This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Lancaster, CA for the Ninety Nines Southwest Section Fall Meeting. It was an incredible trip lasting three days and I am still floating in the clouds….
Day one started with a trip to NASA Dryden and Edwards AFB. First half of the morning was spent at NASA viewing the latest research vehicles such as the IFCS (Intelligent Flight Control Systems), a heavily modified McDonnel Douglas NF-15B fitted with neural network control systems. We also got to see and climb partway, the Shuttle MDD (Mate/Demate Device) Facility. This is where the shuttle is brought after a landing at Edwards AFB, to be mated to the NASA 747 carrier to be transported back to Florida.
Following lunch on the base, where we had a delightful meal with the guest of honor, the Deputy head of NASA Dryden, we drove out to Edwards AFB flight-line ! What an opportunity! After a quick tire check (to ensure there was no debris) we were off driving along the flight line viewing aircraft parked in the transient/hanger spaces. Off in the distance, was a F-14 doing touch and goes. Some taxing to the runway for take-off. There are at least 18 runways on the base, most of them along the flat lake bed. Looking at picture taken from atop the MDD you can see the lake bed. If you look closely you can see some markings. Those are actually the markings of a huge compass rose. As we ambled along, a F-22 Raptor actually taxied right past us with all of us waving and the pilot giving the thumbs up and waving back! Sorry no photos!
To top the already exciting day, dinner was a special affair. It was to be a Mystery Dinner. Guests were urged to don 1940’s costumes. There were several nurses and doctors, some in army garb, others in formal wear from that time. To further complicate things we did not always know who was the actor and who was the guest. Is Captain Patton walking about with a batten, greeting everyone in his military voice, an actor or is he a 49 1/2 ? With music, great dancing, hit songs from Chicago such as “All that Jazz”, some good action (Patton turns out is not a 49 1/2 after all) and mystery. Murder was definitely in the air……
But the best was yet to come……………………
The next day in the afternoon we set out again. This time to Mohave Airport. Almost 150 of us, all pilots, piled on 3 coach buses and drove to Mohave Airport. The airport is a civilian test training center. AvTech, the company based at the airport manages and maintains commercial aircraft not in operation. There were almost 80 such aircraft parked on the day we visited. According to the AvTech personnel who served as our guide, after 9/11 they were receiving almost 30 per day. It takes about 7 days to restore an aircraft to make it airworthy and ready for flight.
Afterwards we drove to Scaled Composites offices located on the field. There we spent almost two hours right inside Burt Rutan’s hanger, right underneath First Knight his Space Ship One launch vehicle, while the man himself spoke to us, explaining his design, problems encountered and how they were fixed. About the avionics in the two vehicles, about the innovative feather landing system (the two rudders actually switch from horizontal to vertical position during landing) on Space Ship One.
I actually TOUCHED it!
(Visit http://www.scaled.com for pictures).
The tour ended with a look at a B757 that was going through a ‘C’ check that means it is completely stripped apart and tested at AvTech.
What an incredible trip!