By: Liz Klimas
Here’s something you might never have considered: What does the military do with all its secret planes when it’s time to retire them. Although you might think they sit collecting dust in a hangar in a protected location, rumor has it they are physically buried underground. Where? Area 51, allegedly — where else?
Urban Ghosts Media has a story that states although some of the planes that become declassified and stripped of their more secret components head to museums, burial near Groom Lake in Nevada — also well known as Area 51, a military base shrouded in secrecy and popularized in conspiracy theories — might be common treatment as well. Although not necessarily a new or well-known practice, it makes for fascinating reading none the less.
It’s not the first time the rumors have arisen of an Area 51 stealth plane graveyard. In 2001, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Keith Rogers brought the intriguing practice to light. Rogers wrote the account of a former worker at Groom Lake who spoke anonymously as he recalled what he witnessed in 1982:
It was a massive excavation, he said. “They didn’t dig that hole and put Martians or moon men in it.”
He said the wreckage of a classified plane that was buried on the base was for months in what’s called the “Scoot-N-Hide,” a shed off a taxiway where secret planes are kept out of view of orbiting satellites.
“They put it on a flatbed truck and put it in a hangar. Then one day they scraped it off the flatbed into the hole and buried it,” he said. “They attached a cable to the aircraft and just pulled it off. The thing was shattered like an egg.”
Rogers went on to report the account of Peter Merlin, an aviation writer who found evidence of the practice in declassified documents, who said at the time that more than a dozen were buried there with the combined value of up to $1 billion. These are the aircraft Merlin believed to be buried at Area 51:
- Several 1960s-vintage A-12s, predecessors of the fast, high-flying SR-71 Blackbird spy planes.
- Four U2s from the 1950s.
- An F-101 chase plane that crashed in 1965.
- Two Have Blue airframes that were used to demonstrate technology for the F-117A.
- Wreckage of a MiG-23 that crashed in 1984.
“We have no reason to believe [this practice] has stopped,” Merlin said, according to the Review-Journal.
More recently, British aviation enthusiast David Cundall said it was common practice at the end of wars to bury military machines such as planes, tanks and jeeps. It is this that has lead Cundall on a 17-year quest to unearth World War II-era Spitfires, which were rumored to be buried in a wooden crate near northern Myanmar.
The wooden crate was found in Myitkyina in Kachin state during a dig that began in December 2012. Several digs are planned nationwide, including another near the airport in Yangon.
Cundall said the search team in Kachin inserted a camera in the crate and found water. What else was inside the crate was unclear and pumping out the water could take weeks, he said.
As seen in an announcement from the government seeking sources for demilitarization and scraping of aircraft, those planes that are not classified and can be of disposed more generally go through a process that includes recycling and destroying military offensive or defensive advantages.
Read more about Urban Ghost’s theories on burial and potential sightings of stealth planes here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.