Everyone interested in aviation and also space exploration has heard of Edwards AFB. Edwards AFB was the alternative landing strip on which the Space Shuttle could land. Outside either gate, you can find aircraft on display. These two locations are open to the public. The Air Force Flight Test Museum is currently in the progress to move its museum location from an on-base site to a new location just outside of the South Gate of Edwards AFB. This will make it easier to visit the museum, as you need no more base access badge.
Not too far away from Edwards AFB, just to the south of it, is the city of Palmdale. A city that houses two amazing airparks as well as the U.S. Air Force Plant 42. The birthplace of the SR-71 Blackbird.
Visit Joe Davies Heritage Airpark and Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale. Both of these airparks are located right next to each other. Each one has its own entrance and parking lot. There is a gate between the two parks to walk from one to the other.
Even though both places are open at the same time. There could be occasions when one or the other is closed. During my first attempt to visit them, the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark was actually closed for a private event. You can check their websites for updates.
Joe Davies Heritage Airpark
Groundbreaking for the airpark took place on October 20, 1998. The airpark is owned by the City of Palmdale and has a size of 26.4-acre in total but not all of that is utilized yet. The park is currently in its first phase of development and uses about five acres to display 21 retired military aircraft on static display, a 1/8 model of the B-2 Spirit, an AGM-27 Hound Dog Missile, a B-52 and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA).
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) on display here is the highlight of the collection. It is one of only two heavily modified Boeing 747 Jumbo jets to carry the Space Shuttle. Yes, this is the original SCA. It is on a long-term loan from NASA. N911NA was retired on February 8, 2012, after finishing its final mission to the Dryden Flight Research Facility.
The second SCA (N905NA) was used to ferry the Space Shuttles to their respective museums. In 2013 the decision was made to preserve this plane as a display at Space Center Houston with the mockup shuttle Independence mounted on its back. The display, called Independence Plaza, opened to the public for the first time on January 23, 2016.
Once the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark is fully developed it will host over 40 aircraft as well as a museum building to house more fragile items in the collection. All the aircraft on display in this airpark have one thing in common. All were either flown, tested, designed, produces or modified at the United States Air Force Plant 42, which you can see right across the fence.
In contrary to its neighbor the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, the Blackbird Airpark is part of the Air Force Flight Test Museum. As you can imagine, this airpark is all about the history and development of one of the most unique planes ever. The spy plane SR-71 Blackbird. We all have seen it in movies and TV shows. The Blackbird program ended in 1990 and there hasn’t been any other plane which ever came close to what the SR-71 was capable of.
On-site you can see a Lockheed A-12, the “original Blackbird” which was developed as reconnaissance aircraft for the CIA. The A-12 was also the precursor for the famous SR-71 Blackbird which was developed for the United States Air Force. This is the only place in the world where you can see an original A-12 right next to an SR-71. Besides these two impressive aircraft you also get to see an early model Lockheed U-2 and Lockheed D-21 supersonic reconnaissance drone. Also, keep an eye out for the carts next to the plane. These auxiliary power units were used to start the engines of this impressive aircraft.
The grounds also house a gift shop and a small museum. Make sure you swing by and say hi to the volunteers and docents. One of them is Bill Flanagan, Lieutenant Colonel (USAF retired). He is a former SR-71 and B-2 Bomber pilot. He has a wealth of knowledge and tons of remarkable stories based on his first-hand experience piloting these special planes as well as many other types of military aircraft.
Additional Aviation Destinations
Besides these two airparks, there are a few more interesting sites not too far from here. Plan your trip accordingly. As the airparks in Palmdale have very limited opening hours, I would start first with the two airparks and then continue to Edwards AFB and Mojave Air and Space Port. Eventually the Mojave Air and Space Port hosts its fly-in Saturdays again. It’s an amazing event you don’t want to miss.
- Century Circle @ Edwards AFB South Gate: Driving time approx. 45 minutes
- NASA B-52 Mothership @ Edwards AFB North Gate: Driving Time approx. 1 hour. Don’t trust Google Maps to navigate you there. To get here, you have to drive through Mojave, you can’t use the road Google Maps suggests you, which will cut straight through Edwards AFB.
- Mojave Air and Space Port: Driving time approx. 45 minutes.
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.