How We Got Started
Our group has had an interest in aerospace history for many, many years. Several years ago, we decided to try to find the crash sites for some historically significant aircraft. Aircraft like the Flying Wing (YB-49), X-15, the NF-104A that Chuck Yeager was flying when it crashed in 1963, the XB-70 & F-104N, and a host of other crashes.
With the help of some books, emails, phone calls and a little of our own detective work, we were able to start tracking down these sites. In the process we have met a lot of interesting people, corresponded with people from around the world and uncovered some interesting tidbits about what some people have come to call “aviation archeology” and other simply call “wreck chasing.” I would note that there is no semantic difference between the two terms, contrary to popular belief. The term, “aviation archaeology” is often applied as a positive spin to what would otherwise be considered unacceptable.
There are some people who will tell you that they discovered a particular site. In reality, none of these famous sites were ever lost (unless it’s the rare instance of a totally undiscovered crash, in which case it is one’s duty to report the location to the government). These crashes were carefully investigated, photographed, wreckage removed and in all, very well documented long before anyone came along to “discover” them. It is also usually the case that the people who live in the area are also very well aware of where the sites are. Some of the sites that we have located were done so with the help of people we met while in the process of trying to locate the site. At times even saying, “Follow me, I’ll take right to it,” and take us right to it they did.
While we use a host of methods to locate the sites, ranging from official crash reports to satellite imaging, the greatest help might very well be the guy working at the gas station a few miles away.
To put the significance of these sites into perspective, let me put it this way. Gettysburg would be nothing more that a small town in Pennsylvania and Iwo Jima nothing more that a barren rock in the Pacific if not for the historic events that took place there. These crash sites are much the same. The significance of a minor depression in the desert, or a clear spot on top of a hill, is lost unless one has the context of the historical events leading up to it.
We stated earlier that the locations of these sites are not secret, especially to the people who live in the local area. After visiting several of the sites, and speaking to several of the locals who frequented these sites, we were disturbed by how much the sites were being dug up, sifted through and in general being trashed with seemly little concern for the site’s historical significance.
Then there are those who feel that the remnants of the aircraft that crashed at these sites is little more than trash in the desert: the sooner removed, the better. In fact, some environmental groups have organized efforts to do just that. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who do recognized the significant of the “trash”, and take picks and shovels to dig up and carry away as much as possible. It then takes a place of pride in their garages for and unspecified time, where upon some years later it ends up going out with the weekly trash. Either way you look at it, the provenance of the item is lost. It can no longer be called a fragment of a once magnificent flying machine, a marvel of its time. It has become merely a piece of junk taking up space in a suburban garage.
Another point, when a person visits a crash site, most of the time there is little, if any, indication that you are at a historic place. Most people visualize an entire aircraft just sitting there, unused. Rarely is that the case. Some sites are littered, like a landfill, with debris and wreckage, while others are nameless burn spots in the desert floor. There is no aircraft, awaiting restoration by a museum. All that remains is strewn fragments of a once-proud plane. This is the case of all the crash sites we offer displays for. If restoration were possible, we would be the first in line to offer our services! (visit http://www.check-six.com/lib/Crash_Sites.htm and you can see what remains at a typical crash site)
One of the more distributing incidents came on our third visit to the XB-70 site. A small cross has been erected on the site and on our previous visits, it was apparent that previous visitors have placed small parts and fragments around the cross to honor the pilot killed in the crash. However, this time there was a lot of fresh digging at the site and nothing remained around the cross. It had become clear that people coming to the site certainly didn’t have the same reverence for the site as the people who erected the cross or us.
We wondered what we could do to save some of these seemly insignificant fragments dotting the surface of the landscape and create something that would be a lasting tribute to the aircraft, the men who flew them, and too those who died while pushing technology to its limits.
In most cases the sites themselves easily provided the fragments that would become the centerpiece for mini-memorials. All that was necessary was to reach down and pick them up. The people who had preceded us had done all the work (digging and sifting, that is).
The next part was for our design team to come up with a suitable format. We had considered encasing the pieces in Lucite or acrylic that would look great on a desk. However, we felt that a paperweight would not allow us a format to tell a person looking at it about its significance a little bit about the aircraft and the people involved.
After some searching we discovered a frame that would allow us to mount a fragment accompanied with a photos and some background information. Our prototypes looked fantastic. After showing them to several other aviation enthusiasts we knew we had something that people wanted to place on a wall in an office or study and be the catalyst for conversations about the history surrounding the fragments. We wanted something that would become a form of heirloom, to pass on, insuring that the tragedy is not forgotten.
A common thread to aviation accidents is that they are forgotten too easily. By this we mean that a familiar response to a tragedy is, “We will never forget.” In aviation, it is just the opposite. People have gone to great length to disregard these tragedies. We are dedicated never to forget. We seek to have others remember as well. By promoting this awareness, and having others know of the misfortune, we do a service to the memories of those lost. We would like to think we have succeeded.
Some of the specimens we have recovered are destined for museums, but that will be in time. We simply offer a small piece of history at a price anyone can afford. So far we have had many compliments. Most of the compliments have come from those who were in some way connected with the aircraft project. It has given them the opportunity to own a piece of the aircraft when all they have from it is their memories. It is a prospect of someone who has only heard of these events to have a physical connection to the mishap. Many are brought as gifts for aviation enthusiasts, employees in the aviation industry, school teachers, and everyday people. Our greatest moment was when we have had relatives of those directly connected to the accidents purchase displays from us.
The reality of these historic sites is that they are disappearing. By preserving a small piece in a format in which others can derive knowledge, appreciation, and respect from it, we honor the sacrifice made by those who gave everything to insure the safety and protection of others.
About Our Research and Search Team
Our group has individuals with training in a wide range of professions and disciplines that has been key in our search efforts. Here is just a brief list of some of the areas in which our team has received formal training and/or has many years of experience...