The Liberty Gazette
August 31, 2010
August 31, 2010
Mike: It was October 14, 1947 at a stark barren dry lake in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The sun’s brilliant light beat down as Chuck Yeager in his orange rocket-powered Bell X-1 streaked skyward leaving a long white contrail, its B-50 mothership and the P-80 Shooting Star chase plane following. The air ripped apart with a sudden boom as man broke the sound barrier for the first time. Toward the north end of Antelope Valley in the high desert 75 miles north of Los Angeles in this land of sagebrush, yucca plants and Joshua trees, where gusty wind kicks up dust like that seen in spaghetti westerns, Edwards Air Force Base sits in the middle of what regular folk might call nowhere. Most of the base is surrounded by dry lakebeds, Rogers Dry Lake to the east and south, Rosamond Dry Lake to the southwest. Here several times a day the aforementioned act of aviation acclaim is repeated, and when you hear that boom you say, “there’s someone out there in thin air going really fast.”
Linda: If it were May 18, 1953, you might be hearing former Women’s Air Service Pilot (WASP) and race pilot Jackie Cochran streak across the sky becoming the first woman to break the sound barrier in the Canadair F-86 Sabre jet she borrowed from the Royal Canadian Air Force, with good friend Chuck Yeager flying right beside her. Or for a more serene thought, surveying the surrounding landscape, you can imagine horseback riders on the trails leading to and from legendary aviatrix Poncho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club.
Mike: From the cracked mud-and-borax lakebed I’ve witnessed rapidly descending aircraft round out, touch down, then seemingly bounce back into the air in practice landings for another legendary aircraft, the Space Shuttle, which made its first landings on these lakebeds.
As a student pilot these were my landmarks on solo cross-country flights, handy for cross-checking with the boundaries of the U.S. Air Force’s restricted flight areas. The runways painted on the lakebeds look like a photo negative with their black lines on white landing strips, some of the longest in the world: Rosamond, four miles; Rogers, over six miles long.
I’ve crossed this airspace hundreds of times, sharing the skies with most types of aircraft in the U.S. Military’s arsenal, always centered about those dry lakebeds visible for a hundred miles from any direction. I wish I could have landed on one.
Linda: Edwards AFB with its 13 runways is home to NASA's Dryden Research Center and the USAF’s Test Pilot School. Restricted flight areas stretch from Rosamond Lake, up into Nevada's Tonopah test range, including Yucca Flats, the area used for underground testing of nuclear bombs and home of Area 51. Edwards has seen lots of aviation history in the making, and on October 1 another first will take place there: a fly-in for general aviation aircraft, complete with pancake breakfast. Pilots may enter a drawing to land on the 21-square-mile Rosamond Dry Lake. On September 10th, 100 lucky names will be drawn. Entries can be made online at www.FlightTestNation.com, but pilots must meet strict criteria, be willing to land on dry, packed mud, and be prepared for high gusty winds. Perhaps Mike will be one of the lucky one hundred, and fulfill that longtime wish.