What do you do when you want to retire a top secret aircraft that is so cutting edge that civilians keep mistaking it for a UFO? Dismantling it might be a good idea, but it's still possible that somebody could reverse-engineer your ultra-classified work by sifting through garbage dumps. Melt it down? Messy and toxic. It seems that the main solution for the US military has been to bury planes it wants to keep secret.
Over at Urban Ghosts, Tom has a fascinating article about the secret aircraft graveyards located next to even more secret bases:
When – and if – secret planes are declassified, they're treated differently from other military aircraft, and the specifics of their hardware may remain under wraps for decades. While some ultimately go to museums, others are placed into storage well away from prying eyes, awaiting a fate that may take years to arrive. One such fate that has befallen crashed, retired or failed projects over the decades is burial. Aircraft have literally been dragged into deep pits miles from public land, often near the enigmatic Groom Lake test site in Nevada, famously known as Area 51. Not only does Groom serve as a testing ground for the U.S. government's most advanced programmes, it also serves as the final resting place of many of its most secret aircraft. Some of these classified planes have never been publicly acknowledged . . .
More than 12 aircraft wrecks are known to have been buried in unmarked graves at Groom Lake since the 1950s. These include four U-2 spy planes, several A-12s (predecessors of the SR-71 Blackbird), an F-101 chase plane (crashed 1965), a Russian-built MiG-23 that had come into U.S. possession (crashed 1984) and two Lockheed Have Blue proof-of-concept aircraft that crashed near Area 51 while demonstrating technology for the F-117 in the late 1970s.
Here's one rumored location of the gravesites near Area 51 (click to enlarge). Read more about these mysterious aircraft burial grounds at Urban Ghosts.