(Image: cgull123, all rights reserved)
While they’re a sad sight to the aviation enthusiast, there’s something eerily fascinating about abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards. Whether it’s the sight of yesterday’s cutting edge technology rusting away in the boneyards of the present, or the rich history surrounding military forces and hardware in general, plane graveyards make for great exploring – in this case from the safety of your PC. In this article we examine eight boneyards that highlight present conflicts and past epochs.
MiG-23 Graveyard, Balad, Iraq
(Images: dokmarius (left), cc-nc-sa-3.0; nathanm, cc-nc-sa-3.0)
This ruinous plane graveyard reflects the fate of Iraq’s air force following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Dragged from various hiding places around the former Balad Air Base (now Joint Base Balad), these dilapidated MiG-23s represent an air force that barely got off the ground in the wake of invasion. Lying amid other junk in a neglected airplane boneyard, the abandoned MiGs have been looted by coalition forces and look more like pieces of urban art than once operational aircraft. Explore more of the Balad plane graveyard.
The Famous “A1 Lightning”, Balderton, UK
(Image: Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK, all rights reserved)
Speaking of urban art, this English Electric Lightning F.2A is easily Britain’s most famous derelict fighter plane. The Cold War warrior appeared in a haulage yard near Balderton, Nottinghamshire in 1983, after battle damage repair duties at RAF Coningsby. Bought to attract customers to the yard almost 30 years ago, the Lightning has somehow survived despite changes of ownership and periods of dereliction.
(Images: Simon Thomas; Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK, all rights reserved; David Cowling, cc-sa-3.0)
Despite it’s terrible condition, the abandoned aircraft has become a landmark to drivers on the A1 road and was even the subject of a Paul Smith clothing line. With restoration looking increasingly unlikely, some have called for the jet to be turned into a piece of urban art – if it isn’t already. All in all, the Lightning remains something of an enigma. Personal enquiries to owners past and present yielded few details other than an dogged refusal to give it up. RAF Binbrook, the Lightning’s spiritual home, is also abandoned today.
Russian Aircraft Wrecks
(Images: Igor W. Minaichenkov and Vladimir Nazarov, via English Russia)
In the world of plane graveyards and abandoned aircraft, the wilds of Russia and vast expanses of Siberia hold a treasure trove of forgotten Soviet hardware. While the workhorse TU-95 Bear and TU-22M Backfire bombers have seen a resurgence in recent years, it’s unlikely the rusting hulks above ever saw regeneration. While many have doubtless been scrapped since these photographs were taken, some likely remain on their weed-infested dispersals due to the sheer remoteness of the region.
Moscow Aircraft Museum – Plane Graveyard, Russia
(Images: Eldan Goldenberg (website), NC-SA-2.0)
Siberia isn’t the only place to take in Russian aircraft wrecks. Silently guarding the last overgrown dispersals of a Moscow airfield, this collection of corroding jets and helicopters looks more like a plane graveyard than a functioning museum. It’s a curious site amid a rapidly redeveloping area of Moscow, as decaying Soviet hardware meets modern Russia.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, United States
(Images: Roger Smith, cc-nc-nd-3.0)
The most famous aircraft boneyard in the world is a mind-blowing facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where over 4,400 silent fighters, bombers, transports, helicoptors and attack jets make up the world’s second largest air force. From F-4s and F-14s to chopped B-52s and B-1Bs, this is where America’s retired military airborne hardware comes to wait – for recycling, reactivation or spares use.
(Images: Roger Smith, cc-nc-nd-3.0)
While the B-52s and F-14s are being destroyed to honour treaty agreements, many F-4s will fly again, only to be shot down as target drones over the western bombing ranges. That said, here’s one F-4 Phantom that escaped both the scrapman and the missiles. For more desert plane graveyards of the western United States, check out this article by Ransom Riggs writing on Mental Floss.
Rinkaby Shooting Range, Sweden
(Images: Andreas Mathiasson, all rights reserved)
In a plane graveyard located in a distant corner of the former Rinkaby military airfield in Sweden, a group of seemingly abandoned Saab 35 Draken fighter planes stand amid other decaying hardware. Ranging from fully intact to twisted metal fuselage remains, the aircraft do not currently appear to be used in live fire exercises but their future is far from certain. Find out more about Rinkaby and its abandoned Saab Drakens.
Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards of the Middle East
(Images: Jim Garamone; Bahamut0013, cc-sa-3.0; U.S. Marine Corps; jamesdale10, cc-3.0; U.S. Army)
Due to ongoing instability and conflict, parts of the Middle East are littered with abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards. The top two images depict an airplane boneyard known as “the petting zoo” at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Like Balad’s MiG-23 graveyard, the battered jets have been rounded up from hiding places across the base. Many were probably unservicable before the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. The wrecked MiG-29 (bottom) was destroyed during Operation Desert Storm and has lain in the desert ever since.
Predannack Plane Graveyard, UK
(Images: cgull123, all rights reserved; Dave Bellamy, all rights reserved)
In an extensive tribute to the Harrier jump jet on our companion site Urban Ghosts, we explored this plane graveyard at Predannack Airfield on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula. Operated by the Royal Navy, the derelict airframes, including several Harriers, appear reasonably intact despite ominously belonging to the Royal Naval School of Fire Fighting. Only time will tell how long they survive…