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Military Aircraft Crash Sites

This page provides guidance on the protection of military aircraft crash sites in England. If an excavation license is granted it offers advice on best professional practice. It also explains how the records of crash sites within Historic Environment Records are being enhanced.

Significance of crash sites

Military aircraft crash sites are more than collections of surface or buried artefacts, they can also be war graves, and may contain live ordnance. They will also often have social significance to local communities or the families and friends of aircrew. They will always contain archaeological evidence about the aircraft and how it was maintained, evidence that will be lost if it is not correctly excavated, recorded and published.  

We have issued guidance on the management of military aircraft crash sites and this is being updated. A recent report on the excavation of a Spitfire crash site by colleagues from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation illustrates what may be achieved by applying professional standards to wreck excavations.

Protected sites

Military aircraft crash sites may be recognised as archaeological sites and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, includes within its definition of monument, ‘crashed aircraft or the remains thereof'.  

All military aircraft crash sites in the United Kingdom, its territorial waters, or British aircraft in international waters, are controlled by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. Under this act it is an offence to tamper with, damage, move, or unearth any remains without a licence from the Ministry of Defence. Further details are available on the gov.uk web site.  

The fuselage of the Dornier 17 discovered during an English Heritage funded survey of the Goodwin Sands, Kent, it was raised by the RAF Museum in 2013.  It is now being conserved at the RAF Museum, Cosford.
The fuselage of the Dornier 17 discovered during an English Heritage funded survey of the Goodwin Sands, Kent, it was raised by the RAF Museum in 2013. © W D Cocroft

Enhancing the record

Historic Environment Records (HERs) also have an important role to play in the protection of aircraft wreck sites. Historic England is working with a number of HERs and volunteer groups to record the accurate locations of crash sites. In Kent, over 600 terrestrial wrecks have been recorded and over 300 offshore.  

If you know about a wartime American crash site, its location, type of aircraft, or personnel involved please share this information with the American Air Museum.

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