Desert Oddity: Lost Aircraft of the Mojave

Image by Jim Gordon

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

The Mojave Desert, home to Edwards Air Force Base, has been a hotbed of bizarre aircraft activity for decades.  But nevermind those strange lights in the sky!  This remote region of the High Desert is a place where walkers  stumble across the abandoned hulks of great aircraft, apparently left to rot on the desert floor.  But why?

Image (top) via Google Earth, lower image by AktiefBeeld

(Lower image reproduced with permission of photographer, AktiefBeeld)

Perhaps the best known of all is “Snoopy”, a B-58 Hustler, located due south of a dry lakebed adjacent to Edwards Air Force Base.  The Hustler was the first supersonic jet bomber, and this was the sixth aircraft off the production line.  It was used as a test aircraft in the development of the radar guidance system for a new missile.  The B-58′s nose was lengthened by around seven feet to accomodate the new equipment, giving way to its rather odd appearance and explaining the nickname, Snoopy.

Images by Jim Gordon

(Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

When the trials were completed Snoopy was towed across the dry lake to the photo range (now abandoned?), where it has become something of a landmark in the featureless desert.  Note the photo resolution targets alongside.  Snoopy is in poor condition today, no doubt semi-dismantled by the Air Force and probably latterly by souvenir hunters also.  But it nevertheless lives on, creating an interesting diversion for desert explorers, and an alternative habitat for the local wildlife.

Image via Google Earth

Stand alongside Snoopy and look to the east, and you’ll be greeted by an even more surprising sight – two of the world’s most successful and feared bombers, the mighty B-52, abandoned amid the sparse vegetation of the Mojave.  One remains intact, the other decimated, their bare metal bodies blending in perfectly with their surroundings.

Images by JACoulter (left) and Google Earth

(Image (left) licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic)

Due to arms reduction treaties that came about at the end of the Cold War, most retired B-52s, like many of their Russian counterparts, have been destroyed.  Generally, B-52s are smashed into several massive pieces and left for 90 days, to allow Russian spy satellites to determine that they’ve been rendered useless.

Image by AktiefBeeld

(Image reproduced with permission of photographer, AktiefBeeld)

The story goes that the Russians spotted these two aircraft languishing in the desert and, not realising the B-52s were little more than stripped out carcasses, demanded that one of them be destroyed.  The unlucky one was obligingly rigged with charges and literally blown apart – an explosive end to a proud career.  The picture above shows the intact B-52 (minus tail) in the foreground, with the tail section of its wrecked wingman behind.

Images via Google Earth and U.S. Federal Government

(Images top right and centre right released into public domain)

Virtual Globetrotting has done a great job of cataloguing the abandoned aircraft on the Edwards AFB photo test range, but a virtual exploration of the desert floor has turned up more anonymous old wrecks.  The images above show the remains of an F-101 Voodoo fighter (top left), alongside a more active version (top right).  Next down is the F-8 hulk, and below that two unidentified wrecks lie along the same road stretching east from the southern end of the dry lake.

Image by AktiefBeeld

(Image reproduced with permission of photographer, AktiefBeeld)

A closer inspection of the F-101 Voodoo shows it to be in poor condition.  The aircraft has been stripped of almost all useful parts, and appears to be little more than a shell.

Image by Alan Radecki

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)

Last but not least is the abandoned B-47 bomber, predecessor to the mighty B-52.  This jet looks more intact than most of the others, despite being (apparently) accessible alongside a road.  This B-47 has so far proved elusive in our combing of the desert floor via Google Earth, but the chances are that it hasn’t gone anywhere fast!

Image by Alan Radecki

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)

The other option is that it sits on a closed off section of land surrounding Edwards Air Force Base, a strange place synonymous with experimental aircraft, stealth planes, strange lights in the sky and commonly linked to nearby Area 51.  But whatever bizarre phenomena may be taking place in the skies above, these strange military ghosts of the Mojave will hopefully continue to surprise and intrigue from the comfort of firm ground for many years to come.

Images by Rennett Stowe

(Images licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

And with the vast expanse of the Mojave, it isn’t difficult to imagine how even the largest aircraft can simply get lost in this foreboding and arid wilderness.

Update

Images via Google Earth

The elusive B-47 has been found!  It’s located north of the other airframes amid some bizarre man-made shapes on the otherwise featureless desert floor – and by all accounts in the middle of the Edwards bombing range.  Big thanks to Frank Martin for the info (see comment below).

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  • Frank Martin

    The B-47 is located on the Edwards Bombing Range which is located southeast of the base and composed of a large rectangle, a barbell shape, two smaller rectangles and several circles. The B-47 is southwest of the southern small rectangle, down the road from a dark black shape on the ground. 34º51’40.51″N 117º46’50.86″ W . Hope this helps.

  • Tom

    Hey Frank, thanks very much for the info and a good find there! I’ve added it in as an update, and was originally searching in completely the wrong place. Those shapes on the ground are pretty bizarre too, although the Nevada desert looks to be covered in them… Something to do with the bombing range?

  • Betcar1928

    as an OLd (82) retired AF veteran and Pilot I really enjoyed seeing some of these old aircraft i was associated with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Web-Teevee/100001073353566 Web Teevee

    what happened to these planes?

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  • Anthonycummings

    Hi, Iworked at the Edwards bombing range for two years and I explored all the planes you have pictured above. I even buried my dog under the B-47.

  • Anthonycummings

    Those planes are used as photo targets for recon planes and satellites

  • Jetfighter

    What you dont know is that some of these planes US Air Force buried down in the dessert ground.All to important to be seen by the rest of the exploring humanity when they was experimental and to dangerous to scrap without getting contamination in the area.

    Former Jet Fighter.

  • Karloon

    I believe the lower left is a F-100 super Sabre, The right one is a F-8, compare it to the other one.

  • Jedi

     I do not think that the one of the airplanes mentioned above is F-8 (together with the second unindentifed one) – tail section and two engine nacelles on the rear fuselage reminds me more of some Gulfstream or Learjet, therefore C-11, C-20, C-21 or C-37. I would say those are two C-11 most likely.

  • Jetblueazure

    what that plane is, is a modified b-66 destroyer known as the x-21. It was an aerodynamic research plane.

  • Jetblueazure

    what that plane is, is a modified b-66 destroyer known as the x-21. It was an aerodynamic research plane.

  • Jetblueazure

    what that plane is, is a modified b-66 destroyer known as the x-21. It was an aerodynamic research plane.

  • Jedi

     Wow – well done! It really seem to be so – even on Wiki there is a paragraph saying that both X-21 built are in Edwards’ photo range and no attempt to be restored. Quite a find!

  • Jedi

     Wow – well done! It really seem to be so – even on Wiki there is a paragraph saying that both X-21 built are in Edwards’ photo range and no attempt to be restored. Quite a find!

  • Jedi

     Wow – well done! It really seem to be so – even on Wiki there is a paragraph saying that both X-21 built are in Edwards’ photo range and no attempt to be restored. Quite a find!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nkerns Noel Kerns

    While the property where these planes are located is clearly Edwards AFB property, does anyone know how difficult access to them is? Surely there’s at least a fence line one would have to cross…or are these wrecks outside the boundary fence?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nkerns Noel Kerns

    While the property where these planes are located is clearly Edwards AFB property, does anyone know how difficult access to them is? Surely there’s at least a fence line one would have to cross…or are these wrecks outside the boundary fence?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nkerns Noel Kerns

    While the property where these planes are located is clearly Edwards AFB property, does anyone know how difficult access to them is? Surely there’s at least a fence line one would have to cross…or are these wrecks outside the boundary fence?

  • Lacy D

    We were just out there and there is a very basic fence. In some areas, there is no fence at all. Some of these photographers got up close and personal, but there are signs warning that it is government property. They’re pretty far from the road and I wasn’t sure if we should risk it.

 
 
 
 
 

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