The Classic Aircraft Scrap Yard of Greybull, WY

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Article and photos by Charisse Laughery and Del Laughery.

Every-once-in-a-while people like us – those with both a love and an eye for aircraft – will be travelling down the road and out of the corner of the eye see an airplane tail sticking up above the surrounding terrain. Not unusual, I’ll grant you, if you’re driving by an airport like I was the first time I drove along Interstate 10 through Tucson, AZ, during 1982 and noticed some sharp-top B-52 tails in storage at MASDC/AMARC. It was the shape that caught my eye not their mere presence. It was the fact that tails were attached to examples of iconic aircraft of the past that made them so interesting. And then there was the time I was travelling down Park ST in East Hartford, CT, and happened to glance into rear parking lot of a car repair business and spotted a U.S. Navy SH-2 Seasprite helicopter. So out of context was this aircraft I had to look twice to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll take the time and drive toward these eye-catching classic shapes to see how close you can get. I even took the time to go into the car repair business to ask if I could take a picture and was unceremoniously asked to leave the property. After a snapshot from the street, and some finger-pointing and threats to call the police from the repair manager on duty, I departed with my iPhone picture, which I shared with my co-workers who were not nearly as impressed as I was. Their loss <grin>.

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Now, imaging you’re driving west along US Hwy 14, with the town of Greybull, WY, in your rearview mirror, and you catch the sign for the South Bighorn County Airport. From the road, to the right, you can see the surprisingly long 7,000-foot runway, 16/34, to the right of the small rectangular ramp which is situated 800 feet west of the runway 34 marking, and sitting all alone, you spy the shape of a C-97. This occurred to me earlier this year (2024). Given its location I presumed it was flightworthy, and as before, I was driven to get a closer look. Within minutes I made contact with a local man who worked at the airport and volunteered to not only take me onto the ramp, but also trek to an open field on the north side of the property for something even more special.

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We walked out on the ramp and approached the aircraft I saw from the highway. A quick FAA Tail Number Lookup of the civilian registration of N1365N, utilizing the nearly non-existent cell service available here, revealed this aircraft is actually a firefighting-configured KC-97G, AF serial 52-2698, with the boom, and boom pod, removed. With two cylindrical water tanks in the belly of the aircraft – below the cargo deck – it can put a significant amount of water or retardant on a fire before needing to return and refill. The aircraft is owned by B&G Industries, LLC, an operator at the airport. Various reports show this aircraft sold to the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, but in actuality the BAHF purchased three ex-Hawkins and Powers stored Stratofreighters during 2021 as spare parts queens to keep their C-97G “Angel of Deliverance” flightworthy.

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Leaving this aircraft behind and heading north along the short row of buildings facing the ramp, we quickly arrived at what my guide referred to as the Hawkins and Powers storage area. The story he related about Hawkins and Powers Aviation goes back to February 2006 when that company went bankrupt as a result of losing the U.S. Forestry Service firefighting contract in 2002. On March 1, B&G Industries acquired their assets and stood the company up with many of the original Hawkins and Powers employees. A hearty well done to B&G leadership for watching after the workers who would have lost their livelihoods.

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Now, regarding the storage area, let me say right up front, the word ‘storage’ brings to mind images of carefully arranged aircraft kept in reserve for some future project. What I was greeted with was more a junk yard of derelict airframes that included six KC-97s (three of which belong to the BAHF), eight P-2 Neptunes, five C-130 Hercules, four C-119 Boxcars, one F-27 Friendship, a C-54 fuselage, ex-USAAF serial 42-72333, with civil registration N67017, and a Martin 404 fuselage, N461M, marked with Ozark Airlines livery.

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While this wide array of aircraft was available to photograph, I focused most of my attention on the KC-97s. Walking around these aircraft was both interesting and sad. It’s nearly the same sensation I get when walking through AMARG at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, but with one important difference. These aircraft, unlike those at DMAFB, appear discarded. Haphazardly towed into the field they do not reflect any signs of a professionally run aviation organization. B&G Industries, with only a small amount of effort, could, and should improve its public facing image by cleaning up the mess that is its storage yard.

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That said, I was afforded the opportunity to look inside one of the very-well-worn KC-97s, and found the interior much more intact than I expected. Many gages and meters were still in place on the flight deck as well as the Engineer’s station. Hopefully much of what is still protected by the weathered fuselage will be rebuilt and find a home in other aircraft.

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Other aircraft looked equally as forgotten and uncared-for. There are obvious signs that components have been removed and harvested. Engines, flight controls, and various other noticeable components are missing. This, of course, opens the airframe to the elements, wildlife, and insects. Securing these breaches would, I’d think, go a long way toward building longevity into the remaining hardware as well as confidence in future customers. I’m being a bit hard on B&G for their lackluster handling of these aircraft, and the story I told at the start of this article explains why. These are classic aircraft. They’re historically important. I don’t mind if they part them out or scrap them and melt them down, but to subject them to a slow death where time and the elements subject them to the airplane equivalent of death by a thousand cuts just puts me in a negative frame of mind.

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If you’re thinking about visiting Greybull to see and photograph these aircraft, be aware that they sit behind the airport perimeter fence. Feel free to bring a ladder and shoot over the top, but do not scale the fence to gain access. While the field is uncontrolled (no tower) and has no commercial airline service, I imagine the local Sheriff would not take kindly to your unauthorized presence.

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