How to get involved in Aviation Archaeology

So does searching for, locating and documenting old aircraft crash sites sound interesting and exciting? It is! It combines many hobbies into one, aviation, history, archaeology, researching, genealogy, hiking, exploring, orienteering, four wheeling, camping, photography, scuba diving, and on and on. How does one get involved?

Craig with an F-16 vertical found at a crash site in Nevada

Research is the first step, and the first step of research is learning of crashes in your area to research. Many of us got started by going through old newspapers in the library to come up with dates and to obtain general information on the crash. This is still a great way to learn of leads to track down, but you can now check out our Database to learn of crashes in your area. If you live in the US try searching by state, if you live outside of the US, search by your country. While there are over 150,000 accidents in the database it is by no means complete, so random scanning of old newspapers will still turn up additional leads. Some people have found a number of leads by going through death certificates looking for any that state aircraft crash as cause of death. While this is a way of turning up new leads, one misses all of the accidents where the crew safely bailed out. Another potential source of leads is the CAP/ USAF “Wreckage Locator List” the current list is available online at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. “Wreckage Locator List” is a list of “known” crash site locations where wreckage is still visible from the air. This is to aid searchers looking for an aircraft that has just disappeared and spot wreckage, but need to know if what they have spotted is an old site. These lists sometimes include date and aircraft serial number. However the information on these lists are frequently incorrect, dates are wrong and locations off by many, many miles. Sites that are still visible are removed from the list, while sites that have been cleaned up remain listed. If you can track down one of these lists from the `50s or `60s it is better as they have the older crashes that have been forgotten about. AAIR has several older lists for CA, NV and AZ, but we are always looking for lists on other states, please e-mail us if you have one of these lists from the `50s or `60s.

And yet another source of leads is anyone who lived in your area during WWII - especially if they were a teenager at the time. Also check out our Books page as there are starting to be a number of books on accidents in various regions.

One of the F-16's wings was nearby

Once you have a site in particular you are researching, you want to obtain the above documents and of course you need to obtain the accident report, see our Order Information page. With the location and picture information from these sources you can set out on your search. Check and see if any of the witnesses still live in the area. The crash reports will often have the witnesses’ names and even addresses.

For more specifics on researching, learning the fine art of searching and locating sites, the nuances of identifying sites - especially “micro sites”, and historic preservation, try taking one of AAIR’s Weekend Courses on Aviation Archaeology.

If you do not know of anyone who is already into aviation archaeology, don’t worry. While some people search on their own, it is best to have a hiking partner for safety, so find someone else who is willing to traipse across the country side on a wild goose chase. Try our Aviation Archaeology Contacts List to find someone in your area, or post a message on the Aviation Archaeology Message Board.

Once you find a site, not only treat it with respect, but be sure to document it properly. Help AAIR’s database project on documenting all historic crash sites. Print out a copy of the Historic Aircraft Crash Site Report Form and fill it out for any sites you find and mail it in to AAIR. The exact location will be kept confidential. AAIR does not give out exact locations. In an effort to help preserve these sites we only give out general locations which should be good enough for most research. We do make some exceptions: nationally accredited museums and historical societies, government agencies or firms working on government projects, and next of kin.

Participate in another one of AAIR's research projects such as the AAIR Database of all US military accidents. AAIR is looking for volunteers to assist with the databases. While the databases contain tens of thousands of records, they are far from complete! We need volunteers to assist by going through the microfilm and entering the information into a spreadsheet. To assist, one must have Excel and a microfilm or fiche viewer which can be picked up on eBay for about $25. See our Aviation Archaeology Research Projects page for more projects you can get involved with.

Create a memorial. See the Memorial Case Study page for an example. This is a very effective way of getting more people interested in aviation archaeology. It is also a great way to teach people about aviation and local history.

AAIR is frequently asked if we have formal membership with dues, newsletters, etc. We do not. AAIR is more focused on networking and providing a place to for anyone to do that. The few people or organizations that we refer to as associate members are other researchers who have paid their dues by good solid research and have shown strong integrity towards crash sites by promoting aviation archaeology and historic preservation as opposed to salvage. For more information see "What is Aviation Archaeology" on our Home page.