Edwards Air Force Base

Edwards Air Force Base

California, United States


Air Force Base



In use

1933 – present

Controlled by

United States Air Force

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edwards Air Force Base (IATA: EDW, ICAO: KEDW) is a United States Air Force 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. An airbase since 1933, Edwards has long been a home for flight research and testing and has subsequently been home to many of aviation’s most important and daring research flights. It is currently operated by the 95th Air Base Wing.

Originally known as the Muroc Army Air Field, the base was renamed on December 8, 1949 in memory of Canadian born 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.

Edwards Air Force Base




Airport type



United States Air Force

Elevation AMSL

2,302 ft (702 m)


34°54′20″N, 117°53′01″W















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 Rutan Voyager, and origination of Murphy’s law. The base is also one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy in the nation, deriving 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and is a lead partner in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership.


Early history

A water stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad since 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 a post office was commissioned for the area, they named it Muroc, a reversal of the Corum name.

P-59 Airacomet

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

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 its 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 1940s, 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

bell x-2

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

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.

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 Muroc 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 piloted atmospheric flight of Mach 6.7 on October 3, 1967 that stands today. Furthermore, the X-15 became the first airplane to fly into space on July 19, 1963, when it achieved an altitude of 347,800 ft (106,010 m). Another aircraft gained world fame in the late 1960s 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

gee whiz

Lt. Col. John Stapp rides the rocket sled “Gee Whiz”.

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 for use in his famous deceleration tests whereafter the press termed him “fastest man on earth” and the “Bravest man in the Air Force” for his world-changing MX981 project.

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


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.


Discovery (STS-114) touches down in Edwards Air Force Base (August 9, 2005 PST)

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 August 9, 2005 (STS-114) and the recent June 22, 2007 (STS-117) landing at Edwards due to rain and ceiling events at Kennedy Space Center.

The 1980s 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 Jeana Yeager launched from Edwards to set a new aviation record by piloting the first non-stop, around-the-world flight on a single tank of fuel in the Rutan Voyager.

Current projects at Edwards

The most recent projects at Edwards are the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-22 Raptor, RQ-4 Global Hawk and B-52 synthetic fuel program. In addition, the C-17 Globemaster III flight test program is another major project at Edwards AFB. 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.


Main Base

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 (4,576 x 91 m), an extra 9,000 ft (2700 m) of lakebed runway is available.
  • 06/24 is 8,000 x 50 ft (2,438 x 15 m); 5,000 x 50 ft (1,524 x 15 m) usable — (this runway is technically part of the South Base)
aerial photo

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

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

The Main base is home of the Benefield Anechoic Facility (BAF), an Electromagnetic and Radio frequency testing building. It is also home to the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, which has over 15 aircraft on display.

Dryden Flight Research Center

dryden fleet

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. It is also the home of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 designed to carry the Space Shuttle back to Kennedy Space Center in the case the Orbiter lands at Edwards.

AFRL test area

test area

Test area 1-120 at Edwards AFRL site

The Air Force Research Laboratory maintains a rocket engine testing site on and around Leuhman Ridge, just east of Roger’s Lake. Initially constructed for use in the Apollo Program, the test site now has 12 facilities for testing full-size rocket engines, engine components, and liquid and solid propellants. The Edwards Research Site 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 MN) of static thrust.

The Edwards Research Site, sometimes called ‘The Rock’, or simply ‘The Lab’ by those who work there, is part of the AFRL Propulsion Directorate, which is headquartered at the Wright Research Site, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

North Base

satellite photo

Satellite photo of the base.

North Base 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. Also, some speculate the very close proximity the Edwards’s Security Forces Squadron Headquarters being for any responses or disturbances, since many of the Base’s squadron buildings are almost four miles from the North Base and the Security Forces Headquarters.


satellite photo

Rogers Dry Lake isn’t always dry. During the brief rainy season in the Mojave Desert, water still fills the lake bed. The compass rose can be seen on the left in this image.

The largest 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.

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.

satellite photo

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

Environmental concerns

There are several protected and threatened species living in Edwards, the most notable being the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). It is unlawful to touch, harass or otherwise harm a desert tortoise. Edwards is careful not to interfere with this “gem in the desert”. Another common species is the Joshua Tree.

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 Nellis Air Force Base 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.

control tower

A 1987 aerial view of the control tower with an older tower in the background.


As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there were 5,909 people, 1,678 households, and 1,515 families residing in the base. The population density was 132.9/km² (344.1/mi²). There were 1,783 housing units at an average density of 40.1/km² (103.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the base was 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 were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 1,678 households out of which 67.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 84.9% were married couples living together, 3.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 9.7% were non-families. 9.1% of all households were made up of individuals and none had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.19 and the average family size was 3.38.

In the base the population was 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 were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23 years. For every 100 females there were 121.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 130.4 males.

The median income for a household in the base was $36,915, and the median income for a family was $36,767. Males had a median income of $27,118 versus $23,536 for females. The per capita income for the base was $13,190. About 1.0% of families and 1.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.3% of those under age 18 and none of those age 65 or over.


This article incorporates text from Edwards Air Force Base, a public domain work of the United States Government.

  1. Air Force Flight Test Center Museum

External links