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Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 31, 2013 - 12:51pm PT
Vegasclimber alert! Or maybe Licky? ;-)

I suggest you check out the LA Times page for more pics, a map of all the
crash sites, and a cool vid showing the crash site of the first F-111A which
crashed when 20 mm rounds started cooking off in the plane! Happily the
crew ejected safely.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


Investigators at the 1967 crash site shortly after a North American Av...
Investigators at the 1967 crash site shortly after a North American Aviation X-15 rocket plane broke up at 62,000 feet while traveling at 4,000 mph. (NASA)
Credit: Reilly

Pair of 'geeks' sifts through history for aviation ruins

Peter Merlin and Tony Moore, self-confessed aviation geeks, find and sort through military crash sites in the Mojave as a hobby. They call these weekend expeditions 'aerospace archaeology.'

By W.J. Hennigan

Photography by Brian van der Brug

Video by Don Kelsen

Reporting from Mojave

May 31, 2013


Peter Merlin trudges through the desert, side-stepping sage brush and creosote until he reaches a spot barren of vegetation. He points out a faint crescent-shaped scar in the earth 100 feet long.

Merlin kneels and scoops up a handful of sand and lets it sift through his fingers, leaving behind three gray pebbles, each no bigger than a quarter.

"See these rocks?" he asks. "They're actually fragments of melted aluminum. This is the impact point where the flying wing crashed, and the crew lost their lives. Right here. This is the incident that gave Edwards Air Force Base its name."

The pebbles were remnants of the YB-49, an experimental bomber that crashed in 1948 carrying Capt. Glen Edwards and a crew of four. His untimely death prompted the military to rename Muroc Air Force Base in his honor.

Finding and sorting through military crash sites in the Mojave is Merlin's hobby and pastime. He and Tony Moore, his partner on these weekend expeditions, call it "aerospace archaeology."

"Living this close to Edwards is like an Egyptologist living in Egypt," Merlin said. "It has been called the 'valley of the kings.'"

The skies above the Mojave Desert are legendary. The first American jet plane flew here. The sound barrier was broken here. Space shuttles returned to Earth here. But less heralded are the failures and crashes, tragic footnotes to these remarkable accomplishments.

Merlin and Moore refer to themselves as "The X-Hunters," a nod to the Air Force's use of "X" in naming experimental planes. Their findings have broadened the military's understanding of Southern California's aerospace history.

"Their value to the office is a great one," said Richard Hallion, a retired official who worked 20 years as an Air Force historian. "In many cases, there was only rough approximation of where the crashes took place."

Peter Merlin, center, and Tony Moore, left, at a memorial to the crew ...
Peter Merlin, center, and Tony Moore, left, at a memorial to the crew of an ill-fated YB-49 test flight near Mojave. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Credit: Reilly

Despite the vastness of the Mojave, there are few crash sites that Merlin and Moore have yet to find. They have compiled a list of more than 600 locations amid the sun-scorched sand and rock, and so far they have examined more than 100.

Merlin and Moore are unlikely confederates. Merlin, 49, the introvert, is prone to extended pauses when talking. He has a thin Errol Flynn-esque mustache and is known to wear a safari hat and leather jacket with "The X-Hunters" emblazoned on the back.

Moore, 55, is a large, affable man who walks with a metal trekking pole because of bad hips. He grew up in Northridge and has long been fascinated with Edwards, and seems to have a story about any aircraft that was ever built.

They both work at Edwards, but in 1991 the self-confessed aviation geeks were employed at the Burbank airport when they had a conversation about the region's aerospace history. Moore told Merlin he had found the wreckage site of the XB-70, an experimental bomber that collided with an F-104 in 1966.

Merlin was intrigued. But aviation buffs are secretive about the information they have like fishermen who won't tell where the big ones are so Moore gave Merlin vague directions to the site: about 12 miles north of Barstow.

The following Monday, Merlin came to work, smiling. He had found the site.

"I was shocked," Moore said. "I must have given him a two-mile area to search through. But he found it, to his credit."

After recognizing their shared infatuation, they decided to team up. When the two men started researching airplane wrecks, they mostly relied on files from the Edwards History museum and a 1993 environmental impact study of the base that listed only 15 sites.

On their first expedition, Moore and Merlin turned to a book written by a former test pilot that documented the crash of Maj. Michael Adams, who was killed in 1967 when the North American Aviation X-15 rocket plane he was piloting broke up at 62,000 feet while traveling at 4,000 mph.

According to the book, the wreckage was located several miles northeast of Johannesburg. But once they arrived at the spot, the terrain didn't resemble what was depicted in the book's grainy black and white photographs.

After several hours of fruitless searching, they decided to head home. As they drove toward U.S. 395, Moore noticed a mountain in the distance that looked like one pictured in the book.

They pulled onto a dirt road and rumbled toward the mountain. More landmarks began to line up. There was a ridge with an outcropping of white rocks near its crest.

They got out of their Jeep and began walking toward the mountain, stopping at intervals to consult the book. Merlin then looked at the ground and saw a piece of weather-beaten metal tubing.

"We're here," he shouted, noticing the ground was littered with more metal fragments.

For two years, they combed over the debris field and recovered 125 pounds of parts, including a warning light that likely glowed in the cockpit while Adams fought to save himself and the aircraft. These items are at the flight test museum at Edwards.

A memorial now marks the site. It was erected in 2004. More than 60 people, including Merlin, Moore and members of Adams' family, attended the dedication.

"We often approach these sites from a historical perspective," Merlin said. "But there's a human element that lives on. To see the emotional reaction from the family really showed me how much the sites can mean to people."

Among their other finds was the crash site for another flying wing, an experimental bomber constructed of wood, dubbed the N-9M. The plane went down 12 miles west of Edwards in 1943.

The men also located pieces of the Bell X-2, which in 1956 tumbled out of control, killing test pilot Capt. Milburn Apt on impact in the Kramer Hills off the eastern edge of the base.

Seven miles west of California City, they found the location of the NF-104A crash that would have killed Chuck Yeager in 1963 had he not ejected in time. A more recent non-fatal wreck was the X-31 that crashed less than a half-mile from California 58 in 1995.

When a plane goes down in the desert, the military tries to recover as much of the wreckage as possible. Retrieving hefty, hulking pieces is a priority.

Most of the time, Merlin and Moore are searching for smaller parts such as twisted stainless-steel skin, rusted fasteners and fittings, or crushed cowl flaps.

They scan the horizon for glinting metal when they think they're in the right spot. Once they uncovered a part of a tail fin. But finding such items is rare, and often what they think is an aircraft part shimmering in the distance ends up being a Mylar balloon.

"I've seen enough deflated Mickey Mouse balloons to last me a lifetime," Merlin said.

When they do find something that they think they can identify, they take it home and weigh and measure it. They verify the part's authenticity by chasing down serial numbers, inspection stamps or examining a manufacturer's book on the aircraft. After documenting it, they'll donate it to the flight test museum or other institutions. They have written a book about their exploits titled "X-Plane Crashes."

Critics believe that the significance of the men's findings is slightly exaggerated. Raymond Puffer, retired Edwards historian, said their work is more of a hobby than anything else.

Other explorers, like G. Pat Macha, prefer to leave the crash sites intact.

"That's a big issue in this field: To simply take a picture or take the stuff home with you," said Macha, 67, who has identified and documented crash sites in Southern California for 50 years.

Macha, however, appreciates that rather than holding onto what they have recovered, the two men have given their findings back to the base.

Merlin and Moore take pride helping families who have lost a son or a father in one of these fatal crashes.

While standing at the YB-49 crash site that killed Edwards, Moore saw something glimmering in the dirt. He picked it up: It was a star sapphire, perfect except for a slight chip on one side.

The small stone was a mystery until Moore was talking to an engineer who had been on the base the day the YB-49 crashed.

The engineer mentioned that a member of the crew, Maj. Daniel H. Forbes, had been married just a few weeks before the accident. His wife had given him a sapphire ring. The military had found the setting but not the stone.

Moore was stunned: "We found the stone," he said. "We found it five years ago right in the middle of the site.'"

He mailed a photograph of the sapphire to Air Force personnel, who went to visit Forbes' widow.

A half-century had passed since the tragedy. The widow had remarried and at first didn't seem to remember the ring. Then they showed her the pictures.

Without saying a word, she walked to her bedroom and returned with a matching star-sapphire ring in her hand. The stone was eventually returned to her in a ceremony at the Kansas air base that bears Daniel Forbes' name.

"It's unbelievable how many things needed to happen in order for that ring to be reunited with her," Moore said. "It validated all our work."


Contact the reporter

Follow W.J. Hennigan (@wjhenn) on Twitter


Edwards AFB Crash Geeks
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Maybe the coolest thing was finding the pilot's wedding ring stone and
sending it to his widow?
TGT

Social climber
So Cal
May 31, 2013 - 11:10pm PT
http://xbradtc.com/rip-carroll-lefon-neptunus-lex/
Vegasclimber

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 1, 2013 - 03:18am PT
Thanks for sharing, Reilly.

The "X Hunters" are pretty dedicated guys, for sure. I talk to them every couple months or so - the "serious" wreck chasing community is pretty small. They recently helped me pinpoint the location of an SR-71 crash site. Unfortunately some wise guy got the idea to pull every scrap out of the site several years ago and started selling the pieces online. I found three pieces no bigger then a quarter, and had to call it good.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jun 1, 2013 - 09:47am PT
Did you ever try to check out the Aurora crash site south of Groom Lake?
IIRC it went down in '93 or '94. I bet the AF used industrial vacuums on
that site. It even got a no-fly zone over it for over a month! The funny
part is the AF claimed it was a chopper crash. Now, who ever heard of a
chopper crash site being cordoned off for over a month and having a prohibited
airspace of 5 miles around it? Musta been some kind of chopper, nyuk nyuk.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Jun 1, 2013 - 07:36pm PT
sweet vid Hank
pyro

Big Wall climber
Calabasas
Jun 1, 2013 - 08:46pm PT
Nice video hank.
Vegasclimber

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 1, 2013 - 08:48pm PT
Little short there Hank! Nice jump though.

Just a reminder - a while back you said you were going to send me the vid of the Wifey's jump in Greece when she ended up in the wall....?

Reilly, I don't recall that one. I know they lost an F-117 up by Hawthorne a long while back, and it was the same story right down to the chopper.
Tomorrow we are heading to Panamint Valley to check out an F-105 site. A Park employee has convinced the powers-that-be that the wreck is "impacting the wilderness experience" and they are going to eradicate the site. They just eradicated an A-7 site a few weeks ago that was a great site.

This 105 is about 40 miles from any habitation, in the middle of nowhere. I have to wonder what scrap yard is going to allow them to dump several pounds of depleted uranium...45 year old site going away forever. Pretty bummed about it so I want to see it before its gone.
philo

Trad climber
Is that light the end of the tunnel or a train?
Jun 6, 2013 - 12:02pm PT
Nice vid Hank. Remember you once told me it's easier to dry than it is to heal.


I thought this was coolio.

Woman, 102, base jumps off bridge

Dorothy Custer has celebrated her 102nd birthday by base jumping off the Perrine Bridge in Idaho, America.

It was not the first extreme sport she attempted- for her 101st birthday, she decided to zip line for the first time.

The tandem jump was a birthday present from her family.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22774496
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 6, 2013 - 12:23pm PT
Oh man. Hank's video rules. Taking the water option was the right choice. If he had opened a quarter second higher, he would have made the landing area. The water beats landing in cobbles every time.

A broken ankle not only sucks, it probably costs 50 grand to fix these days. I remember getting a broken tibia fixed for about 250 bucks in Bishop once.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jun 9, 2013 - 11:59pm PT
The tail section from one of the two F-6 Hellcats which crashed at about 9300' on Mt Baldy on 21 March 1949. They were on an instrument flying
training flight and got into a snow storm about 900' too low.
More to follow...

Credit: Reilly
ElCapPirate

Big Wall climber
Reno, Nevada
Jun 10, 2013 - 03:04am PT
I know... same old boring antenna. Did a first time 3-way with some Aussies in tracking suits. Our timing was a bit off and wasn't as tight as we planned. But, loads of fun mates!

Tracking the Pirate's Mast!
Tracking the Pirate's Mast!
Credit: ElCapPirate

Edit: OOhh damn IT Hank, I hate when that happens.
Vegasclimber

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 10, 2013 - 03:44am PT
Nice Hellcat shot Riley! I've seen pics of that before on the wreck chasing site.

50k now for a broken ankle...I'm not surprised by da,m that's a lotta dough.
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Jun 11, 2013 - 03:41pm PT
Speed Riding Mt Blanc

http://player.vimeo.com/video/36398302
TGT

Social climber
So Cal
Jun 13, 2013 - 08:31pm PT
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Jun 16, 2013 - 09:53pm PT
On Highway 99South in Visalia, across the fwy from the airfield.
On Highway 99South in Visalia, across the fwy from the airfield.
Credit: mouse from merced
Kawasaki drone, very early version, at CAFB Air Museum, Atwater, CA.
Kawasaki drone, very early version, at CAFB Air Museum, Atwater, CA.
Credit: mouse from merced
ElCapPirate

Big Wall climber
Reno, Nevada
Jun 18, 2013 - 01:29pm PT
3-Way a couple of days ago:

Credit: ElCapPirate


My dad, front and center - 1980:

Credit: ElCapPirate

He was the jump master at 180 jumps... oh, how times have changed.
Mike Lydon

Trad climber
CO
Jun 19, 2013 - 02:51pm PT
[photo
Credit: Mike Lydon
id=307565][photo
beans and bullets
beans and bullets
Credit: Mike Lydon
id=307577]

C-130 Hercules
C-130 Hercules
Credit: Mike Lydon

Wings of Blue, Riverside Airshow, a while ago
Wings of Blue, Riverside Airshow, a while ago
Credit: Mike Lydon

Mike Lydon

Trad climber
CO
Jun 19, 2013 - 03:00pm PT
Near Big Rock, S'Platte Colorado
Near Big Rock, S'Platte Colorado
Credit: Mike Lydon

Credit: Mike Lydon

Credit: Mike Lydon
deuce4

climber
Hobart, Australia
Jun 20, 2013 - 03:43am PT
maybe this has been posted before;

http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/base-jump-stunt-in-norway-goes-horribly-wrong/story-e6frfq80-1226493825938

But it looks like the guy survived. I'd say the jump went horribly right in that case.
snakefoot

climber
cali
Jun 23, 2013 - 04:28am PT
kjerag is is full force
two way freefly exit
two way freefly exit
Credit: snakefoot

two way exit 6
two way exit 6
Credit: snakefoot

tracking the waterfall
tracking the waterfall
Credit: snakefoot

further down the waterfall
further down the waterfall
Credit: snakefoot
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