Hidden away behind a line of dense trees in northeast Temple sit three vintage, abandoned warplanes.
No one is really sure how or when they got there, but a group of aviation enthusiasts are hoping to give the aircraft a proper retirement.
In a clearing off of North 16th Street, the decaying skeletons of two F-14 Tomcat fighter jets and an F-4 Phantom II sit weather-beaten and with trees poking through their rusty remains.
Jim Hodgson, executive director of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, said it’s believed the planes were intentionally dumped many years ago, but the circumstances surrounding how they ended up in Temple are murky.
The planes can be traced back to the Grand Prairie Armed Forces Reserve Complex, a former naval air station near Dallas that was shut down in 1998.
“It came to our attention a couple years ago. These were airplanes that had been at Navy Dallas. When Navy Dallas was turned over to the city of Grand Prairie, there were three airplanes there that belonged to the Navy and the Marine Corps that were no longer flyable,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson learned about the abandoned aircraft through a friend of one of the museum’s volunteers who works for the railroad.
“For quite some time, train crews would get out of the train, go across the field and go look at these things,” Hodgson said. “Apparently, it’s been kind of an urban legend.”
Hodgson said the military has strict procedures for how to dispose of retired aircraft. When a service branch no longer needs an aircraft, it is offered to other branches and then to museums.
“In the event that there are no takers for any of the airframes, they will be scrapped out,” Hodgson said. “Somehow, somewhere along the lines, these airplanes didn’t go through that process.”
Planes near scrap yard
Rich Garrett, a volunteer with the museum and former Naval aircraft mechanic, said the planes were set to be scrapped, but never made it to their destination. The site where they were dumped is not far from the recycling center Temple Iron & Metal.
“For some reason, it didn’t get done. The gentleman who was in charge of doing that took advantage of the situation,” Garrett said. “Some parts disappeared off the aircraft. We think there were some things going on that should not have happened. In order to make it look like those aircraft got scrapped, we believe they were moved to the location where they are now.”
So there they sit.
Exposed wires poke through the framework. Rusty caverns that once served as cockpits have now become a haven for mosquitoes. Faded black lettering depicts the word “Marines” on a weather-beaten shell and saplings poke through a crack in a massive wing.
“To see them ending up like skeletons dumped where they were was just terrible,” said Garrett, who made the trip a couple years ago to see the dilapidated aircraft.
The F-4 can be tracked to Vietnam while it’s believed the two F-14s may have been used in the Gulf War. Hodgson hopes the warbirds will eventually be given a proper disposal.
“For us, these airplanes are veterans like any human being. They served the country, they took people to war and brought them back home again safely,” Hodgson said. “We feel it’s completely disrespectful for these airplanes to be left out in the woods like this. To us, it’s the same as if you left one of your comrades on the battlefield.”
Hodgson said the U.S. Navy was notified about the aircraft and has plans to eventually remove them.
Until then, they’ll continue to sit, collecting leaves and waiting for their final mission to be complete.