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Before The Air Force Could Buy The Planes, Edwards AFB Had To Test Them

Relive the Heady Days of 1950s Edwards AFB Flight Testing

Official NASA Photograph

Edwards AFB was the gatekeeper to joining the fleet.

The United States Air Force (USAF) Air Research and Development Command produced the color film “The Air Force Flight Test Center- Edwards Air Force Base” during the mid-1950s and released the film in 1956. Shot at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) on Rogers Dry Lake and featuring just about every Air Force aircraft in development or test at the time, the film is like a time capsule and captures everything from the testing and evaluation of developmental aircraft and guided missiles to rocket sled and rocket motor testing. Parachute testing at Naval Air Station (NAS) El Centro is also featured in the film.

Official US Air Force Photograph

Aircraft featured in the film include the Bell X-1A, X-2, and X-3 experimental rocket planes, North American F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre, McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, Convair F-102, YF-102A, and TF-102A Delta Dagger, Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, Vought XF8U-1 Crusader, Douglas B-66B Destroyer, Republic EF-84G Thunderjet Zero-Length Launching and Mat Landing (ZELMAL) and jettisonable main landing gear wheel testing, and a XF-84H Thunderscreech turboprop-powered supersonic fighter prototype. Boeing B-29 and B-50 Superfortress and B-52 Stratofortress carrier aircraft and the Bell GAM-63 Rascal air-to-surface missile along with its Boeing B-47 Stratojet carrier aircraft are also featured.

Official NASA Photograph

Details of the mid-1950s renovation and modernization of the base facilities, control tower, and expanded and improved runways are discussed. Several of the accidents that occurred at Edwards during the shooting of the film are included as well as truly rare footage of Boeing YC-97J Stratofreighter, Douglas YC-124B Globemaster II, and Lockheed YC-121F Super Constellation turboprop-powered testbeds. Data captured during the testing of these three experimental transports was used in the design of the Lockheed YC-130 Hercules, which is also shown in the film. Look closely and you’ll even see North American B-25 Mitchells too. The narration of the film is a bit dry, like the desert around Edwards itself, but all in all the film is a feast for the eyes of any fan of the heady days of flight testing during the 1950s.

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.

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