Edwards Air Force Base

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Edwards Air Force Base is an airbase located on the border of Kern County and Los Angeles County, California in the Antelope Valley, 7 miles (11 km) due East of Rosamond, at Template:Coor dm. An airbase since 1933, Edwards' has long been a home for flight research and testing and has subsequently been home many of the aviation's most important and daring research flights.

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Edwards_AFB_satellite_photo.jpg
Satellite photo of Edwards AFB. Clearly visible are the Rogers and Rosamond dry lake beds and Edwards Main Base. For more photographs taken at Edwards, see the image gallery.

Originally known as the Muroc Army Air Field, the base was renamed in 1950 in memory of test pilot Glen Edwards, who died while testing the Northrop YB-49. The base is strategically situated next to Rogers Lake, an endorheic desert salt pan; its hard playa surface provides a natural extension to Edwards' runways. This large landing area, combined with excellent year-round weather, make the base an excellent site for flight testing.

Designated as the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC), Edwards is home to the United States Air Force Test Pilot School and NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. Almost every United States military aircraft since the 1950s has been at least partially tested at Edwards and Edwards has been the site of many aviation breakthroughs as a result.

Notable occurrences at Edwards include Chuck Yeager's famous flight where he broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, test flights of the North American X-15, the first landings of the Space Shuttle, the 1986 around-the-world flight of the Scaled Composites Voyager, and origination of Murphy's law.

Contents

History

Early history

The P-59 Airacomet ushered in America's jet age at Edwards
Enlarge
The P-59 Airacomet ushered in America's jet age at Edwards

A water stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad since in 1876, the site was largely unsettled until the early 20th Century. In 1910, Ralph, Clifford, and Effie Corum built a homestead on the edge of Rogers lake. The Corums would prove instrumental in attracting other settlers and building infrastructure in the area, and when the Corums had post office commissioned for the area, they named it Muroc, a reversal of the Corum name.

Under the leadership of Lt. Col. Henry H. Arnold, the Army Air Corps selected a site next to the Rogers playa for a new bombing range in 1933. The airbase established to service the range was called Muroc Field. At this time, another colorful character in Edwards' history, Pancho Barnes, built her infamous Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch that would be the scene of many parties and celebrations to come.

When Arnold became Chief of the Air Corps in 1938, the service was given a renewed focus on Research and Development. Muroc Field drew attention because the nearby playa was so flat that it could even serve as a giant runway ideal for flight testing. Accordingly, the base debuted is first major test aircraft when the P-59 Airacomet, America's first jet aircraft, lifted off on October 1, 1942. Over $120 million was spent developing the base in the 1940's, and it was expanded to 301,000 acres (1,218 km²). Included in this development was the base's main 15,000 ft (4,600 m) runway which was completed in a single pour of concrete.

The glory years of flight testing

After World War II, America found itself in an accelerating race for aerospace technology. Accordingly, the Air Force began the X-plane program in 1946, and development was largely centered at Muroc. The program grew to achieve stunning successes as the Bell X-1 became the first aircraft to break the sound barrier on October 14, 1947. Public attention was now firmly centered on Muroc Field, and test activity surged enormously.

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Bell_X-2_crash_landing.jpg
The flat lakebeds provided excellent emergency landing sites, as evidenced by this Bell X-2 crash site.

So many aircraft were tested in the years after WWII that test pilots logged hundreds of hours each month, often in many different prototype planes. This inevitably led to accidents, and the death rate at Edward's surged. On January 27, 1950, the base was renamed after Glen Edwards, who died while testing a prototype Northrop YB-49. Test pilots were undeterred however, and Edwards AFB was designated the U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center on June 25, 1951. The X-plane program achieved further successes as the Bell X-2 achieved over 100,000 ft (61 km) of altitude and speeds greater than Mach 3 in 1956.

Throughout the 1950s, American airplanes broke absolute speed and altitude records on a regular basis at Edwards, but nothing compared with the arrival of the North American X-15 in 1961. Within a few short years, the X-15 topped Mach 4, 5, and 6, setting a speed record for manned atmospheric flight of Mach 6.7 on October 3, 1967 that stands today. As well, the X-15 became the first airplane to fly into space on July 19, 1963, when it achieved an altitude of 106,010 m (347 801 ft). Another aircraft gained world fame in the late 60's at Edwards: the Lockheed YF-12A, a precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird, shattered nine records in one day of testing at Edwards. The SR-71's full capabilities are classified to this day, but the records set on May 1, 1965 included a sustained speed of 2,070 mph (3,331 km/h) and an altitude of 80,257 ft (24,462 m).

On the ground

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Lt. Col. John Stapp rides the rocket sled.

During this exciting time, extensive aviation research was also conducted on the ground at Edwards. Though they no longer exist, Edwards once hosted two rocket sled tracks that pioneered important developments and research for the Air Force. The first 2,000 ft-long track was constructed by Northrop in 1944 near what is currently the North Base. Originally intended for use as a development platform of a V-1 flying-bomb-style weapon, this project never left the drawing board. The track found use after the war as a test area for V-2 rockets captured from Germany in Operation Paperclip. Later, Dr. John Stapp appropriated the track and installed what was believed to be one of the most powerful mechanical braking systems ever constructed [1] (http://www.edwards.af.mil/history/docs_html/people/stapp_biography.html) for use in his famous deceleration tests.

The incredible results from the first track prompted the Air Force to investigate building a second, and in 1948 a new 10,000 ft (3,048 m) track was completed just south of Rogers Lake. This track was capable of supersonic speeds, and its first project was the development of the SM-62 Snark cruise missile. This track was so successful that an extension was constructed, and on May 13, 1959, the full 20,000 ft (6,096 m) track was opened. After the Navy had conducted research on the UGM-27 Polaris ballistic missile, the track was used for the development of ejection seats that could be used at supersonic speeds. Though this program was enormously successful, a budgetary review concluded that the track was too expensive to maintain and the track was decommissioned on May 24, 1963. Before it was closed, a trial run set a world speed record of Mach 3.3 before the test car broke up. After its closure, the rails were pulled up to facilitate the straightening of Lancaster Boulevard.

Edwards AFB in the space age

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Space_Shuttle_Enterprise.jpg
The Space Shuttle Enterprise being tested in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base. For a complete list of Space Shuttle landing locations, see: List of space shuttle missions.

After President Richard M. Nixon announced the Space Shuttle program on January 5, 1972, Edwards was chosen for testing. The prototype Space Shuttle Enterprise was carried to altitude by the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (a modified Boeing 747) and dropped. In all, 13 test flights were conducted with the Enterprise and the SCA to determine their flight characteristics and handling. After the Space Shuttle Columbia became the first Shuttle launched into orbit on April 12, 1981, it returned to Edwards for landing. The airbase's immense lakebeds and its proximity to Plant 42, where the Shuttle was serviced before relaunch, were important factors in its selection and it continued to serve as the primary landing area for the space shuttle until 1991. Since then, Florida's Kennedy Space Center has been favoured, but Edwards AFB and the White Sands Missile Range continue to serve as backups; Shuttles have landed at Edwards as recently as 2002 (STS-111).

The 1980's also saw Edwards host a demonstration of America's space warfare capabilities as a highly modified F-15 Eagle launched an anti-satellite missile at the dead P78 SolWind satellite and destroyed it. In 1986, Dick Rutan and Jeanna Yeager set a new aviation record as they piloted the first non-stop, around-the-world flight on a single tank of gas in the Scaled Composites Voyager.

Current projects at Edwards

The most recent projects at Edwards are the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (ongoing) and the F-22 Raptor. As well, the Department of Defense's massive development on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has seen significant testing of prototypes at Edwards. Unusually, Edwards has actually gained a few jobs in recent years under the DoD's Base Realignment and Closure process. As smaller bases have been decommissioned, their facilities and responsibilities have been consolidated at large bases like Edwards and China Lake.

Facilities

Dryden Flight Research Center

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Dryden Flight Research Center fleet

Contained inside Edwards Air Force Base is NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) where modern aircraft research is still active (e.g. the Boeing X-45). The DFRC is home to many of the worlds most advanced aircraft. Notable recent research projects include the Controlled Impact Demonstration and the Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment.

AFRL test area

The Air Force Reseach Laboratories maintains a a rocket testing site behind Leuhman Ridge, just east of Roger's Lake. Initially constructed for use in the Apollo Program, the test site has multiple facilities for testing full-size rocket engines and components. Since then, the Rocket Test Facility has tested booster rockets for ICBMs and the Space Shuttle. The site has recently benefited from an $18.5 million upgrade completed in 2003. The facility now boasts multiple test stands, and the only U.S. Government test stand capable of holding 1 million pounds-force (4.5 meganewtons) of static thrust.

Main Base

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Edwards_afm.jpg
This aerial photo of the main base shows its runways extending out over the hard playa of Rogers Lake.

Edwards Main Base includes the Dryden Flight Research Center at its north end and is directly connected to the South Base. The Main Base airfield has a control tower, a TRACON (callsign Joshua), and a Radar Control Facility (callsign Sport). Its ICAO airport code is KEDW (IATA: EDW). As a military airbase, civilian access is severely restricted, but is possible with prior coordination and good reason. There are two lighted, paved runways:

  • 04/22 is 15,013 x 300 ft (4576 x 90 m), an extra 9,000 ft (2700 m) of lakebed runway is available.
  • 6/24 is 8000 x 300 ft (2400 x 90 m); 5000 x 50 ft (1500 x 15 m) useable — (this runway is technically part of the South Base)

There are seven other official runways on the Rogers lakebed:

  • 17/35 is 7.5 mi (12.1 km) long (primary runway)
  • 05/23 is 5.2 mi (8.4 km) long
  • 06/24 is 1.4 mi (2.3 km) long
  • 07/25 is 4.0 mi (6.4 km) long
  • 09/27 is 2.0 mi (3.2 km) long
  • 30 is 2.0 mi (3.2 km) long (runway 30 rolls out onto the compass rose, so its corresponding, unmarked, runway 12 is never used)
  • 15/33 is 6.2 mi (10.0 km) long
  • 18/36 is 4.5 mi (7.2 km) long

The Rosamond lakebed has two runways painted on it:

  • 02/20 is 4.0 mi (6.4 km) long
  • 11/29 is 4.0 mi (6.4 km) long

North Base

North Base, sometimes called Operable Unit 10, is located at the north-west corner of Rogers lake and is the site of the Air Force's most secret test programs at Edwards. The site has one 6,000 x 150 ft (1830 x 45 m) paved runway, 06/24, and is accessed from the lakebed or via a single controlled road. Despite its apparent proximity on a map, the North Base can hardly be seen from the Main Base because of haze. Even on exceptionally clear days, no detail is visible, making the base ideal for secret development.

Geography

The most interesting feature of the 44.5 km² (17.2 mi²) that make up Edwards AFB is the Rogers and Rosamond dry lake beds. These lake beds have served as emergency and scheduled landing sites for many aerospace projects including the Bell X-1, Lockheed U-2, SR-71 Blackbird, and the Space Shuttle. Even today, the lakebeds have black lines painted on it to mark seven official "runways" which are available for pilots operating in the area. Also painted on the playa near Dryden is the world's largest compass rose; inclined to magnetic north (around 13 degrees east of true north) it is used by pilots for calibrating heading indicators. The largest lake bed, Rogers, encompasses 44 square miles (114 km²) of desert. Because of Roger's history in the space program it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

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The world's largest compass rose is painted on the playa beside NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center.

The Rosamond dry lake bed encompasses 21 square miles (54 km²) and is also used for emergency landings and other flight research roles. Both lake beds are some of the lowest points in the Antelope Valley and they can collect large amounts of precipitation. Desert winds whip this seasonal water around on the lakebeds and the process polishes the lakebeds with a new, extremely flat surface; the Rosamond lake bed was measured to have an altitude deviation of 18 inches over a 30,000 ft (50 cm over 9,000 m) length!

Nearby bases

Another element of Edwards' success has been its proximity to other U.S. military bases. Edwards is close to the major city of Los Angeles, but it is also only a short flight south from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake or the Nellis Range Complex that houses Area 51. Very secret aircraft developed at Edwards or other bases can easily and secretly be flown to a nearby base on a moonless night for maintenance or testing. Air Force Plant 42 and other defense research facilities in Palmdale are located only a few miles south of Edwards. The site of Lockheed Martin's famous Skunk Works, Plant 42 contains Boeing and Northrop Grumman aircraft manufacturing facilities as well. New, top-secret planes are often built at Plant 42 and then flown to the Main Base for night-time testing to maintain secrecy.

Edwards' proximity to other bases has led to the establishment of the jointly-administered R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex. Containing Edwards, the Navy's China Lake and the Army's Fort Irwin bases, and a significant amount of land in between, R-2508 is completely restricted above FL200 for military use, and in some areas is restricted to the ground. The Department of Defense and its branches use this airspace to train pilots, and to test aircraft and weapons. Joint exercises are often conducted here, and sonic booms can be heard on a regular basis.

Demographics

As of the censusTemplate:GR of 2000, there are 5,909 people, 1,678 households, and 1,515 families residing in the base. The population density is 132.9/km² (344.1/mi²). There are 1,783 housing units at an average density of 40.1/km² (103.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the base is 72.70% White, 10.42% Black or African American, 0.83% Native American, 4.35% Asian, 0.52% Pacific Islander, 5.43% from other races, and 5.74% from two or more races. 11.68% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 1,678 households out of which 67.3% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 84.9% are married couples living together, 3.0% have a female householder with no husband present, and 9.7% are non-families. 9.1% of all households are made up of individuals and 0.0% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 3.19 and the average family size is 3.38.

In the base the population is spread out with 36.1% under the age of 18, 19.9% from 18 to 24, 42.1% from 25 to 44, 1.8% from 45 to 64, and 0.2% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 23 years. For every 100 females there are 121.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 130.4 males.

The median income for a household in the base is $36,915, and the median income for a family is $36,767. Males have a median income of $27,118 versus $23,536 for females. The per capita income for the base is $13,190. 1.3% of the population and 1.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 1.3% of those under the age of 18 and 0.0% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

See also

  • Gallery of photographs from Edwards Air Force Base

References

External links

Template:Mapit-US-cityscalede:Edwards Air Force Base fr:Base Edwards

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