Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West
How to ID a micro-site
In forty years of wreck hunting the most challenging crash sites are those "mostly removed" micro-sites that litter the Mojave Desert of Southern California. These sites are characterized by 1% to 10% of the aircraft remaining, sometimes widely scattered as well.
Rarely are data plates found at micro-sites. That leaves part numbers as the primary key to making an identification. Recently I was searching for a B-24L that had crashed in 1945. I also had information about an F-86D from the 1950's in general search area. While looking for the B-24L I stumbled on what I thought was the F-86D as the parts included ANA stamps indicating a North American Aviation product. After sharing this information with some friends I was surprised to learn that after they visited the "F-86D" site they found upon closer examination it was an F-100A based on part numbers 192-. Is it then a F-100A? Perhaps, but more research needs to be done since F-100C, D & F all use parts from the "A". Time and more inquiries will tell.
A friend visited a micro-site and announced that he had found an P-80/F-80 aircraft. I knew that site well and had the accident report to boot. The site is a T-33A, but once again parts marked 174- & 175- fooled the wreck finder. Another look and my friend found parts marked 177- & 178- indicating T-33.
Just when we think we have it "wired" we need to slow down and take another more careful look. The Mojave Desert is still giving up it's secrets to the determined and careful wreck hunter.
G. Pat Macha July 2003
Not all the artifacts that come to my attention are from crash sites. Junkyards, and airports that were once disposal sites for WWII aircraft sometimes yield interesting items such as the bumper from a Lockheed P-38 shown in the photos below.
When an aircraft was salvaged not everything was hauled off or smelted into aluminum ingots. This P-38 tail bumper is a good example of a leftover. The bumper was once attached to the bottom of the vertical stabilizer.
The Lockheed prefix number 223201 is still readable on this weathered tail bumper. Though the prefix number confirms that this is a P-38 part, it does not tell us what version of P-38 it came from.
The number on this canopy frame is 36-31852, and
at first glance the observer might conclude it came from a NAA BC-1.
The number on this canopy frame hinge is 36-31806,
again indicating a NAA BC-1 aircraft.
When a hiker recently found
aircraft wreckage he took a few photos and passed them on to me. The prefix
numbers on the two pieces of wreckage were 36-. This would indicate the wreck
was that of a North American NA-36, or BC-1, the precursor of the famed AT-6
Texan advanced trainer. When the hiker described the location of the crash in
detail I realized that he had stumbled upon an AT-6C that had crashed in the
1940's. He then recalled seeing prefix numbers 77- (AT-6A), and 88- (AT-6C).
Again the commonality of parts used throughout the AT-6 series production run is
evidenced at on accident site.
The data plates on any aircraft
are always interesting to study and photograph. This plate is especially
interesting as it is on a Lockheed Vega built B-17G. The plate itself was
manufactured by Art Metal in Jamestown, New York. The plate serial number S3888
R indicates the starboard or right stabilizer assembly. The Vega inspection the
stamp is indicated by the number 72 inside the V. The weight of the assembly is
217 lbs and the delivery date is blank. Lockheed Vega built 2,250 B-17G’s during
Additional information to be added shortly!
For more readings about aircraft
disposition and reclamation centers, I highly recommend William T. Larkins book,