I have posted a few shots of preserved aircraft at Kemble, but Cotswold Airport is the end of the line for a lot of planes in a far less graceful way. It is the base for disassembly of airframes that have reached the end of their operational lives. A jet doesn’t have to be that old to have greater value in its parts than as an operational aircraft. If a major check is coming up and it isn’t worth that much post check, it might be worth it to the owner to have it broken down for spares. As airframes get older, this decision is more obvious.
Kemble is the location where a lot of this happens. From the airfield or from the road that passes by, you can see a line up of aircraft that are unlikely to ever fly again. They will be progressively stripped of their most valuable parts. They may hang around like this for a long time with bits being gradually taken off as they are demanded by other operators. Eventually, there will be little left of value and the scrap metal will become the most valuable thing that they have to offer. Then they will be cut up. It is a safe process for an aviation enthusiast but a normal part of the life cycle of an aircraft. If you are in the area, head by to see what is there.
When I was first into aviation, the Phantom was everywhere. It was operated by numerous air forces and the RAF had tons of them (including some that had cascaded from the Royal Navy). At all of my early air shows, there would be Phantoms on static and part of the flying display. While they had started their RAF career in the strike and ground attack role, by this time they were purely used for air defense.
With the end of the Cold War, the RAF reduced in size and the Phantoms were withdrawn from service far faster than had originally been anticipated. It wasn’t long before they were all gone. A bunch ended up in museums and the rest were cut up. As I was exploring Kemble’s airfield – Cotswold Airport to give it its proper name – I was surprised to come across a bunch of bits of Phantoms alongside the road. A pair of fuselages including one of a Boscombe test jet that I had a kit of as a kid, some wings, fins and tail planes. It was all just sitting there so I grabbed a few shots. I have heard since that the airport was pressuring the owners to cover it all properly and I think it all went under cover shortly after I was there. A lucky break for me, I guess.
I had seen photos from the visits people had made to the airport in California City that showed a lot of old business jet airframes in storage. I was curious to see this place myself and so headed up there when I had some time one evening. There is a local business that takes old jets – principally Gulfstreams – and strips them for any components that will be useful in the secondary market. The owner of the place is welcoming to visitors and a friend was actually already there when I arrived. A little while later after sorting out issues with the gate opening, I was inside and free to roam around.
There are so many jets, it is hard to know where to start. Some of them are basically intact while others have had substantial elements removed. Sides of the fuselage might be cut out, gear may have been removed and engines are definitely a valuable commodity. Some of the control surfaces will have found a second life supporting an airworthy jet. Older generation jets like the G-II and G-III are represented but the G-IV is now knocking on a bit and so there are quite a few of those too. Some very old jets are scattered in amongst the carcasses including one that had been used as a military testbed.
The planes are squeezed in to all available spaces. As you walk around, you have to pay a lot of attention to make sure you don’t trip over anything or smack your head on part of an airframe. Also good to try and avoid getting in the shots of other photographers! I didn’t see any hazardous wildlife which helped make the walking around a little easier.
While most airframes were Gulfstreams, there were occasional exceptions. I came across a really old HS125. It was from the days of Viper engines so definitely an old one. It didn’t look to be in great condition but the dry desert air means that they survive pretty well for a long time.
When I first visited Madras, the Erickson firefighting fleet was in the process of transitioning from the DC-7 to the MD-80. That transition is now complete and the DC-7s are now all stored with some of them on the ramp at Madras, gently baking in the sun. The conversion of the MD-80s has been underway for a while. A bunch of ex Spanair jets were there last time I visited. On this visit, there were a few MD-80s out on the ramp that appear to be providing a source of spares for the in service aircraft.
I don’t know whether these jets will eventually get modified but, given how much has been taken from them, I suspect not. Various control surfaces have been taken and panels removed. I have no idea what the systems inside are like but I would imagine that those are the most valuable parts. However, any spares are worth having since the MD-80 fleet worldwide is dwindling and supporting the air tanker fleet for a long life is going to need a good stockpile of parts. The dry Madras atmosphere makes for a good storage environment so the planes should be in good condition for a while yet.
Dreamliner deliveries have been stalled for about a year now with a brief interlude of deliveries early last year. They are stored all over the place including this American Airlines jet up at Paine Field. I think it had a radome when it was built but, clearly someone needed one and the easiest one to hand was on this airframe. Now it sits awaiting a replacement and – hopefully – acceptance and delivery!
Erickson’s facility at Medford was the home for this Skycrane while I was there. A team were working on it and, I imagine, they were getting it ready for the coming fire season. At this point, though, it was still in need of a few parts. It looked a bit lacking but I suspect the process of adding the remaining elements to get it back into an airworthy condition was not going to take that long. Hopefully by now she is back in the air and working hard.
Boneyards can be interesting place to explore. Old stuff and things from odd locations abound. On one side of Tucson International Airport is a place filled with old airliners. Some are being worked on and will fly again. Others are being stripped for the useful parts that they have. I didn’t get to go inside but instead wandered along the fence line seeing what was going on. Interestingly, having seen one of the last flights of the Texas 737 for Southwest, I was surprised to find it here a few days later. It was being broken down already. Other 737s were looking short of key parts and a few MD-80s were looking unlikely to move any time soon. A couple of A320s were there and they did look like they might be on the move at some point. One was being repainted which I imagine means it has a future.