The Gray Ghost: B-17 Flying Fortress Wreck, Papua New Guinea

b 17 wreck new guinea  The Gray Ghost: B-17 Flying Fortress Wreck, Papua New Guinea(Image: Alf Gillman, reproduced with permission)
This remarkably intact Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was one of 32 aircraft built for the Royal Air Force on a lend-lease agreement in 1942. But prior to delivery, the aircraft were reassigned to the 5th Air Force in a bid to cope with the demands of the Pacific theatre.   Hastily repainted in U.S. markings, this aircraft, later dubbed the Gray Ghost, made a spectacular crash landing near Black Cat Pass in Papua New Guinea in 1943.

b 17 port moresby  The Gray Ghost: B-17 Flying Fortress Wreck, Papua New Guinea(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The B-17’s final ill-fated mission saw it depart 7-Mile Drome (now Jackson International Airport) at Port Moresby to bomb a Japanese convoy off Lae. But anti-aircraft fire crippled the Flying Fortress, forcing pilot 1st Lt. Raymond S. Dau. of Arlington, VA to crash land the stricken plane on the grassy hillside. The crew were returned to Port Moresby, but radio operator Robert Albright, aged 19, sadly died from his wounds.

(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The Gray Ghost, which was issued the RAF serial number FL461 and flew 12 missions prior to crash landing, remains one of the most intact and accessible aircraft wrecks in Papua New Guinea. The B-17E’s weathered paintwork has since revealed the original RAF markings, giving rise to the urban legend that it was a British aircraft on a secret mission.  More information about the Gray Ghost can be found at Pacific Wrecks.

Photographer Discovers Plane that Once Ferried Him Across Atlantic in Tucson Scrap Yard

scrap plane  Photographer Discovers Plane that Once Ferried Him Across Atlantic in Tucson Scrap Yard(Image: Phillip Capper, cc-3.0)

Catching a flight is as mundane as taking a bus for most people.  But when aviation enthusiast Phillip Capper stumbled across this abandoned Boeing 707 in a plane graveyard in Tucson, Arizona, he recognised the derelict jet as one that had transported him across the Atlantic some 20 years earlier.  While many won’t feel any particular connection to the airliners that ferry them across the world, it must be an odd feeling to one day find the remains of one in a boneyard.

Soviet Monuments: Decaying Lenin Statue Watches Over Abandoned Fighter Jet

abandoned mig 15 lenin statue  Soviet Monuments: Decaying Lenin Statue Watches Over Abandoned Fighter Jet(Image: Danner Gyde, reproduced with permission)

Situated at the entrance to the Russian Federation Air Force Museum at Monino, this derelict Soviet-era MiG-15 lying alongside a decaying statue of Vladimir Lenin is as much social commentary as it is scrap metal.  While the museum’s impressive collection represents a timeline of Russian aviation, the “gate guards” symbolise the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and with it, communism.  Of course, they are just two among hundreds of reminders of the old epoch in a landscape littered with rusting monuments.

Scrapping a B-52 Stratofortress at AMARG Boneyard

b 52 scrapping  Scrapping a B-52 Stratofortress at AMARG Boneyard(Image: Screenshot via YouTube)

This excerpt from a German language documentary shows the crude nature of aircraft scrapping, as a mighty B-52 Stratofortress is cut-up at the AMARG facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, popularly referred to as the Boneyard.  The 185,000 lb bomber is no match for “the guillotine”, used to reduce the B-52s to several massive chunks of scrap to be viewed by Russian spy satellites under the SALT II Treaty prior to final recycling.  Like the B-52s, aircraft numbers at the Boneyard appear to be dwindling.

Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

AMARG  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?(All images via Google Earth)

Officially titled the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) but known simply as “the Boneyard”, this vast collection of surplus military aircraft in Tucson, Arizona is without doubt the largest plane graveyard in the United States.  But according to a March 2011 Google Earth overview, there’s evidence that the “second largest air force in the world” is shrinking rapidly.

AMARG 2  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

This February 2010 article on Treehugger revealed a plane graveyard with barely an empty parking space available.  But it’s changed dramatically over the past year, as dwindling aircraft numbers reflect the return to service of some and scrapping of others.  Roughly 87 massive B-52 bombers survive in the Boneyard, with around half cut-up to satisfy treaty obligations.

AMARG 3  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

F-4 Phantom numbers have also declined, with many of the stored Vietnam-era warplanes returned to service for use as target drones, while an ongoing process of regeneration and recycling has seen other Boneyard occupants give up the ghost.  But even if the massive 2,600 acre (four square mile) site no longer houses 4,200 aircraft, it’s still one of the most impressive aircraft facilities on the planet.

AMARG 4  Have Aircraft Numbers Declined at AMARG, U.S. Military’s Vast Plane Graveyard?

More to the point, when the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter eventually enters service, AMARG will once again be filled to capacity with a new crop of redundant F-16s and F-18s, among other older airframes.  For the aviation enthusiast – or anyone that wants to be awestruck – a tour of the Boneyard is available from the Pima Air & Space Museum, adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Out of the Wild: Consolidated Catalinas Salvaged in Alaska

catalina salvage  Out of the Wild: Consolidated Catalinas Salvaged in Alaska(Images: left, right by Sgt. Kevin L. Bishop, U.S. Army, public domain)

Two weeks ago we featured a Consolidated Catalina wreck (“Katie”) that survives on the island of Diego Garcia.  Here’s one that has endured in a far more arduous environment.  The aircraft, assigned to the 10th Rescue Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, was forced to make an emergency landing at Lake Dago in 1947 due to engine trouble.  Written-off, she was stripped for parts before eventual salvage in 1984.  The Catalina is now displayed at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at Anchorage.  (More photos here.)

catalina salvage 2  Out of the Wild: Consolidated Catalinas Salvaged in Alaska(Image: Capt. Lewis R. Devoe, USNR, public domain)

Unlike the Lake Dago aircraft above, this PBY-5 Catalina flying boat from Patrol Squadron VP-45 at Casco Cove, Alaska, waited less than a week to be salvaged.  On August, 23 1943, the aircraft sank to a depth of 30 metres during takeoff on particularly high seas.  She was salvaged on August 27 and was presumably either returned to flight or stripped for parts.  Explore the history of this aircraft type at The Catalina Society.

Kosovo War: MQ-1 Predator Drone and MiG-29 Wrecks

predator drone crash  Kosovo War: MQ-1 Predator Drone and MiG-29 Wrecks(Image: David Orlovic, public domain)

Like these crashed secret aircraft, the U.S. government would probably wished this stealthy MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had been completely destroyed when it was brought down in hostile territory in 1999 during NATO airstrikes over Serbia.  But the broken drone’s tough exterior rendered it relatively intact, and it has since been displayed at the Belgrade Aviation Museum.

mig 29 wreck  Kosovo War: MQ-1 Predator Drone and MiG-29 Wrecks(Image: U.S. Army, public domain)

This MiG-29 Fulcrum of the Yugoslav Air Force was shot down by NATO forces outside the town of Ugljevik in Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 27, 1999.  Its identifiable shape and impressively intact rear fuselage and wings reflect the robustness of Russian-built Cold War-era technology.  Explore more abandoned military wrecks of the Kosovo War at Urban Ghosts.

The Calatina “Katie” Wreck on Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean

catalina wreck  The Calatina “Katie” Wreck on Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean(Image: Steve Swayne, cc-sa-3.0)

This wrecked Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat was torn from its moorings on September 16, 1944 when a cyclone struck the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.  Damaged beyond repair, the American-built Catalina, which was serving with the Royal Air Force, was stipped of useful parts and abandoned on the beach.  Named “Katie” by her pilot, 21-year-old Pilot Officer James Park, she is still visible today, more than 65 years after the storm, albeit sinking into the sand.  This excellent page details the full story and photos.

Rare Dornier 17 Discovered off UK Coast to be Raised

crashed aircraft  Rare Dornier 17 Discovered off UK Coast to be Raised(Image: Wessex Archaeology, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

Wessex Archaeology captured this sonar image of a crashed Dornier 17 bomber off the coast of Kent, south east England.  The submerged World War Two-era German aircraft was discovered by a local diver.  Wessex Archaeology carried out a geophysical survey of the wreck followed by a diving inspection in 2010, amid plans to recover the aircraft for eventual display.

dornier 17 kent  Rare Dornier 17 Discovered off UK Coast to be Raised(Image: Folkerts, cc-sa-3.0 Germany)

Like all crashed military aircraft in the United Kingdom,  the rare Dornier 17 is subject to The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.  The bomber is believed to have been shot down during the Battle of Britain in August 1940.  More information, and plans to recover the aircraft, can be found on the RAF Museum website.

Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two

plane graveyard 1  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Image: Daniel Berek, reproduced with permission)

In Part Two of our abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards of the world series, we explore a number of diverse sites from official aircraft boneyards to desert and jungle wrecks.  While hardcore aviation enthusiasts might prefer to see such aircraft restored, many of these wrecks present undeniably fascinating scenes on the landscape, and often tell us something about the rich – sometimes bloody – history of a certain place.

Plane Graveyard near Edwards AFB, Mojave Desert

edwards afb radar range  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Images: Jim Gordon (top left, top right, middle), cc-3.0; Jim Coulter (left), cc-nd-3.0; Alan Radecki, cc-sa-3.0)

This plane graveyard in the desolate Mojave Desert, in the immediate vicinity of Edwards Air Force Base, is likely one of the more inaccessible aircraft boneyards of America’s west.  Home to a variety of airframes, including two battered B-52 bombers, a B-47 and a B-58 Hustler known as “Snoopy”, the site is actually a radar range used for reconnaissance testing.  More photographs accompany this full feature article by Urban Ghosts.

Plane Graveyard at Băneasa Airport, Bucharest, Romania

plane graveyard1  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Image: Post-Industrial, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

French aviation pioneer Louis Blériot made the first flights around Băneasa in 1909.  Then, in 1912, Romania’s first flight school was opened at Băneasa Airfield, making it the oldest continually operating airport in Eastern Europe and among the five oldest airports in the world.  Băneasa Airport remains operational today although the small fleet of abandoned airliners above, tucked behind a hangar, have clearly been grounded for good.

Abandoned Aircraft Series by Daniel Berek

plane graveyard 3  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Images: Daniel Berek, reproduced with permission)

Daniel Berek has catalogued a wide range of abandoned aircraft in this impressive Flickr set.  The battered hulks above have certainly seen better days.  But since several of them reside in the plane boneyard of the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, perhaps they will one day be restored to their former glory, or simply provide spare parts to their more complete brethren. 

Abandoned Aircraft at Madang Airfield, Papua New Guinea

abandoned aircraft  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Image: Matthew Laird Acred, cc-sa-3.0)

This Nakajima Ki-49 Hellen aircraft was abandoned following a U.S. raid on Madang Airport in Papua New Guinea.  The airfield was heavily damaged and several aircraft were simply left to rust.  According to photographer Matthew Laird Acred, the original base was far larger than Madang’s current airport, but would have cost too much to restore.  Acred photographed this historic plane wreck in 2002.

Abandoned Aircraft, Egypt

abandoned aircraft egypt  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Lars Plougmann, cc-sa-3.0)

Deep in Egypt’s Sinai Desert, this isolated hangar might look as though it stands in the corner of a dusty provincial airfield, but this is actually the boneyard at Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport.  The condition of the hangared jet is unclear, but the battered wreck outside is obviously abandoned.  Likely used in some training capacity, the cabin top has been cut away and the plane now looks fit only for scrapping.

Miscellaneous Abandoned Aircraft

abandoned aircraft 1  Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part Two(Images: Taro Taylor, cc-3.0; ch images, cc-3.0; Yuriy Lapitskiy, cc-sa-3.0; Gazjo, public domain)

This miscellaneous collection of abandoned aircraft includes the remains of a wrecked World War Two bomber lying in a river in Papua New Guinea, several old airliners rotting away in Russia and a light aircraft deserted in the outback.  Abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards are intriguing sites on the landscape and are found across the world, from massive military aircraft boneyards to isolated island wrecks.

Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards Part One