Edwards Air Force Base : High Desert Birthplace of the Jet Age

Edwards Air Force Base is the nation's premier flight test center, is the place where aviators with "the right stuff," as described by writer Tom Wolfe, "push the envelope"--testing new craft at their technological limits.

In an era of base closures and downsizing, the Air Force Flight Test Center has emerged unscathed and has actually grown. Earlier this year, a test wing previously based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, began relocating to Edwards AFB.

Many people know Edwards AFB as "the place where the space shuttle lands." And, in fact, the orbiters have returned to Earth by landing there more than three dozen times. Yet, while it is the shuttle landings that gain the most attention, they are only a portion of what occurs at Edwards AFB.

Current Issues

* On the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "national priorities list," the base is classified as one of the worst hazardous waste sites in the nation due to decades of jet fuel tank leaks, aircraft washing with solvents and other activities. The cleanup is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take many years to complete.

* Fissures on dry lake bed runways have been caused by excessive ground-water pumping and are as long as half a mile. Base officials say the cracks seem to be healing themselves.

* "Edwards became the free world's center for advanced aviation research that would take us to the edge of space."

Gen. Chuck Yeager in his 1985 autobiography "Yeager"

Vital Statistics

* Current personnel: 785 officers and 3,615 enlisted and 10,784 civilians.

* Residents: 6,968 people live on base, including military personnel and their families.

* Aircraft: 175 based at Edwards AFB.

* Lake beds: Rogers and Rosamond dry lakes, among the prominent features at Edwards AFB, have been used for planned and emergency landing for more than 40 years. Rogers Dry Lake covers 21 square miles.

* Size: The base extends over 301,000 acres, or 470 square miles, and reaches into Kern, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

* 1992 total payrolls: Military, $186.3 million; civilian, $504.6 million.

* Total Flightr Hours: Aircraft flight hours at Edwards have decreased since 1990. The number of missions flown has also decreased--from 14,487 in 1991 to 13,751 in fiscal 1993.

1993: 22,771.7

Special Facilities

In the last 40 years, nearly every Air Force aircraft has been first tested and developed at Edwards AFB. Edwards is home to the Air Force's only test pilot school. Each year, 50 pilots, engineers and navigators are trained--at a cost of $850,000 each--to test experimental and prototype aircraft.

* NASA's Dryden Flight Research Facility: Experimental and research aircraft and systems are tested.

* Phillips Laboratory: Technology for much of the nation's missile-launch systems and the space shuttle's main engine was developed.

* Integrated Facility for Avionic Systems Testing: Avionics systems on aircraft can be tested without flight.

* Benefield Anechoic Facility: A $52-million anechoic chamber with $20 million worth of equipment used to test installed avionics systems in an environment that simulates free space. The chamber can accommodate a huge B-52.

Base History

1933: The area now known as Edwards AFB is first used by the military in late 1933. Under the Army Air Corps, the base was originally called the Muroc Bombing and Gunnery Range, then later Muroc Army Air Field.

October, 1942: The Jet Age is born when Bell Aircraft test pilot Bob Stanley takes the Bell XP-59A Airacomet, America's first jet, for its maiden flight.

October, 1947: Flying a Bell X-1 at 700 m.p.h., retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, then a captain, breaks the speed of sound for the first time. Over the next two decades, Mach 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are achieved for the first time at Edwards AFB.

January, 1950: Base is renamed for Capt. Glen W. Edwards, who was killed in the crash of an experimental YB-49.

February 1951: Air Force Test Pilot School transfers to Edwards from Ohio. Four months later, the Air Force Flight Test Center is officially activated at Edwards AFB.

July, 1972: First flight of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle.

December, 1974: Test and evaluation program of the B-1 begins after the bomber's maiden flight from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, where it was assembled, to Edwards AFB.

April, 1981: Space Shuttle Columbia, the world's first reusable spacecraft, lands after a 54-hour flight.

December, 1984: First flight of the X-29, a research aircraft with forward-swept wings developed in a joint NASA-Air Force program.

July, 1989: Flight testing of the B-2 Stealth bomber begins with the arrival of the first of the bat-winged planes.

October, 1993: The annual open house and air show features the first public flight of a B-2.

Source: Edwards Air Force Base; Research by SHARON MOESER / For The Times

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