June 20, 2021

The Mojave Airplane Graveyard

The Mojave Airplane Graveyard

At the junction of State Highways 58 and 14 sits the old road town of Mojave. Located on the western fringe of the upper Mojave Desert, the town is famous for its large airport where Burt Rutan designed and built his around-the-world-without-landing “Global Flyer” and his more recent X-Prize winning “Space Ship One.”

Since the 1970s, the airport has also seen the storage and ultimate demise of countless airliners. The lined-up tails can be seen for miles in every direction. Most of the planes are put into mothballs by struggling airlines during economic downturns.


Many more are the entire fleets of now defunct carriers. Inventory peaked in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks when there were 360 aircraft in suspended animation lining the taxiways and runways, their windows and engines covered with plastic to seal out the blowing desert grit. Someday these planes will fly again. Behind the stored aircraft on the far side of the runway is the boneyard––the place where the old planes go to die. Most jet airliners reach the end of their operational lifetimes in about 25 years. An airliners life span is not measured in years, but in pressurization/depressurization cycles. After thousands of take offs and landings the planes can no longer withstand the pressure of high altitude flight without major parts replacement.

These worn out planes are then parked on the desert flats and cannibalized to keep newer versions of the same model flying. Eventually, when the series is retired the entire manufacturing run of planes makes its way to the boneyard where they are recycled. When the last parts of remaining value are removed the skeletal fuselage is dragged to the recycling area, systematically dismantled, shredded and melted into raw aluminum ingots.