Where Planes Go To Die: A One Way Trip To The Mojave Boneyard

When you first see it in the distance, you wouldn’t think it anything other than a typical airfield.

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A fleet of planes, all carefully aligned with noses pointing west…

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Ready to take off into the desert sunset at a moment’s notice.

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But walking amongst the planes up close, it doesn’t take long before you start to notice…

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Something is very wrong with this airfield.

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Very, very wrong.

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Everywhere you turn, wreckage is strewn across the sand…

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Enormous plane bodies perfectly snipped in half…

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Some sinking into the ground, the makings of a post-apocalyptic shelter…

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Others stripped open at the sides, like the sort of cross-section plane diagram you might find in a children’s book.

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And then it all becomes clear: you’re not in an airfield at all.

You’re in a graveyard.

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The Mojave Boneyard, to be specific – the final resting place for literally thousands of planes as they’re eventually broken down for scrap and sold. It’s also available as a filming location, and has been used numerous times for movies and TV shows over the years.

Below, a frequent sight at the Boneyard that nevertheless struck me as totally surreal each time I saw it…

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An enormous jet resting atop a few simple stacks of wood, like nothing more than a dead car propped up on cinder blocks.

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Walking the Boneyard is like taking a disjointed, ramshackle tour through the history of aviation. You can stumble upon planes from pretty much any era – below, a pair of Douglas C-133 Cargomasters…

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…a cargo plane built circa the late 1950s (and desperately in need of a Pixar-illustrated smiley face to go along with that nosecone):

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Though both planes have been out of commission for decades…

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They still make a pretty damn good backdrop:

Walking just a few rows over becomes an abrupt time warp to the 1980s with this line of Gulfstreams…

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Below, a Gulfstream III, one of 202 built from ’79-’86…

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Nearby, a rusting fighter jet…

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And just short distance away, the hulking mass of a DC-10…

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The remnants of its center engine:

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From Chinese cargo planes…

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…to gargantuan Boeing 747-400s…

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…to Hawaii-bound 737s, none will ever take to the skies again.

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There’s something unexpectedly eerie about being surrounded by so many dead, empty aircraft…

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There’s something even eerier in boarding one.

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I headed up through the access hatch of a towering 747…

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Past the various electronics I imagine I’d have to remove as a pilot were the computer mainframe ever to turn on me (“What are you doing, Dave?”)…

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…and up through an opening in the floor:

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I emerged into the deserted business section…

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Empty leather seats, video screens dark (yes, if one of these were to have suddenly turned on, I would have died instantly of a heart attack):

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Moving back into economy…

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Rows and rows of empty seats…

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Tray tables all in their upright and locked positions:

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Up the stairs…

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…and into the luxuriously large First Class section (which actually feels extremely claustrophobic when you know you’re not going anywhere):

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And finally, the cockpit beyond:

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The remains of food prep stations:

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Back outside, I kept staring at the plane bodies sliced ever-so-neatly in half, and found myself picturing an enormous bagel cutter-like device:

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A capped Boeing 737:

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In particular, I loved finding planes that had been cross-sectioned, inadvertently providing a helpful anatomy lesson:

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In fact, it was almost like a primer on how to build a plane. Insert wings here…

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You can probably find a spare pair lying around if you look hard enough:

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Grab an engine…

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Slip it in (righty-tighty, as the saying goes)…

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Finally, add a dozen or so rows of these, and it’s time to start selling tickets. 🙂

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Love the sections of the Boneyard that feel especially post-apocalyptic…

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I noticed this bit of Mad Max-like salvage in one corner. Ready for a bit of obscure movie trivia? These are the decaying remains of a scale model of the Exxon Valdez from the movie Waterworld (home base to the bad guys, in case you’ve forgotten).

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A few more pictures. A 1969 DC-9-30, now rendered see-through…

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Another plane sunk into the sand, which began to remind me of a predator stalking its prey:

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An Airbus A320…

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A beached whale:

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The stripped remains of a cockpit…

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Another, in slightly better shape:

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An empty hull…

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An abandoned prep area:

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Despite an infinite number of differences in size, shape, purpose, flight history, clientelle, and so on, all of the planes at Mojave nevertheless share one thing in common: their final destination.

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In the end, the Boneyard gets us all.

-SCOUT

PS – The Mojave Boneyard is available for film shoots – send me an email if interested. Unfortunately, no tours are offered at this time, and the facility is strictly off-limits.

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18 comments

  1. Nick, more trivia…. Your 7th picture from the top is the cut-off and left-behind tail section of the airplane whose fuselage was purchased by ABC TV and shipped to Oahu for the earliest episodes of “Lost”.

  2. This place was featured in at least two episodes of “Mythbusters” one where they tested explosive decompression and one where they obtained a row of seats to test the survivability of the “brace position”

  3. Just like every other airport I’ve been around…..

    ……not a taxi in sight!

  4. Sad, but fascinating. Nice post.

  5. Just a fantastic post, I love it, I have forwarded to the official forum from the Portuguese Spotters Association.
    Great pictures!

  6. Any idea why the planes are all facing East?

  7. Outstanding article. Just thinking about all the time, effort and money that went into building those…..

  8. En ese cementerio… NUNCA JAMAS, NUNCA estará un DC-3

  9. Seen the outside when I drove past years ago BUT where do the old pilots go when put out to pasture?

  10. I flew for American Airlines from 1974 to 2011 and worked on a 707, 727 100/200, DC 10, MD 80, and in my retirement, 777, 757 and 767. These pics are so heart breaking!!! Aren’t these areas heavily guarded? I loved your pics. Just so heart breaking!!

  11. OH,, I was a flight attendant and Purser then In Flight Trainer.

  12. Midfield Aviation based at Apple Valley airfield offer air tours for overflying Victorville and Mojave boneyards. A great experience!!!

  13. How do they get them there, one last flight? with just enough fuel to get them there, or they piggy backed on a 747 like the space shuttles? or towed behind a tow truck. 😉

  14. You could sure make a great lake cabin out of some of these. wonder what a front half would cost?

  15. Been flying commercially for 53 years. The saddest thing I’ve done in my aviation career was to ferry a few old 747s for burial in a bone yard. I grew up with these magnificent flying machines and remember them when they were new and shiny. Once you step off that aircraft in the desert for the last time, is like leaving your parents in hospice knowing they would never come out alive!
    Captain Ross Aimer
    UAL Ret.