What happens to planes after the last landing?

Planes come and planes go. When they reach their very last landing. Worldwide, they end up in all sorts of places they’ve never visited before, often far from their former home ports. Sebastian Thoma raised them for his book ‘After the last landing’ after. He visited a large number of plane graveyards in America and a small number in Europe, which he considers to be the most fascinating in the world. How the machines perform there can be seen in this book.

Note: This article was published in July 2021.

Beautiful aerial photos

On the cover, an impression of the American Victorville (California) with one of the two MD-11s that Martinair left here. In this aircraft graveyard, both FedEx tri-jets serve as donor machines, as do the many other aircraft of the same type located there. They are arranged in rows in an orderly manner, as can be clearly seen in the beautiful aerial photographs that Thoma took of them. This is how it is in several aircraft cemeteries, as it quickly becomes clear when you flip through the book. The images of the large number of military aircraft lined up at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Arizona) are certainly impressive. Things are clearly visibly different at various US aircraft cemeteries, including Mojave (California). The discarded machines are scattered all over the place, nothing is sealed against the effects of wind and weather. Kingman Airport (Arizona) presents a varied picture, with regional jets neatly arranged in rows on one side and ‘exotics’ parked haphazardly on the other.

Closer to home, there is sufficient space, especially at Teruel in Spain, to store aircraft for a long time. Here, too, the machines are neatly parked in rows next to and behind each other. Elsewhere in Europe, such as in the British Kemble-Cotswold and ‘our own’ Enschede-Twente, there is no space for this. As a result, the aircraft that have been left behind are often dismantled and scrapped quite quickly. Another reason for this is the weather effects. An aerial view of Orlando Sanford, a small aircraft graveyard in Florida, USA, shows the impact: the planes are visibly corroded there. The photo backgrounds also give a nice insight into the diversity of biomes in the locations where the terminals are located: desert or grassland. Especially in Europe, the devices wear out their last days in green, with the Spanish Teruel as a sunny exception.

Other featured locations: Palmdale, San Bernardino (both in California), Pinal Airpark, Pima Air & Space Museum, Phoenix Goodyear (all in Arizona), Miami Opa-locka (Florida), Parchim (Germany) and Tarbes (France).

Tarbes (France) © Sebastian Thoma

Special attention

‘Unfortunately, legends are also scrapped,’ reports Thoma and that is how it is. Not all planes can be saved, the whole earth would be full of them. But there are machines that deserve a place of honor, and they get that in this book. Thoma rightly laments the fate of Super Guppy I. The new owner of Bruntingthorpe Airport (UK) did not find it necessary to keep this special aircraft, which consisted of a mixture of different aircraft parts, any longer. He dealt with it at the demolition site ten meters away. But before that, Thoma immortalized the unique ‘goldfish’. Unfortunately, on the page that he assigns the device to in his book, the registration (F-BGTV) is not mentioned, while it is easy to find out. The ‘Gimli-Glider’, a Boeing 767, both engines of which failed during a flight, also has a place of honor in the book. The flight crew managed to land the machine safely, no one was injured and the plane, which suffered almost no damage, could be repaired quickly. It is a shame that Thoma does not mention the registration of this 767 (C-GAUN) or the date of the incident (23 July 1983).

Several times he depicts the fate of a Boeing 747 that once proved its worth to United Airlines. The Jumbo is scattered in pieces in the desert sands of the Mojave, clearly treated differently than the other units, stripped of their parts bit by bit. What happened to her is not reported (an explosion test) and again the registration number (N198UA) is missing. The much-loved ‘Floortje’, KLM-MD-11 PH-KCD ‘Florence Nightingale’ can also be found in the book, as well as Transaero-Boeing 747 EI-XLN with its tiger nose. The registration of both machines can only be seen in the attached pictures. Particular attention is paid to the phase-out of Martinair MD-11 PH-MCU ‘Prinses Maxima’ with a text by Captain George de Waard. Some of the accompanying images are familiar as they have already appeared in the book Martinair MD-11 Aviation Legend.

Victorville, California, includes a fleet of retired aircraft that serve as donor machines for the FedEx fleet © Sebastian Thoma

Corona pandemic

For not all planes that can be seen in the book, it is their last landing. The last part of the book gives an impression of the picture that emerged at various airports after the outbreak of the corona pandemic. It is a pity that Thoma has limited itself to German airports. He also does not honor the title of his book with this chapter, many of the stored machines have now been able to choose the airspace again. Sooner or later, this will also be the case for the large number of parked Boeing 737 MAX that he saw over Victorville. This already applies to the Boeing 787 (N887BA), which was parked in the same place and can be seen on the first page. She has been in Basel since 31 October 2019 for a new cabin interior after already flying to Amsterdam once on 23 March 2018 under a new registration (P4-BDL). Thoma was apparently not aware of that when he wrote his text about this machine.

These Airbus A380s parked for a long time at Teruel (Spain) face an uncertain future © Sebastian Thoma


He rightly emphasizes the exceptional position of the four-engine jets: Boeing 747, Airbus A340 and A380. The future of ‘Wally’s’ is uncertain, the first two being shown several times in pitiable circumstances. For the true enthusiast, this is somewhat sad. Especially when you consider that there are some machines that have actually been retired, such as PH-BUK and PH-BFB in the Netherlands, two Jumbo Jets that had Schiphol as their home base for many years. Also in Germany, where Thoma lives, such pensioners are easy to find, with whom the book could have been spiced up a bit.

The images of Blackbird Airpark (California) provide some consolation, including the NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier (N911NA) and Bruntingthorpe with three Lockheed L-1011 Tristars in their Royal Air Force jackets. On the last page, an ad from a company that makes furniture from aircraft parts, preceded by a notice calling attention to panel sawing. Thoma could certainly have made more of it, precisely because it connects to beloved aircraft that actually put the wheels on the ground for the very last time.

There is also interest in the window panels of this Boeing 747 left behind in Mojave (California).
© Sebastian Thomas


That Thoma has a good overview of matters such as composition and incidence of light quickly becomes clear from the many photos in the book. For that reason alone, it is a shame that this edition is bound very tightly. The images printed on a notice are therefore no longer fully visible, which results in shortened fuselages, albeit in a completely different shape than with the Fokker 70. The design of the book is calm and orderly. The text is easy to read, even if you do not have a super command of the German language. For aviation enthusiasts who like to look at places where aircraft have been dismantled, this publication is certainly interesting, all the more so because Thoma has both walked around and flown over a large number of terminal stations.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Arizona) © Sebastian Thoma

About the author

Sebastian Thoma caught the aviation virus at a young age. Encouraged by his father, a helicopter pilot, he started working with, among others, Microsoft Flight Simulator 95. He has been able to fulfill his dream of working in the aviation world. He works as an air traffic controller and has a certificate that allows him to fly single-engine aircraft. The title of his website refers to this combination: ATCpilot. Once in possession of a good photo camera, his first interest was to be the first to capture a certain type of aircraft on camera. But when a friend pointed out that these machines would still be in the air for the first few years, he shifted his focus to obsolescence. This book is the extraordinary result of that.

Nach der letzten Landung

The most fascinating Flugzeugfriedhöfe der Welt

  • Sebastian Thomas
  • Hardcover | 192 pages | Profusely supplied with color photographs | Limited edition
  • ISBN 978-3-96453-278-7 | Geramond Verlag GmbH | 2021
  • €39.99 | €49.00 with 2 stickers and 8 postcards | €59 with 3 stickers and 30 postcards | exclusive €9.95 per order: https://www.atcpilot.com/books/

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