Message #360:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Aviation Archaeology #2
Date: Thu Oct 16 21:37:15 1997

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :

From: Craig Fuller

I would like to clear up several points and define some terms that I use. I
apologize for my poor writing style. My degree was in the math and sciences
where they did not put enough  emphasis on basic writing. I am going to
ramble and jump around a bit to answer comments on several e-mail responses
as well as add several interesting situations that I have come across. I
would also like to add that I am open to any and all opinions, pro or con.
I have appreciated the e-mails that I have received. I have been listening
to the aviation community's opinion for some time now and it is interesting
to hear the archaeologists' points of view on these issues.

By airframe I mean any part of the aircraft. This is to differentiate from
the personal equipment (headsets, survival equipment, etc.) personal
effects (dogtags, rings, wallets, etc.), paper items (manuals, maintenance
logs, etc.) and human remains. The personal equipment and paper items
SHOULD be part of the recovery and display.

They are not only important as examples from the time period, but can be
used to help tell the story behind the crash. The aircraft type may be an
important display just because of its rarity, but the story behind the
crash can also be just as important (or in some cases it can be just
another case of an inexperienced student loosing control and putting the
aircraft in a spin). The personal effects can be a gray area. I would think
that it would depend on what the family wishes. The human remains should be
dealt with properly. Speaking of which, story time… I know an aircraft
restorer who recovered a wrecked P-38 in the 1980s. The wreck was in Los
Angeles County. Upon getting the wreck to his home in Fresno County he
found the bones from the pilots arm. He called the Fresno County Coroner
who went ballistic and threatened to press charges for crossing county
lines with human remains. The coroner said that he wouldn't press charges
if the restorer contacted the Los Angeles Coroner immediately. Upon
contacting the Los Angeles Coroner he found a completely different
attitude: "the guy is dead and buried, what do you want us to do dig up his
grave and add a couple bones?" This left the restorer in a pickle.

By aviation archaeologist I refer to a person who is not a degreed
archaeologist (although one could also be one), but rather an aviation
historian, who looks for and goes to aircraft crash sites to document them
rather than to recover them. As far as I know the only person who has
received a degree in aviation archaeology is a P. J. Capelotti who has a
Ph.D. in aviation archaeology from Rutgers University. He wrote an article
on the subject that appeared in the August/September 1996 issue of
Smithsonian Air and Space. It is very interesting that Air & Space ran his
article promoting preservation of crash sites and then six months later
(February/March 1997) ran the article "Gary and the Pirates, how to rescue
old airplanes for fun and profit." I wonder how Gary and the Pirates ever
got their permits from Alaska. I will have to check my USAAC Erection and
Maintenance Manual for the B-17, but I bet a chain saw is not the
prescribed tool for removing the wings. I also know of someone who is
pursuing his masters in Aviation Archaeology at California State
University, Stanislaus.

One main item I want to clear up is that my primary purpose is not to
recover aircraft wrecks, but RATHER TO LOCATE AND RECORD THEM. I have often
been to a crash site that has been chopped up by smelters in the 1950s or
partially recovered by restorers in the 1960s or to find a vineyard or
house there and wondered what it looked like before they were there. I am
trying to document what sites I can before they disappear for one reason or
another. However, I am NOT against the recovery of a crash site, especially
if it is for a museum or a legitimate restoration project. While there are
some instances where the wreck should be left 'in situ' where they are not
deteriorating rapidly (deep cold water, buried in snow), these are not the
norm. Aircraft deteriorate rapidly, most of the crash sites I have been to
are around 50 years old and are starting to badly decompose. Many will be
little more than dust in another 100 to 200 years. Unlike rock art and
stone tools that can last 1000s of years with just a little weathering,
aircraft can not last outside very long. Many of the jet crash sites I have
been to in Southern Nevada, especially the ones on dry lakes, some that
crashed as recently as the late 1960s, have already halfway denigrated to
powder. In San Pablo Bay (San Francisco) there is a B-10B s/n 34-72 that
bellied landed into the bay on November 27, 1936. It is exposed and can be
seen at low tides. However when one goes up to it merely breathing on it
will cause it to disintegrate, let alone touch it. As far as I know there
is only one example of a B-10 in existence today. The P-38s and B-17s under
265 feet of ice in Greenland sound well preserved right? No, actually the
weight of the ice and flow of the ice is tearing them up and the water has
started to decompose the mild steel. It would be nice to see on display one
of those aircraft in the condition AS FOUND, but I know that is
unrealistic… who is going to spend ½ a million to  recovered a buckled up
airplane in all original markings and equipment for display purposes (along
with the story and history that goes with those planes). Another instance
where I felt that a recovery was warranted was for P-38J s/n 43-28859 that
crashed on private property in Northern California. I learned that the
property owner was looking to have the "mess" cleaned up off of his
property, which scrappers did do to a B-24 on a neighbors property. I
contacted the owner and offered to do it at no charge if I could have the
wreckage. After researching the crash and contacting relatives of the pilot
(it was a fatal accident) I decided to use one engine and part of the 20mm
cannon as a display for the Pacific Coast Air Museum. The P-38 was
stationed and took off on it's last flight from the airport the museum is
now at. Many people do not realize that it was a WWII base. There is now a
display along with an information board that talks about the flight and the
pilot, has newspaper articles, part of the government report and photos of
the pilot provided by his relatives. A few small pieces of the aircraft
were given to the relatives. The rest of the P-38 (a wing, one engine, two
flaps, a rudder, the landing gear, and a few small miscellaneous parts)
were given to a restoration project in Southern California. Getting the
engine on display at the museum was hard enough. Who wants to see a
crumpled wing and rusted landing gear?… unless you are in England, where
there are a number of museums that are nothing but crashed airplane parts
and the story that goes with them. I recorded the recovery and documented
the crash site. I used a combination of the National Transportation and
Safety Board (NTSB) Factual Report, Aviation (form 6120.4) and the
California Archaeological Site Record. One thing that does bother me is
that while it is all good and done that it is recorded, what good is the
form doing sitting in a binder on a shelf in my room? At least we are not
drinking Coke, Pepsi or Budweiser from this P-38.

Most crash sites are just long debris fields of small pieces.
Because the airframe pieces are small and more easily mix with the soil,
they corrode and decompose to powder at an accelerated rate. Yet today much
can still be learned from the site in terms of what type of aircraft it is
and when it crashed. The prefix on part numbers stamped on the parts of the
airframe can identify the type and sometimes even the model.

Hose clamps have dates of manufacture stamped on them. While this won't
provide a crash date, it can cut the possible suspected years in half.

Other items such as insignia style and border, or type and color of primer
and paint can help date a crash. These are all things that disappear as the
airframe corrodes, disintegrates and weathers. While this is not an
argument for recovering a site, it is an argument for documenting a site
now. Is it necessary? Well it definitely is not the missing link, but it
does have historic value. I am not suggesting that archaeologists should
stop what they are doing and start documenting all of the aircraft crash
sites, but rather the next time a crash site is come across they could
investigate more thoroughly;  they could find a possible date, aircraft
type, and scenario of the crash. I have been told there are better things I
should spend my time on researching and documenting, but hey… we all have
our personal interests, idiosyncrasies and pet projects don't we?
It is interesting that the WACs and WASPs were mentioned. Both Arizona and
Nevada are lucky (unlucky?) to each have a WASP crash site that has
potential for artifacts still at the crash site. There were 35 fatal WASP
crashes, of these many occurred on airports and in residential areas and
were completely cleaned up. AZ and NV have the best if not only two WASP
sites. Even if  we could find a couple more WASP crash sites we are still
looking at only less than 1% of the 1830 WASPs who started training. What
definite conclusions can be drawn from that? Another aviation archaeologist
has been contacted by the relatives of the only WASP to have disappeared in
an airplane and to date has not been found.

The relatives are trying to locate the site and put closure to the situation.
If you want to know more information on the WASPs, why not ask one?

Granted it better be done quick, but a number of them have done excellent
work on collecting and recording their history. Fabric from a WWI aircraft?
That would be one of the first things to go from those planes followed by
the wood. Granted the Southwest would be the best place for those items to
survive, but another 100 years? I would suggest trying the National Air and
Space Museum. They have a number of WWI aircraft with original fabric right
down to the repairs of bullet holes.

Getting to the 30/50/100 year "rules". I know that according to the
Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 that "…No item shall be
treated as an archaeological resource under this paragraph unless such item
is at least 100 years of age." Could someone please tell me where the
Forest Service get the 50 year and 30 (Historic site) year "rules"?

My fiancée worked for both the Forest Service and private firms as an
Archaeologist. She found it almost comical that the environmental
department was trying to clean up "trash" sites on its hit list before the
archaeology department declared them archaeological sites. I know of a
fairly good PB4Y crash site on a mountain top in a National Forest in
Arizona. It crashed in the 1970s. It does not meet any of the "rules" at
this time. Let say, hypothetically, that this particular aircraft had
combat history, that could be traced, in the South Pacific during W.W.II.
That it had patches on the tail from battle damage when a Zero shot at it
before the tail gunner shot the Zero down. Lets say that on the other side
of the mountain there is another PB4Y that crashed in 1943 (and is in the
exact same condition). The crew bailed out after an engine failed in bad
weather on a routine training flight. The aircraft was only a few months
old, fresh out of the factory. This airplane hits the 50 year "rule". Now
lets say the mountain was being developed (for an observatory or such) and
you could only recover one of the two (budget restraints or time
considerations… granted both aircraft would be preferable). I would
consider the one that crashed in 1973 to be of greater historic value even
though the other one is considered an archaeological site. Far fetched yes,
but I think it gets my point across.

So what is a "Historic Aircraft Crash Site"? Personally I concentrate on
crashes that occurred in 1965 and prior, but will go to later crashes when
the chance arise. I did not choose 1965 because it was about thirty years
ago, rather that is the type of aircraft I am interested in. I am not
saying we should clean up all crash site that are 29 years old so they
don't hit 30, but there is a definite gray area here, and probably always
will be.

Today when an aircraft crashes it is almost entirely cleaned up (especially
on public land). I visited an F-16 crash site near Alamo Lake in 1995
shortly after the USAF left the site. They had picked up every piece bigger
than a dime, filled in all of the impact creators and raked the entire
site. If a plane crashes in the Grand Canyon National Park any soil
contaminated with fuel or oil has to be removed.

An aside that is also a good reason for recovery is safety. When an
airplane is missing a massive search is started, any old wreckage spotted
has to be checked. The practice of dynamiting crash sites backfired.
Instead of making them less noticeable, it just looked like an airplane
that hit harder. Also, one could no longer see the tail section and
recognize it as a B-17, thus writing the site off since they were looking
for a Kingair. While there are "wreckage locator lists" that the USAF and
CAP use, they are full of inaccuracies. I find that they are an average of
2 miles off and have found them to be up to 12 miles off.

What about plane crashes at an old site? Sound unreasonable? On 12/24/44 a B-24
crashed on Mt. Gleason in Southern CA. The next day a BT-13 crashed while
circling the wreck. On 3/10/51 a CAP Cessna 140 crashed killing both pilots
while circling these two previous wrecks.

Food for thought.

Craig Fuller