The Mojave Airport Boneyard

Boneyard Rows  :::::  1990  :::::  Boeing 707s and Convair 880s lined up awaiting the smelter.Boneyard Rows ::::: 1990 ::::: Boeing 707s and Convair 880s lined up awaiting the smelter.
Air India  :::::  2003  :::::  A first generation 747 in the middle of the recycling process.Air India ::::: 2003 ::::: A first generation 747 in the middle of the recycling process.
Faded Fuselage  :::::  1990  :::::  TWA Convair 880.Faded Fuselage ::::: 1990 ::::: TWA Convair 880.
DC-8 and 880  :::::  1990  :::::  The ultimate in space age technology from McDonnel Douglas and Convair.DC-8 and 880 ::::: 1990 ::::: The ultimate in space age technology from McDonnel Douglas and Convair.
Jet Age Junk  :::::  2003  :::::  TWA DC-9 and Delta L1011.  These airframes no longer exist.Jet Age Junk ::::: 2003 ::::: TWA DC-9 and Delta L1011. These airframes no longer exist.
Amputee  :::::  1990  :::::  Ex-United (1959) and later Amputee ::::: 1990 ::::: Ex-United (1959) and later "Fiesta Air Charter" DC-8. Gone.
Stainless Steel Shade  :::::  2003  :::::  Part of the Stainless Steel Shade ::::: 2003 ::::: Part of the "ghost flightline" along the back fence.
Pink Cockpit  :::::  1990  :::::  BAC-111 cockpit section and other space age debris.Pink Cockpit ::::: 1990 ::::: BAC-111 cockpit section and other space age debris.
Hawaiian  :::::  2003  :::::  Parted out Hawaiian Airlines DC-10.Hawaiian ::::: 2003 ::::: Parted out Hawaiian Airlines DC-10.
Moonlit Tristar  :::::  2003  :::::  Engineless Delta L1011.Moonlit Tristar ::::: 2003 ::::: Engineless Delta L1011.
Turbofan  :::::  2003  :::::  Boeing 747.Turbofan ::::: 2003 ::::: Boeing 747.
DB Cooper Stairs  :::::  2003  :::::  Smashed FedEx 727 tail section.DB Cooper Stairs ::::: 2003 ::::: Smashed FedEx 727 tail section.
Nose Ring  :::::  2003  :::::  FedEx 727 rear stairs and an American Airlines DC-10.Nose Ring ::::: 2003 ::::: FedEx 727 rear stairs and an American Airlines DC-10.
Green Cockpit  :::::  2003Green Cockpit ::::: 2003
Belly Flop  :::::  2003  :::::  Repainted and blown up for the movie Belly Flop ::::: 2003 ::::: Repainted and blown up for the movie "Speed."
TA  :::::  2003  :::::  Delta L1011 tail.TA ::::: 2003 ::::: Delta L1011 tail.
Philip  :::::  2003  :::::  FedEx 727.Philip ::::: 2003 ::::: FedEx 727.
Baggage Door  :::::  2003  :::::  Delta L1011.Baggage Door ::::: 2003 ::::: Delta L1011.
  • Boneyard Rows  :::::  1990  :::::  Boeing 707s and Convair 880s lined up awaiting the smelter.
  • Air India  :::::  2003  :::::  A first generation 747 in the middle of the recycling process.
  • Faded Fuselage  :::::  1990  :::::  TWA Convair 880.
  • DC-8 and 880  :::::  1990  :::::  The ultimate in space age technology from McDonnel Douglas and Convair.
  • Jet Age Junk  :::::  2003  :::::  TWA DC-9 and Delta L1011.  These airframes no longer exist.
  • Amputee  :::::  1990  :::::  Ex-United (1959) and later
  • Stainless Steel Shade  :::::  2003  :::::  Part of the
  • Pink Cockpit  :::::  1990  :::::  BAC-111 cockpit section and other space age debris.
  • Hawaiian  :::::  2003  :::::  Parted out Hawaiian Airlines DC-10.
  • Moonlit Tristar  :::::  2003  :::::  Engineless Delta L1011.
  • Turbofan  :::::  2003  :::::  Boeing 747.
  • DB Cooper Stairs  :::::  2003  :::::  Smashed FedEx 727 tail section.
  • Nose Ring  :::::  2003  :::::  FedEx 727 rear stairs and an American Airlines DC-10.
  • Green Cockpit  :::::  2003
  • Belly Flop  :::::  2003  :::::  Repainted and blown up for the movie
  • TA  :::::  2003  :::::  Delta L1011 tail.
  • Philip  :::::  2003  :::::  FedEx 727.
  • Baggage Door  :::::  2003  :::::  Delta L1011.

Driving across California’s high desert, the airliner boneyard at Mojave airport is visible from miles away.  The long rows of faded tails seem to stretch to the horizon.  Many of the planes are parked in long-term storage, reminders of economic downturns and now defunct airlines, but many more of the worn out, partially cannibalized and obsolete planes will never fly again.  Over the past 30 years, Mojave Airport has become the final resting place for over a thousand of the world’s aircraft.

When airliners reach the end of their operational lifetimes (usually about 20 to 25 years) they make their last flight to places like Mojave (or Kingman, Tucson and Marana, Arizona) to be stored and stripped of their parts, keeping more recently manufactured versions of that plane flying.  As entire series of planes are retired, these storage facilities become junkyards.  Scrap companies buy the superseded old airframes and drag them to a remote corner of the airport to chop them up, and melt them down.

The images in this set were all shot on film in 1990 and a second trip in 2003.  Back in ’90, access was as simple as tracking down the owner’s name and making a request by phone call.  In 2003, after 911, access was considerably more difficult.  Lucky for me, I had made a good contact in 1990 who grudgingly allowed me in one more time.  Today, Mojave Air and Space Port is home to several secretive aerospace R&D facilities and there is no photography allowed anywhere on the flightline side of the airport.  I consider myself very lucky to have been able to shoot this boneyard.  Twice.

The ghostly atmosphere in this graveyard is palpable–the banging and scraping of doors and control surfaces in the slightest breeze, constant.  These old planes seem to be sighing and groaning as they settle onto their tire rims at the end of the runway, standing as sentinels under the slowly circling stars.  Massive and gleaming in the moonlight, they’re much more imposing when standing on the ground next to them.  The tattered hulks bleeding hydraulic fluid into the sand is a sad sight indeed.

In their day, these planes represented the most sophisticated technology the world had to offer.  They were the shining glory of many nations. Just 100 years ago, they could only have been perceived as pure science fiction.  The thought of casual tourists, sipping champagne as they flew from New York to Los Angeles in a few hours was unimaginable.  Today, these vehicles are garbage.  What will the garbage look like 100 years from now?