East Kern County holds an important place in Aerospace innovation due to its location and unique conditions. Visitors who keep their eyes on the sky may be treated with views of F-18s refueling at the Mojave Air and Spaceport, The Spaceship Company’s test flights of White Knight II and Spaceship II, or cutting edge military planes flying in and out of Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station.
Edwards Air Force Base
Located at the southern end of the Desert Triangle and about 15 miles east of Rosamond, Edwards AFB spans 308,000 acres over three counties. Edwards AFB has been home to many historic events, including Chuck Yaeger’s sound barrier shattering flight in a Bell X-1 jet; the first landing site for the space shuttle; and the take off of Dick Rutan and Jeana Yaeger’s record-breaking around the world flight in the Rutan Model 76 Voyager.
Edwards AFB is a closed base, however, they do host public tours once a month. Reservations are required, and spaces fill quickly, so reserve space as far in advance as possible. Visit www.edwards.af.mil/Tours for more information. For displays that don’t require reservations, visit West Gate and North Gate Exhibits.
West Gate Exhibit, or Century Circle, features six “Century Series” Air Force aircraft: the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104, F-105, and F-106. Additionally, visitors can see a YC-15 transport aircraft. The North Gate Exhibit features a B-52 aircraft that was flown by NASA to test other aircraft like the X-15, HL-10, and hypersonic X-43. The West and North Gate Exhibits are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mojave Air and Spaceport
Home to Scaled Composites, The Spaceship Company, The National Test Pilot School, and many other businesses, the Mojave Air and Spaceport (MASP) is a hub of activity in the aerospace industry. In 2004, MASP hosted the Ansari X Prize, a space competition with a $10 million prize for the first private organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. The prize was won by Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, with his revolutionary SpaceShipOne, piloted by Mike Melville.
While much of the work done by companies on MASP is highly proprietary, the airport itself is a public entity. Visitors can explore the airport, watch the flight line, and stretch their legs at Legacy Park. On a clear day, visitors can catch sight of the “bone yard”, an eerie final resting place for dozens of decommissioned airplanes. For more information, visit www.mojaveairport.com.
The airport welcomes visitors and aviators on the third Saturday of every month with Plane Crazy Saturday. This event is free and open to the public; summer hours are 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and winter hours are 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Organized by The Mojave Transportation Museum, this event regularly features a variety of aircraft and a chance to wander the flight line for an up close view of historic, experimental, and home built aircraft. Learn more at www.mojavemuseum.org.
China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station
At the northern end of the Desert Triangle is China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, which is the U.S. Navy’s largest single landholding. China Lake is home to weapons and armaments research, development, and testing. The China Lake Museum Foundation operates the US Naval Museum of Armament and Technology, which is free for the public to visit.
The museum features exhibits of rockets, free-fall weapons, guided missiles, antisubmarine weapons, and special weapons. There are also exhibits with information about technological advancements, aircrew safety, aircraft systems, and more. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, visit www.chinalakemuseum.org or call (760) 939-3530.
Colonel Vernon P. Saxon Jr. Aerospace Museum
At the southeastern tip of the Desert Triangle in Boron, aerospace enthusiasts can visit the Saxon Aerospace Museum. Maintained by the Boron Chamber of Commerce, museum exhibits include an F-4 fighter, X-25A Gyrocopter, flight suits and helmets, X-31 and F-18 HARV, XLR-8 Rocket Engine, a custom turner airplane, and more.
For decades, the skies over Boron have hosted countless experimental aircraft and historic aerospace moments. The Saxon Aerospace Museum seeks to preserve the area’s aerospace history and provide educational programming for the community and local schools. For more information, visit www.saxonaerospacemuseum.org or call (760) 762-6600.
From Boron, observers can look to the west to view the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). While technically part of Edwards AFB, the site is off limits to those without base clearance. The AFRL Propulsion Directorate at Edwards AFB has existed since 1952, and it is the only Air Force entity that develops spacecraft and rocket propulsion technology.