First, Some Stats…
According to the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA), an estimated 12,000 aircraft will be retired in the next two years. Today 80-85% of an aircraft is recycled (up more than 30% from a few years ago). AFRA’s goal is to boost that number to 90% in 2016 by finding new ways and methods to recycle airplanes.
The most valuable part of an aircraft is the engine. When an airplane reaches retirement, the engines are the first thing to be removed and tested. These power plants are enormous and can weigh up to 6 tons. They are then evaluated; some are sent back to the manufacturers to be repaired and used on other aircraft. Others are parted out and scrapped for valuable metals such as titanium.
Retired aircraft have many uses. Depending on condition, some are flown in the private sector or used as training aircraft in the military or law enforcement sectors. Others end up on movie sets or in museums; some become repurposed as furniture or material in boats. But the majority go to the “boneyard” where they are ripped apart for scrap metal. Aircraft materials find their way into circuit boards, computers, TVs and even floor and wall tile.
At least one aircraft has become an artificial reef. British Columbia's Artificial Reef Society submerged a Boeing 737 to create homes for local marine life. The 737 is now a domicile to more than 100 species.
747 Wing House
Creative Commons Wikipedia
One of the most famous recycled airplanes is the 747 Wing house, northwest of Malibu, California. It is a residential structure created from the wings of a decommissioned Boeing 747-100. Architect David Randall Hertz completed the house in 2011 after the wings were sent by truck and helicopter to the location. It is built on a 55-acre property and was formerly owned by the artist Tony Duquette.