Peter Boschert at Edwards AFB / U.S. Air Force

EED_1

Edwards Air Force Base, in the beginning it was named Muroc Army Air Field and later renamed Muroc Army Air Force Base, Finally it was named on 08th December 1949 after test pilot Glen Edwards. He died as copilot in the crash of the flying wing prototype Northrop YB-49 at this place on 05th June 1948.

Edwards Air Force Base is a base of the United States Air Force located in the Antelope Valley near Lancaster in California, roughly 80 miles north of Los Angeles.

The base covers nearly 30 square miles and is used by the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA, which has the newly named Armstrong Flight Research Center, the former Dryden FRC. The USAF works in its Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) on development and tests of manned and unmanned aircraft, including avionic systems. The second important installation of the USAF here is the Test Pilot School.

The runway most times in use is a 15,000 feet long concrete runway (04/22), but the flat and smooth ground of the surrounding dry salt lake allows landings in the whole area. For orientation of the pilots there is marked a windrose with 4,000 feet diameter. Additionally, there are markings for 20 different runways, the longest is nearly 40,000 feet long. The Air Base was used nearly 50 times as landing field for the Space Shuttle. Last landing was in September 2009, when Discovery landed at the end of its STS-128 mission at Edwards AFB.

When you hear the  name Edwards, you also had to think of Chuck Yeager, probably the most known pilot of the USAF. He was the first to “go through the sound barrier” in a X-1A on 14th October 1947. He left the Air Force on 01st March 1975 as Brigadier General, but his opinions and expertise  was still very valuable for the USAF. General Yeager continued to assist with projects for many years after his USAF retirement. At the Edwards Air Show 1997 he flew backseat supersonic with an F-15B as opening act. After the landing, he went on stage and started his speach with the following words: “The F-15 is still the best fighter aircraft in the world, although I flew the F-22 already.“ You needn’t to say more about this General.

The 412th TW has the following flying squadrons on strength:

There are eight flight test squadrons with as many as 20 aircraft assigned to each. The aircraft are grouped by mission.

411th Flight Test Squadron: (F-22)
416th Flight Test Squadron: (F-16)
419th Flight Test Squadron: (B-52H, B-1, B-2)
445th Flight Test Squadron: (Initial Flight Test Operations, T-38)
461st Flight Test Squadron: (F-35 Joint Strike Fighter)
412th Flight Test Squadron: (KC-135 Speckled Trout)
418th Flight Test Squadron: (C-130 and special operations variants; CV-22; KC-135 and special variants)
452d Flight Test Squadron: (RQ-4)
AFFTC

In the past, all important modern weapon systems flew with the AFFTC, starting with the century series (F-102, F-104, F-105, F-106, F-111).

In the sixties started the space age, the Test Pilot School was renamed Aerospace Research Pilot School when it begun to train future astronauts. At Edwards AFB started the X-15 program, Robert “BOB” White reached 314,750 feet on 17th July 1962 – world record, the X-15 flew Mach 6.72 on 03rd October 1967.

Throughout the early sixties Edwards begun tests with the YF-12, the XB-70 Valkyrie and the SR-71 Blackbird for SAC. The SR-71 made its last flight on 9th October 1999, it was withdrawn from service and the remaining aircraft were given to various museums.

In the seventies came the A-10, F-15, later F-16, YF-17 and B-1A for tests to Edwards AFB. Nowadays, only the F-16s and B-1Bs are still active in the 412th TW.

In the eighties came the  advanced technology, F-117 and B-2 were a new type of aircraft, which have been tested intensive over the years until today.

YF-22 and YF-23 were fighting for the big contract and in 1991 the USAF opted for the F-22 Raptor. The looser got nothing. Both prototypes are no longer in use. The YF-22 is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH, the second one the YF-23 is at the Western Museum of Flight in  Torrance, CA.

YF-32 and YF-35 started its tests and in 2001 all four air arms chose the F-35. The prototypes of the YF-32 are today at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH and one is on display at the  Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, MD.

At the end of the nineties UAVs became popular and the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper joined the testprograms at Edwards AFB.

Nowadays, the tests with the F-35 Lightning II, being the most expensive and comprehensive weapon system ever,have the highest priority. Testing with F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, B-1 Lancer, B-52 Stratofortress continue, along with transports like C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III will also continue for the foreseeable future. It never gets get boring at Edwards Air Force Base.

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Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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