills, the smaller photographs (embedded in the main image) pan automatically during display, and the visual impact is close to that of a full-screen video presentation, while the file sizes remain well within the limitations of current bandwidths. Each section also provides Pause, Play and Reverse buttons, as well as a moveable progress slider, to allow visitors to review specific parts of the presentation.

'Hibernation' follows the process of preparing the aircraft for long-term storage (while displaying planes that range from Korea-era jets to such current front-line fighters as F-15s and 16s). 'Awakening' covers the preparation of units for flight out of the base - a job with definite risks, as one mechanic who almost became an F-4's dinner recounts. 'Flight Out' touches on the most ironic aspect of AMARC, as some aircraft --lovingly stored for as long as 10 years-- are restored to flying condition so that they can be blown out of the sky as remote-controlled target drones. Ah well, blaze of glory, as they say.

Finally, being a Kodak site, there has to be a little something to encourage you to go out and do some shooting of your own. In this case, the obvious topic is how to make the best of airshow photos, using Sleeping Giants images to illustrate the various points.

If you find all this non-organic suspended animation interesting, you should also drop by Phillip Buehler's 'Modern Ruins.' Not only does Buehler have his own AMARC image collections, he's also taken recent photographic surveys of such forgotten but not gone locations as the S.S. United States, (once the world's fastest ocean liner) Coney Island, the site of the 1964 World's Fair, Cape Canaveral, and Ellis Island - before and after its restoration. (It seems that even some geographic locales are only sleeping.)

Though the bulk of the site features still images, Modern Ruins also boasts QTVR panoramas from such vantage points as the top of a B52 fuselage at AMARC, and the Flying Bridge of the S.S. United States. Two of the United States' QTVRs even drop period photographs from the ship's prime into the more recent images for a pair of combination panorama/time capsules.

This is an unfinished site, with the occasional broken link, and it appears that the site itself hasn't seen maintenance for some time (some 'coming soon' features have been coming soon for quite a while now). But given the subject matter, a degree of neglect seems only fitting, and the contents that are available are sufficient to make the visit worthwhile.

Sleeping Giants can be found at http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/sleepingGiants/, with Modern Ruins at http://www.inch.com/~buehler/ruins/index.html.

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