Editor’s note: This is an updated column about an interesting feature at the Mojave Air & Space Port.
While space-related activities at the Mojave Air & Space Port is one of its major claims to fame, the spaceport’s “boneyard” is also a top attraction.
For newcomers, the boneyard is the area on the north side of the airport where old airplanes are stored and dismantled.
One of the most frequent requests from folks attending or calling for information about Plane Crazy Saturday is to “visit the boneyard”
Due to safety reasons, that’s not possible, but attendees at the March 18, 2017, Plane Crazy Saturday got a fascinating peek into the boneyard’s history.
Alan Redecki, a Space Port veteran and Northrop-Grumman photographer, enlightened his Plane Crazy audience with tales of the boneyard and some of the more bizarre filming projects at the airport.
Redecki spent several years working for Avtel, a former tenant at the airport that “recycled” once-proud queens of the sky into their basic elements which would be used to build their successors and other useful items.
Over the years he has collected some 25,000 photos of the airport.
Redecki dedicated his Plane Crazy presentation to the late Mike Potter, known for his jewel-encrusted cap that was a playful emulation of the “scrambled eggs” on caps worn by high- ranking military officers.
“Mike brought the first airplanes here in the late 1960s,” Redecki said.
When fleets of doomed airliners began arriving following 9/11, the Mojave Tower did not have radar, and landing all of the planes posed a challenge that was met by tower operators.
“We parked them in the dirt,” Redecki said, a practice still used for planes that continue to arrive here, like the big Boeing 747s arriving these days as they are being replaced with more fuel efficient aircraft.
Redecki showed photos of the boneyard covered with airliners awaiting their fate following 911.
“It was really cool to see them all lined up,” he noted to nods from his audience.
It was also interesting to note the millions of dollars and the technology represented by the doomed airliners sitting in the dust awaiting their fate.
Over the years Redecki, impressed by the colorful “tails,” or vertical stabilizers, on the airliners, has collected photos of them into a fascinating book called “Mojave Tailfeathers.” “It is amazing how attached people were to these airplanes, especially the crews who flew them,” he said, displaying photos of tributes written on the sides of the big birds by people who spent many years crewing them, especially an All Nippon Airways 747 covered with written tributes.
One Captain noted that he had spent 4,000 hours in the big bird.
Redecki recalled the time when one of two Air India 747s that had languished at Mojave for years was pressed into service by the Air Force as a test mockup for a project called Airborne Laser.
Eventually abandoned, the Air Force concept involved installing a laser system in a 747 and using it to shoot down incoming missiles using a nose-mounted turret similar to those on the World War II B-24.
“The wings and tail were removed along with the outboard landing gear and a towbar was attached,” for the plane’s trip to Edwards Air Force Base , Redecki recalled.
In the middle of the night when traffic was light, the hull was towed onto Highway 58. When it reached Nine Mile Hill east of Mojave, the towbar broke, jamming morning commuter traffic for hours until it was repaired.
Some folks noted that the trip was the only time the Airborne Laser was able to stop anything.
The Gimli Glider
One of the most noted aircraft to end its days in Mojave was an Air Canada Boeing 767 whose fuel tank was filled by a crew that confused Metric measurement with the English system resulting in the airplane running out of fuel on a flight.
“The closest airport was a closed military base where a drag race was underway,” Redecki said.
“There was no tower and no way to warn the dragsters that a 767 was about to land on their racetrack.”
Without fuel, none of the aircraft’s systems were operating, including hydraulics to lower the landing gear, and no instruments.
Fortunately, the pilot was a glider pilot who had served at the Gimli, Manitoba, strip when it was in military service.
The airplane’s main gear was lowered by gravity, but the nose wheel failed to lower correctly, which helped slow the plane when it touched down.
No one was seriously injured and Air Canada was chastised in the accident report for multiple failures while the entire crew was praised for their handling of the landing.
The aircraft, nicknamed the “Gimli Glider,” was returned to service and eventually ended up at Mojave along with several other Air Canada 767s, and despite attempts to preserve it, was eventually recycled.
Another interesting airplane stored at Mojave was the Continental DC-10 that dropped debris on a runway at Paris Orly Airport, causing the fatal crash of the supersonic Concorde airliner that eventually led to ending supersonic airline service.
The DC-10 dropped a titanium strip that cut a tire on the Concorde, resulting in a fire and crash that killed everyone on board and four people on the ground.
An investigation revealed that overloading also contributed to the crash.
Redecki also reported on some unusual filming projects he covered while at Mojave, including a Ford truck commercial that supposedly showed the pickup towing a World War II Curtis C-46 cargo aircraft into the air, another depicting a race between a crew of Hollywood “little people” and an elephant towing airplanes (won by the elephant), and the dismantling of a Lockheed Tristar that was shipped in pieces to Oahu to star as the crashed airliner in the “Lost” TV series.
More legends in the aviation history of Mojave.