Monday, August 27, 2012

Exploring Edwards AFB

Friday was a pretty awesome day - I had found out, well in advance, that it is possible to get a tour of Edwards Air Force Base if you apply to the right website with enough notice! So I did, and provided my nationality and passport details etc, and was rewarded with a trip around Edwards in a very small group...

Every Aero Geek's wet dream...

For those who don't know, Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert is the world's top test flight location. Over 150 aircraft types have had their maiden flights here and hundreds more have gone through the extensive flight testing required for new airliners, military aircraft, spaceplanes and novel designs to achieve certification. Edwards has been the home to some seriously wacky aircraft in its time, including the NASA switchblade aircraft, the space shuttle, Proteus, flying wings, lifting bodies and so many more. It is the site of so many firsts, including the first flight through the sound barrier, you must read up on the base online ( or, if you prefer a more reputable source, - it's a fascinating place.


File:Edwards Air Force Base - California.jpg

Edwards is an ideal location for the testing of aircraft due to its unique geography and geology. The base itself sits on the edge of a very hard, very flat lake bed, which floods every couple of years or so in a process which moves the silt around to make the surface flatter and fills in the cracks each time. As well as the main tarmac runways, this lake bed houses 13 marked runways of up to 7 MILES in length! This is why it is perfect for flight test - there are so many different options for a stricken or untested aircraft to find somewhere to land. Of course, it was also used as the landing site for about 50% of the Space Shuttle landings, including the flight tests at the very start of the programme.

Anyway, driving up to the base took about 45 minutes, included a 10 minute drive at 60 mph from the edge of the base to the guard gate!! Waiting for us there was a collection of iconic aircraft, primarily the Century series of transonic and supersonic fighter aircraft, and the YC-15 prototype aircraft which led to the development of the C-17. It was permitted to take photos of these aircraft, with the caveat of 'beware of snakes', but cameras weren't allowed into the base so I can't bore you with anything other than stock photos!

The Century series of fighters

YC-15 cargo aircraft. The letter C = cargo, F = fighter, B = bomber etc... No idea what the Y stands for!

After being issued with name badges etc, the first stop for the 30 or so guests on the tour was the base museum. Just parked outside in an almost hapazard fashion was a selection of aircraft including a Gloster Meteor, an SR-71 Blackbird, a B52 bomber and many more. Inside the museum, however, was Glamorous Glennis - the X-1 rocket aircraft which was the first aircraft ever to fly through Mach 1, piloted by Chuck Yeager! There were all sorts of other exhibits and I wish I could have photographed them, but the museum is hoping to raise the capital to relocate just outside the base so everyone can visit, so I hope this becomes possible.

Edwards AFB has about 11,000 employees on a weekday (of which 2000 are military) and contained therein are the office blocks, churches, shops, recreation areas (including paintball arena) and houses to accommodate them. There is even an 18 hole golf course, irrigated with reclaimed water, which stands out as an incredibly lush corner of an incredibly dry desert. We saw all of these on our way to the flight line. After the bus was checked for FOD, we drove down the flightline and saw F-16s and F-22s warming up, taxying and performing touch-and-gos. Definitely the highlight though was the F-35 which landed and then taxied right past us! We also saw the filming location for Iron Man (the building used for Stark Enterprises) and then drove over to NASA for lunch.
I can't even remember all the aircraft just parked around the base, preserved perfectly in the very arid desert air. It just boggles the mind, how many milestones were reached at Edwards AFB in the last 60 years. NASA, too, had various aircraft parked outside (including yet another SR-71 - the 3rd I'd seen this week!) and it was interesting for me to see the first ever fly-by-wire modified F-8 aircraft whose flight LOOKS like it very nearly ended in disaster... (
We watched a publicity film at NASA and bought lunch in the canteen, then we were ferried back to our cars, after a tour lasting about 5 hours. It was really professionally done and if you are within an hour or 2 of Lancaster, CA then I can really recommend it!!

Though it was very hot when I got back to the car...
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1 comment:

  1. Ace tour! I have to admit that there were two thins that really stood out in this post.. 1) it didn't even occur to me that the plane names were f-16 for fighter 16 etc!! It does make sense though and 2) I had to google FOD :D

    Shame you couldn't take more piccies but awesome write up either way :)