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.


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).


About the author: Tom





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