Lancaster, CA


Mate-De-mate, Mojave, and Mystery

Flying in California was extremely easy. Not only was the weather sunny and perfect for flying much of the year, but also pilots eager and ready for an opportunity to go flying. Most GA airports had restaurants on the field for that coveted ham/veg burger. There were ample events such as airport days, air shows, hanger parties, monthly pilot group meetings, hosting of events such photo rallies, air races, poker runs, safety seminars, and many more. One of the events that I really looked forward to after obtaining my PPL was the Southwest Section 99s meetings.

Held in Spring and Fall, the events spanned from Thursday through Sunday, hosted at locations with plenty of activities to attract large groups of pilots and always fun to meet and interact with other pilots. Southwest Section comprises of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Hawaii, with more than 1600 members and 57 chapters. Section meetings are typically hosted by chapters and in the fall of 2003, the meeting was hosted by the Antelope Valley 99s based at Lancaster’s William J Fox (WJF) airport.

Ever enthusiastic, Grace and I set off for Lancaster for our second attendance at a section meeting after our very exciting experience at Columbia. Friday was a busy day with a trip out to NASA Dryden and Edwards Air Force Base. First half of the morning was spent at NASA Dryden viewing the latest research vehicles such as the heavily modified McDonnel Douglas NF-15B fitted with neural network control systems or Intelligent Flight Control Systems (IFCS). We also got to see and climb partway, the Shuttle MDD (Mate/Demate Device) Facility.  This was where the shuttle was 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 with the guest of honor, the Deputy head of NASA Dryden, we drove out to Edwards AFB flight-line for a viewing of aircraft parked in the transient/hanger spaces, aircraft such as an F-14 doing touch and goes and others taxing to the runway for take-off. There are at least 18 runways on the base, most of them along the flat lake-bed.

The theme for the banquet was 1940s. Several guests had donned costumes. To make matters worse, it was also a Mystery Dinner. There were several nurses, doctors, army officers and more. Who was an actor and who was a guest was a mystery. Is Captain Patton walking about with a batten, greeting everyone in his military voice, an actor or is he someone’s spouse?  There was music with hit songs from Chicago such as “All that Jazz”, great dancing, and some excellent action. Patton it seems might not be whom one thinks he is! Murder and mystery were definitely in the air that night.

The next day in the afternoon we set off 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 aircraft per day. It takes about 7 days to restore an aircraft to make it airworthy and ready for flight. Afterwards we drove to the offices of Scaled Composites and spent almost two hours inside Burt Rutan’s hanger, underneath First Knight his Spaceship One launch vehicle, while Rutan spoke explaining his design, problems encountered and how they were fixed.

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All in all, another fantastic section meeting filled with space, murder and mystery.