Message #358:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Aviation Archaeology
Date: Sun Oct 12 21:42:31 1997


From: Craig Fuller

I came across you e-mail to Tom Baker on aviation archaeology while I was
doing several searches on the web. I am not an archaeologist, but I have
taken several courses in both traditional and aviation archaeology. My
degree is in Aeronautical Science with a minor in Accident Investigation.
While attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott I located
and documented close to 50 "historic" military aircraft crash sites and I
have documented almost 150 such sites throughout AZ, CA, and NV. I am very
interested in the subject and try to follow aviation archaeology closely.
It is a unique form of archaeology that I think is finally coming about. I
was extremely disappointed when I heard that the  National Park Service's
"Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Historic Aviation Properties"
(aka National Register Bulletin #25) was dead in the water, but relieved to
also hear that the "Warbird Legislation" also died. That was sponsored by a
group trying to get congress to force the Navy to formally abandon all
aircraft wrecks prior to November 1961. I will admit  that the Navy had
been abusing its ownership claim so that their museum can recover wrecks
for their own use only, but lately the Navy has been very helpful to other
legitimate museums. This brings up one of the main differences between
traditional archaeology and "aviation" archaeology which is that in
traditional archaeology, it is better to leave the artifact in situ and to
only excavate if it is in danger or for specific research. In aviation
archaeology (at least I feel and I am interested in your opinion) that it
is more important to preserve the artifact (the wrecked aircraft) by
placing it with an legitimate museum. Example: the AT-9 that is now at Pima
Air and Space Museum. It is the only AT-9 in existence. I feel that it is
serving a much better purpose at the museum than sitting in a remote canyon
in the National Forest. Assuming that the site was properly documented and
the proper permits were attained. I have heard through the grape vine that
the archaeologist involved did get into some hot water over it, but do not
know any details. The AT-9 is on display and has not been worked on yet,
which brings up another issue. The aviation community (including museums)
has a standard of "restoring" aircraft to like new condition and losing
historic originality. This is one reason the aviation community has been
against aviation archaeology. It is a shame when there is a good example to
follow from nautical archaeology. A few museums are starting to display
aircraft in the condition as found and the only work that is done to them
is to stop deterioration. It will be interesting to see if this trend can
continue. Many sites are being destroyed today, by souvenir hunters,
profiteers, and land officials who do not know how to treat aircraft
wrecks. Lassen National Park hired a contractor within the last 10 years to
clean out a C-47, which carried the last flying Msgt. that crashed in 1951.
The Forest service had the tail section dragged from the B-17 crash site
20+ years ago. The Sierra club cleaned up a number of rare and historic
aircraft in the Sierras in the 1970s. It would be nice to see something set
up to deal with aircraft wrecks. I look forward to hear back from you and
any insights you might have on the subject and any current activities that
might be related that are currently going on.

Craig Fuller

[ SASIG Editor Reply --  Mr. Fuller, you concentrate attention on the
airframe. I believe in the 'in situ' preservation of aircraft crash sites.
The many crash sites that I have examined contain debris fields of broken
artifacts (and fragmentary human remains).  These items become buried in
the soil matrix both immediately upon impact and over time. Artifacts of
these debris fields inform us a great deal about stylistic and functional
change over time, the history of aviation technology, historical
personages, various forensic events, site formation processes and their
rates of change, and military and civilian air operations.  One must
consider the entire site and it's greater historical value to the community
as it ages.  We think we document everthing in this day and age, but who
really can inform us about aviation fabric from earlier eras, who
manufactured specific components or equipment, the standard gear carried by
WAAC pilots delivering ferried aircraft to fighting airmen, the demise of
an airman and the closure found dogtags bring to a suffering family, or,
how businesses and corporations were changed or destroyed forever because a
wealthy businessman or key individual crashed with corporate records in
hand? These debris fields are extremely important from an historical and
archaeological point of view.  Airframes removed to museums tell only a
small part of the story.]