Visit to Edwards AFB, California, January 2010
Edwards AFB in California has a long history of flight testing, and today is perhaps more commonly known by the general public as an alternate landing location for the Space Shuttle. It was first used in 1933 as a bombing range named Muroc (a reversal of the settlers name of Corum, chosen because the US Postal Service would not allow a post office to be set-up there with that name because they already had another Corum).
The location proved ideal for numerous reasons, including many desolate and remote uninhabited areas to allow for more freedom of testing, nearby access to some of the highest and lowest locations places in the USA, great weather conditions for much of the year to allow unhindered flight testing, and not least, the adjoining Rogers Dry Lake which provides a virtually infinite number of emergency landing strip lengths and directions in case a test flight needs to suddenly curtail.
The Lake itself is a perfectly flat and hard surface, and has many runways marked on it, including the one used for the Space Shuttle, which is used occasionally when poor weather in Florida prevents the Space Shuttle returning to the Kennedy Space Centre.
Historically, NASA have long had a presence here, named the Dryden Flight Research Centre, and it was from here that many test and experimental programmes have been hosted. The more famous ones include Chuck Yeager's sound-barrier breaking Bell X-1 flights in in 1947, through the incredible X-15 which topped Mach 6 in 1967, to the current crop of super agile designs and UAVs. The film "The Right Stuff" gave a good insight into much of the efforts that NASA and the pioneering astronauts went through at Dryden in the 1950's and '60's.
As well as NASA, the USAF have a major flight test centre here, and over the years many aircraft have had their first flights and flight testing carried out here. Today, major testing of F-22 Raptor and Global Hawk is being undertaken, and initial preparation for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is well underway. Examples of most current USAF types are based here to facilitate continued test and development of new systems and programmes. Also, the USAF Test Pilots School is based here, and trains not only US, but also overseas, aircrew in the art of becoming a test pilot.
Edwards also has enough space to accommodate a USMC H-46 Sea Knight squadron that was displaced from it's old base during a base closure programme a few years ago. So, as you can see, there is a decent variety of types to be seen here, and that was one of the reasons we arranged to have a trip around. Our visit was arranged as part of the normal regular Edwards PRO ran tours, so we had to meet at the West Gate at the arranged time. Being January, the morning dawned bright and crisp and clear, but after a few days of heavy rain the Rogers "Dry" Lake was distinctly wet.
The West Gate has a display of "Century Series" fighters, joined by a recently arrived prototype YC-15. The fighters are arranged in a circle around a "tower", and are kept in very good condition, I suppose the dry California atmosphere helps a lot in this respect. After identity checks, we boarded the coach and headed onto the base, being briefed and informed by the chatty and affable PRO, first stop being the on-base museum. There is a good variety of aircraft on display outside here, from the impressive B-52 Stratofortress, to the unusual two-seat variant of the A-10 Thunderbolt. Inside the museum itself are a number of exhibits and models, and the exhibits give a great insight into the history of the base. A short video presentation was viewed, showcasing many of the types and systems tested over the years.
After the museum, we re-boarded the coach and headed off to the NASA facility at Dryden. We were met here by some NASA guides who escorted us through the hangars and facilities, very helpfully answering any questions we had and relaying many of the historic NASA tales of daring. Another video presentation to illustrate NASA's history and current undertakings allowed us some time to relax, prior to our hangars and flightline walk. This was followed by a lunch in the NASA cafeteria, prior to re-boarding the coach.
After leaving Dryden, our coach took us onto the vast Edwards flightline, and during the slow ramp tour the PRO made us aware of the many units and types operating here at the moment. All to soon, we left the ramp and headed back to the West Gate at the conclusion of our very interesting visit.
Thanks go to Edwards AFB PRO, the staff at NASA Dryden, and all involved in the tour, we highly recommend it to all.
Listed below are the aircraft present during the visit:-
|51-2075||B-47B||Stored on South edge of Rogers Dry Lake|
|61-146||HI y||F-105D||West Gate|
|68-10771||Bensen X-25B||Museum, inside|
|WD592||Meteor TT20||Museum, outside|
|73-114||ED||F-15B||Preserved on base|
|52-9846||T-33A||Preserved on base|
|10810||ED||T-38A||Preserved on base|
|60801||FC-801||F-104A||Preserved on base|
|60760||NF-104A||Preserved on base|
|422633||P-59B||Preserved on base|
|41004||ED||RF-4C||Preserved on base|
|80-634||ED||F-16B||Preserved on base|
|25241||FU-241||F-86F||Preserved on base|
|57-1726||VH-34C||Stored on base for the museum|
|52-8623||CH-21||Stored on base for the museum|
|N482PE||Piper Enforcer||Stored on base for the museum|
|125850||EF-10B||Stored on base for the museum|
|71-1367||YA-9A||Stored on base for the museum|
|48-0356||EYF-94A||Stored on base for the museum|
|56-3591||KC-135A nose section||Stored on base for the museum|
|54-0683||C-123K||Stored on old ramp, to the south|
|135434||A-3A||Stored on old ramp, to the south|
|84-0049||B-1B||Stored on old ramp, to the south|
|60-0377||C-135A||Stored on old ramp, to the south|
|65-0713||ED||YF-4E||Stored on old ramp, to the south|
|61-2779||NC-141A||Stored on old ramp, to the south|
|17955||SR-71A||Flightline, for museum|
|84-307||ED, red/white scheme||F-16C||Flightline|
|87-0378||ED, blue aggressor scheme||F-16D||Flightline|
|90-797||ED, "416 FLTS"||F-16C||Flightline|
|M-2||Flying Bathtub||NASA "Not a museum"|
|951||LLTV||NASA "Not a museum"|
|162414||"Marines"||F/A/18A||Stored on NASA taxiway|
|161251||SRA, " F 18 Ironbird"||F/A-18A||NASA stored|
|847||N847NA, 161520||F/A-18A||NASA stored|
|871||Global Hawk||NASA hangar|
|872||Global Hawk||NASA hangar|
|N863NA||63, 68-8116||AT-38B||NASA hangar|
|N864NA||64, 68-8113||T-38N||NASA hangar|
|N7NA||7||Beech 200 King Air||NASA hangar|
|N804NA||Northrop HL-10||Preserved at NASA|
|844||SR-71A||Preserved at NASA|
|82-0049||049||X-29A||Preserved at NASA|
|802||F-8C||Preserved at NASA|
|810||F-8A||Preserved at NASA|
|826||F-104G||Preserved at NASA|
|6063||X-1E||Preserved at NASA|