Edwards Air Force Base has been host to some of the most extensive aircraft testing in the United States. While the base started out humbly, it now has much acclaim.
History of Edwards
The area surrounding what we now know as the Edwards AFB was used as a water stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad beginning around 1876. The site remained unsettled until the start of the 20th century.
Ralph, Clifford, and Effie Corum had a large role in populating the area. They built a homestead on the edge of Rogers Lake in 1910. The Corums attracted other settlers to the area and contributed to the infrastructure of the town that resulted.
In 1932, Lieutenant Colonel Henry H. Arnold began acquiring land next to the Rogers dry lake for a bombing range. The location was ideal because it was away from populated areas. The last tract was acquired in 1939.
When Arnold became Chief of the Air Corps in 1938, the base shifted its focus to research and development, as the dry lake was ideal for flight testing. In 1940, the United States government spent over $120 million to develop and expand the base for this purpose.
The first major test aircraft to lift off from the base was P-59 Aircornet. It made its debut October 1, 1942. The P-59 Aircornet was America’s first jet aircraft.
In the years following World War II, a race began for aerospace technology. The Air Force joined the race in 1946 with the X-plane program.
Pilots logged hundreds of hours each month following the inception of this program. Many flew prototype planes. The sheer amount of testing resulted in a lot of accidents and a huge death toll. One pilot’s memory is honored in the name of the base, Glen Edwards, who died with a crew of five testing the YB-49 Flying Wing.
In the face of a high mortality rate, test pilots remained undaunted. Pilots continued to log hundreds of hours flying prototypes. In 1951, the base was designated as the U.S. Air Force flight Test Center.
Airplanes tested at Edwards AFB regularly broke absolute speed and altitude record, the most notable example being the North American X-15. This plane was brought to the base in 1961, but broke records within just a few years. The North American X-15 set the speed record for piloted atmospheric flight that still stands.
In the 1970s, Edwards AFB tested the Space shuttle orbiter. Later on, the site for Space shuttle testing was moved to Florida to decrease the amount of shuttle transport.
Units on Base
Edwards Air Force Base is operated and maintained by the 95th Air Base wing. This host wing is the second largest base in the Air Force.
Edwards AFB is also home of the 412th Test Wing. This wing plans, conducts, analyzes, and reports on all flight and ground testing of aircraft, weapons systems, software and components. This wing is also responsible for modeling and simulation for the U.S. Air Force.
In addition, there are a plethora of organizations that don’t fall under the 95th Air Base wing or the 412th Test Wing. These are referred to as Associate Units. These units provide an array of services, ranging from an on-base grocery store to testing state-of-the-art rockets.
Edwards AFB is located on the border of Kern County, Los Angeles County, and San Bernardino County, California in the Antelope Valley.
The base lies 6 nautical miles southwest of the central business district of North Edwards, California and 7 miles due east of Rosamond.
The largest features of Edwards AFB are the Rogers Lake and Rosamond Lake dry lakes. These dry lakes provide extended runways for flight testing and shuttle landing.
Black lines painted in the lakebeds mark the seven official runways in Edwards AFB. Also painted on the lakebeds is the world’s largest compass rose. The rose measures 4,000 feet in diameter.
The 2010 United States Census recorded a population of 2,063 people residing on the Edwards Air Force Base with a population density of 12.4 people per square mile.
The racial makeup is as follows:
8.0% African American
0.8% Native American
0.5% Pacific Islander
4.7% Other races
7.7% Two or more races
The majority of the population resides in households, 1,834 people. Those in non-institutionalized group quarters complete the population, 229 people. No persons are institutionalized according to the most recent census.
The age demographics are as follows:
771 people under age 18
392 people ages 18 to 24
803 people ages 25 to 44
87 people ages 45 to 64
10 people ages 65 or older
The median age for the base is 23.0 years.
The Edwards AFB includes a main base, the Dryden Flight Research center, the Air Force Rocket Research Laboratory, and the north base.
The main base has a control tower, a TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility), and a Radar Control Facility. As a military airbase, civilian access is severely restricted. Special accommodations can be made, however.
The Dryden Research center is home to many of the worlds’ most advanced aircrafts, including the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Notable research projects conducted at the Dryden Research center include Controlled Impact Demonstration and Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment.
Edwards AFB also houses the Air Force Rocket Research Laboratory. This laboratory traces back to early Air Corps activities in the 1930s, and still provides rocket propulsion for all U.S. programs requiring rocket propulsion technology. The Air Force Rocket Research Laboratory also works to anticipate the future of propulsion technology.
The north base is the most secretive part of the Edwards AFB. Located in the northwest corner of Rogers Lake, this sector is only accessible from the lakebed or a single controlled road.
The Edwards Air Force Base has a rich history in American aviation, rocket propulsion, and aeronautical technology. It still stands as the U.S. Air Force flight Test Center.