Where do aviation geeks go when they want to see Boeing 747’s and other widebody aircraft, military planes, private planes, and general aviation aircraft? They go into the desert! There are few locations throughout the U.S. with these characteristics but one is special. This special location is approximately 70 miles (112,6 km) north of Downtown Los Angeles. It is called the Mojave Air & Space Port.
But what’s so special about this place?
Way back in time this airport was called the Mojave Airport and was built in 1935 by Kern County to support the gold and silver mining industry in the region. The airport only had two dirt runways at that point.
During World War II the military stepped in and upgraded the airport. The runways were asphalted and extended and a third one was added. Up until 1972, the airport was used by various military branches and purposes. Including stationing whole squadrons here during the war and training of new pilots.
At the beginning of 1972, East Kern Airport District (EKAD) was formed to administer the airport and they are doing it to this day. In 2012 the name was changed to Mojave Air and Space Port (MASP).
That’s the long story short.
Because of its location, this airport is perfect for testing new flying apparatuses and aircraft. The location in the desert, away from populated areas is ideal, as well as the proximity to Edwards Air Force Base where the airspace is restricted from the ground to an unlimited height.
The airport is both used for military as well as civilian flight testing. Mojave also houses the only civilian test pilot school in the U.S. – the National Test Pilot School (NTPS).
A noteworthy test flight which was just recently conducted at Mojave Air & Space Port was the first flight of Stratolaunch on April 13, 2019. Stratolaunch is the biggest airplane in the world by wingspan and is intended to launch rockets into space by dropping them from underneath an aircraft at high altitude. Stratolaunch Systems was founded by Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen.
The whole space flight testing started out with the Rotary Rocket program. You can see the Roton, the original Rotary Rocket at the Legacy Park near the old tower and the main terminal building. Roton did some test “hops” but never made it into space as the company behind it went bankrupt.
Here a small list of companies operating at Mojave Air & Space Port
- Virgin Galactic / The Spaceship Company
- Virgin Orbit
- Stratolaunch Systems
- Northrop Grumman
Mojave Air & Space Port is also home to Stargazer, an aircraft, owned by Northrop Grumman, used as a mother ship launchpad for Pegasus rockets. Stargazer, which is a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, just recently launched the Ionospheric Connection Explorer on 11 October 2019. Be aware that photography is not allowed around the aircraft even from outside the fence. Please respect it.
Aircraft Boneyard, Storage and Parts Reclamation Facility
Where do you send old airplanes you don’t need anymore? Correct, in the desert. Many national and international airlines send their aircraft to Mojave for storage or to be stripped down for parts and then ultimately scrapped.
Limited precipitation and the dry air reduce corrosion and the ground doesn’t need to be paved. There is no access to the boneyard but you can see the big planes from miles away. The most dominant aircraft parked here is the Boeing 747 from various airlines like Lufthansa, Qantas, Atlas Air, Thai Airways to name a few.
Visiting the Mojave Air & Space Port
Please follow a few simple rules to make this an interesting visit for you and others to come. Most important, obey posted signs (No Photography) and instructions from security forces and personnel. There are quite a few things to do here. Some of them need some planning ahead while for most of them you can just drop in, whenever you are in the area.
The Mojave Air & Space Port is located next to the town carrying the same name – Mojave. Mojave, the town, is located in the south-western region of the Mojave Desert. Wow, that’s a lot of Mojave here. By the way, Mojave is also a version of macOS just to complete the list.
You might be surprised, but it’s easy to miss the entrance to the airport, which is Airport Blvd. It’s a small street turning off from California State Route 58 – Business. Depending on which direction you are coming from, you have to take the small road between the Comfort Inn & Suites and the Aircrafts parked next to the road. This would be also your first stop. There is a gap in the fence, that’s the road you have to take.
Aircraft Display and Mojave Air & Space Port Sign
Park on either side of the road, but off the road. There is plenty of space here and usually, nobody is around. Don’t block the road in any way.
This spot features three aircraft.
- Convair CV-990 Coronado: Used last by NASA to do research on the Space Shuttle landing gear and brakes. It’s is one of only a handful of surviving Convair 990.
- McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom: Used as a flight test aircraft in the early stages of BAE/Flight Systems’ QF-4 modification program.
- SAAB TF-35XD Draken: Super Sonic Jet Trainer. Was used by the National Test Pilot School to train pilots between 1994-2009.
Don’t forget to take a picture of the airport sign as well. You will need it for your Instagram. 😉
Stuart O Witt Event Center and Mojave Fitness Center
As you follow Airport Blvd make a right on Poole Street and the second building on your left will be the Stuart O Witt Event Center. During its time as a military airfield, this building housed a pool that was used for water survival training for military pilots. It got repurposed and is now an event center. At the very end of the building, you find the Mojave Fitness Center.
Airport Terminal and Old Tower
Get back on Airport Blvd and follow it all the way to the end. Park in any of the marked spots in front of the building. Woohoo, free airport parking. Where do you find that nowadays? You can even charge your electric vehicle here.
This is another Instagram worthy spot. Get the tower with the airport logo in the grass right in front of it.
Keep your car parked and walk south-west towards the legacy park. It’s just across the driveway you just took to get here. Stroll through this small park and see the original Rotary Rocket Roton ATV. This was the first rocket-powered vehicle to fly from Mojave Air & Space Port in 1999.
Inside the building right next to the Roton, you see a Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne Replica. The original SpaceShipOne was part of the first private manned space program and flew to space from Mojave Air & Space Port on June 21st, 2004.
Another exhibit inside the Legacy Park is the “Golden Queen Mine Cart”. It commemorates the Mojave area’s rich mining history. Furthermore, there are some commemorative plaques about the history of Mojave Air & Space Port.
I am sure, all this walking around and taking pictures made you hungry and thirsty. It made me. Visit the local dining establishment, called Voyager Restaurant which serves breakfast and lunch. The restaurant is located in the main terminal building and the entrance is on the left side of the tower.
Monday-Friday: 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
If you decide to come in by plane, just ask the tower to taxi to the restaurant. Voyager Restaurant features free Wi-Fi, great food with an aeronautically-inspired menu, flight line views (you already know that when you arrived by plane 😉 ) and tower radio at each table. Besides that, you will find interesting photographs on the walls. Make sure you check this place out. Definitely worth it.
Plane Crazy Saturdays
This is the ultimate event for aviation geeks at MASP. Every 3rd Saturday of the month, a bunch of aviation crazy people come to the airport and enjoy each other’s company as well as the planes in which they fly-in. Yes, many of the participants fly in their own planes and exhibit them on the flight line, just outside of Voyager Restaurant. By the way, during the event days, the restaurant already opens at 7 a.m.
The event is free and you are allowed to walk out on the flight line/apron to look at the planes. Photography is highly encouraged during the event. Airport security will make sure you don’t wander off too far onto the taxiway or even runways. Just stay within save distance of the taxiway. Don’t touch any of the aircraft until otherwise noticed by the owner of the respective aircraft.
Event Hours: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
There is a guest speaker presentation during the event, mostly at 11 a.m. Check the website for upcoming events and guest speakers. A donation is requested for the guest speaker talk.
This event is also perfect to take photos of the aircraft boneyard. Don’t forget to bring a good zoom lens as they are pretty far away.
Views of the South-East Airport Area
Another scenic spot is near the Kern County Animal Shelter – Mojave. From here you get a good view of the south-east airport area which includes views of the Stratolaunch hangar and Virgin Galactic hangar where The Spaceship Company (TSC) is developing the world’s first commercial spaceline. But aren’t you really here do adopt a dog from the shelter?
The Mojave Air & Space Port is absolutely worth a visit. Lot’s of history here and still being made from time to time. It’s really the best to combine your visit here with the Plane Crazy Saturday event and get the most out of it. There is not much going on during the other days throughout the month. You can still add it in as a quick stop on a road trip. If you are into history, you should definitely stop by here.
For more photo opportunities nearby, visit the Edwards Air Force Base North and West Gate. Just outside of the gate is a display with one or more aircraft. Another hidden gem in the area.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.