Ball State Class Challenges Students to Upcycle Old Airplanes


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One Ball State University student designed an airplane disassembly factory to make recycling easier. Photo: Designed by Joshua Stowers

One Ball State University student designed an airplane disassembly factory to make recycling easier. Photo: Designed by Joshua Stowers

In Tucson, Ariz., thousands of airplanes stand nose to tail in the desert sun. There are fighter jets, military choppers and just about everything else in between, totaling more than 4,000 flying machines. The entire scene looks like a sprawling aviation parking lot, but it’s something else all together — this is a graveyard.

The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, located on Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is one of nearly a dozen “boneyards” in the country. These sites spread across Arizona, California and New Mexico are chosen for their arid, corrosion-preventing climates and house thousands of decommissioned military planes and retired jetliners. Some aircraft that end up here are repaired or scraped for parts, but for many, the boneyard is their final resting place.

Enter Harry Eggink, a Ball State University architecture professor who wants to change all that. He created an aero-architecture course that challenges students to recycle out-of-service airplanes for new applications.

“A colleague of mine, we were sitting around one time, and I was telling him that there should be better ways to do architecture with new materials,” Eggink says of how he came up with the idea. “Then I remembered going to Arizona and scanning their graveyards — their boneyards. We have all these materials there. Nothing was happening to them, nobody was collecting them and nobody was using them.”

Though recycling airplanes and old structures for architecture is not a new concept, Eggink believes his students have the imagination and creativity to elevate aero-architecture to the next level.

“This is the kind of project that is of their generation,” Eggink says. “These are issues that they’re going to be facing. In architecture, our students try to solve problems, and throwing this curveball at architecture students is fantastic. They don’t know the end result, and they really have to work on it.”

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