Arizona wreck

Twenty years ago, Leonard Taylor came across a Firebee wreck in Lyle Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona. There was no ID on the wreck, but research lead Leonard to believe it is a Ryan Model 147. Which exact version is a guess. Leonard removed a small aluminum tag from some electronic part, which reads "Configuration Control, Date 7/27/68, CC NC/1".

Wreck photos - early January 2011

Leonard revisited the site recently and made the following photographs.

This is the center fuselage seen from the top, nose pointing to the left. The exterior appears to be a combination of bare metal and some light gray patches (like the right of the nose of the spine fairing). The parachute riser slot appears black at its rear. The left side show heavy impact damage, possibly from hitting a tree. This photo shows clearly that it is a Model 147, and not a Model 124 target Firebee. The right 1/3 of the wreck part is the Model 147's 35" rear fuselage plug. If it was a Model 124, the large avionics hatch would be visible in this section. Instead this hatch is visible in another wreck part, in the fourth photo.

The center fuselage seen from the front and right side. The skin appears to have remains of black paint, but near the spine fairing some orange paint seems to be present.

Close-up of the rear side of the center fuselage, with black paint on the parachute riser slot in the spine fairing.

The part on the left is the rear of the engine nacelle, seen from the rear. The part on the right is the rear fuselage section, roughly the avionics section to the tail surfaces. It is pointing the other way than the nacelle. It appears to have traces of both light gray and black paint. Also visible is the avionics hatch, in fact much of the side closest to the camera is the hatch. The hatch coaming and a latch can be seen towards the rear side. The part in the middle / foreground of the photo is likely the exhaust duct.

A close up of the turbine section.

A front view of the engine. Craig Kaston commented that the engine first stage compressor appears to show no rotational damage (curled blade edges, etc) which would tend to indicate that the engine was not running at ground impact.

This is the rear fuselage section seen from the lower side and the rear. It shows the rear spar attachment of the vertical tail and the JATO rocket attachment bracket. The skin appears to have traces of light gray, black and orange paint!

Craig Kaston recognized this part as the engine shroud assembly. The shroud splits horizontally; the extended flange is on the upper half of the shroud. The image shows the right side.

Wreck photos - late January 2011

Leonard went out for a third look. The snow had mostly melted, revealing many more parts, including wings and tail. The engine shroud and tail section were about 150 feet upstream. Leonard concluded that the plane might have been heading down the canyon and snagged a tree, ripping off the shroud (and tail?) and putting the drone into the ground. He kindly supplied the following photographs.

There is black paint over orange (but mostly bare metal now), so maybe it's a converted target drone? Also evidence of "stealth" fabric. Saw no markings of any kind, and I turned all the pieces over.


Attached a few pics to get your curiosity up. One is from the trail overlooking Lyle Canyon, with the wreck site about in the center of the photo.


Fort Huachuca is at the north end of the range, and Davis Monthan AFB is just 70 miles away. 'Lightning bugs" page 154 mentions about Model 147NA/NC operations: "Profiency training flights were staged out of Ft. Huachaca, Arizona, and some out of Eglin with good success devoid of serious operational problems". Craig Kaston reported that it appears that the common training syllabus had the DC-130A/RPV flight originating from Davis-Monthan with RPV air-launch, flight and MARS recovery in the controlled and uncrowded airspace around Fort Huachuca.


Craig Kaston comments that it possibly is a Model 147NC (AQM-34H) as described on the early TAC Firebees page. The NC could carry ALE-2 chaff pods or the Hughes ALQ-71 and the Westinghouse QRC-335 ECM pods. The remaining black and orange paint suggests a test model, maybe even serial number 1 based on the electronics part tag. However this is a risky assumption because avionics boxes could be easily swapped between aircraft.

The date on the tag, July 1968, appears to be approximately correct for an 147NC. 'Lightning Bugs' has no information on the start of operations with the NC, but the first unit to operate them, 4472nd Combat Crew Training Squadron / 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing was established in March 1968. The squadron was redesignated as 4472nd Support Squadron (Special Purpose Aircraft) on 1 July 1969.

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