(Image: Theo van Vliet; airplane graveyards: defunct Fulcrum at Zhukovsky Airfield)
There might be no stranger feeling on Earth than walking among the corroding aviation relics of an abandoned airplane graveyard. Witnessing the once-proud hulks of mighty fighter planes, bombers, helicopters and commercial airliners turning to rust is a sobering sight, reminding us of how quickly technology moves on, and the pace at which cutting edge machines are rendered obsolete. Yet there’s no denying the melancholy power these places have. Here are 21 of the world’s most-fascinating aircraft graveyards, boneyards and junkyards, some still extant, others cleared, where decades of aviation history and heritage quietly awaits its fate.
Abandoned Aircraft Boneyard in America’s Western Desert
(Images: Jonathan Haeber; airplane boneyard in America’s western deserts)
In the Western Deserts of the United States, it can sometimes feel as though you can’t move for the hulks of abandoned aircraft. Across these great, empty ranges an almost-uncountable number of derelict planes and helicopters rest quietly beneath the sun’s searing heat. One such place is the airplane graveyard above.
Sitting at an undisclosed location in the desert, this aviation boneyard is almost majestically strange. Several of the defunct planes, which range from World War Two bombers to Cold War fighters and more, are lined up side by side, as if waiting for one last chance to spread their wings. Seen at night, such as in this picture set, they almost seem to glow in the moonlight. The whole place has an almost surreal atmosphere; a wonderland for aviation fans and Air Force aficionados.
Aircraft Graveyard at Predannack, Cornwall
(Images: Ben Salter; abandoned aircraft used for training at Predannack airplane graveyard)
A stunningly desolate headland swept by cold Atlantic winds, the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall is the epitome of rugged British nature. So it can come as a surprise to stumble across something as clearly man-made as the nearby plane graveyard. Situated near the village of Mullion, the old Predannack airfield closed its gates to operational flying at the end of World War Two, though the site was used for a period by Vickers-Armstrongs for experimental testing.
An integral part of the war effort, Predannack opened in 1941 and its brief period of operation was a busy one. By 1944, it housed 3,600 personnel and was a key landing ground for returning bombers bearing heavy damage. Once the war ended, the airfield was placed in care and maintenance and later became a satellite of RNAS Culdrose. It’s now home to the Royal Navy’s Fire Fighting School, which accounts for the rusting, wind-battered craft, used for crash rescue training, in Predannack’s airplane graveyard. A poetic plaque unveiled in June 2002 sums up the feelings you get standing here: “Like a breath of wind gone in a fleeting second only the memories now remain.”
Nigeria: Benin City Airport Aircraft Graveyard
In recent decades, commercial airports around Nigeria have become known for their aircraft graveyards. So much so, in fact, that by 2013 the West African country had been told to do something about them. This corroding collection of defunct airliners, photographed at Benin City Airport, are but one example. The commercial plane graveyard, occupying a neglected corner of the airfield on either side of a large hangar, constitutes the grounded fleet of the defunct Okada Air.
Based at Benin City Airport, Okada Air was established in 1983 but had ceased to exist by 1997. When the company ceased to operate, its core fleet of retro BAC-111s were simply parked up and left to corrode amid the humid atmosphere, alongside a larger Boeing 727 also adorned in Okada Air’s colours. The rotting aircraft graveyard is still visible on Google Earth, as nature encroaches on the abandoned aircraft hulks.
Airplane Graveyard at Pinal Airpark, Marana, Arizona
(Images: Alan Wilson; the massive airliner graveyard at Pinal Airpark, Marana)
As we mentioned earlier, the USA’s Western Deserts can sometimes feel like one giant aircraft boneyard. Pinal Airpark in Marana is one such example. Featuring over 120 abandoned civilian airliners, its vast collection of abandoned planes is equally as impressive as many more famous examples (see below).
The Pinal airplane graveyard has some pedigree, too. This is where the Shah of Iran’s private jet spent its last days, lying derelict alongside a plane the CIA once used for covert operations in South America. But the main bulk of vehicles here are less illustrious, common craft that had their day and have now been quietly shunted off for scrapping. It seems to be a rarely-visited place, too. When the LA Times sent a journalist out in 2015, he reported that it was so silent you could hear a rattlesnake approach.
Abandoned MiG-23 Graveyard, Balad, Iraq
Like the majority of Iraqi airfields, the air base of Balad has something of a chequered history. Once a major Iraqi base considered by many to be the most important military airfield in the country in the 1980s, the former Al-Bakr Air Base fell sustained significant damage during the first Gulf War. By the 2003 US-led invasion, Balad’s MiG-23s were found to be in a poor state of repair. Towed into a de facto airplane graveyard by US forces, the abandoned planes became a kind of headstone to Saddam’s Iraq – a collection of broken, dust-filled fighters liberally coated with mocking graffiti.
As late as 2007, this airplane graveyard was still extant. But in 2014, Balad (now once again in Iraqi hands) came under a ferocious assault by the forces of ISIS. Whether these hollow shells of military jets survived the ensuing carnage, or even if they were still there at the time, is uncertain.