Sometimes things go even better than planned.
As usual, the Sunday of Long Beach is a semi-formal holiday in the eyes of the US DSC contingent. In the past, we’ve traveled off to the NHRA Museum, Chino and the aircraft restoration shops, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the USS Iowa and so many other places. We take it as reward for not being on the list for so many years…
So for 2015, the plan simply was to head to Blackbird Park up in Palmdale, north of the general Los Angeles basin, up on the edge of the Mojave Desert. It was at both Burbank and Palmdale that Lockheed have their famed Skunk Works facilities, which is where so many special and amazing aircraft were created.
Palmdale is near the Muroc Dry Lake, which was home to the Muroc Army Air Field. It was this airfield that in the later stages of WWII became the home for all of the experimental work that was going on with the US with regards to flying. (As an aside, it also became to home for the development of all sorts of auto racing in the post WWII years. The Muroc Dry lakes are essentially where hot rodding began and all sorts of speed developments began.)
Upon arrival at the Blackbird Park, we discovered that we were given some incorrect info, instead of being open at 10:00 like we’d seen listed somewhere, the park didn’t actually open until 11:00. So it was off to the west gate of Edwards Air Force Base. It is at that gate that an exhibit honoring an era of significant development in the jet fighter is presented. The Century Series Fighter exhibit is placed at a very fitting location, as it was at Edwards that so much development of these significant fighters took place.
It was here that it was decided to change things up. As Martin is retired Coast Guard, he has the proper credentials in which to get us on base. From there, our rental car was full of five 50+ year olds who all were acting kids in a huge toy shop. We heard that there were various exhibits and we intended to see as many as possible.
First stop was the Edwards AFB Museum. Unfortunately the museum itself was not open, but the grounds we the home to roughly a dozen or more aircraft, all significant in their own way. It was here that we had close encounter one with a SR-71.
From there, it was off to explore more. The next stop was the Dryden Flight Research Center (recently renamed the Neil Armstrong Flight Research Center), which is NASA’s base inside of Edwards AFB. It was here that we were stunned to see three experimental jets, a retired chase plane as well as one of the experimental Lifting Bodies, which was instrumental in the development of the Space Shuttle. For good measure, we were also saw SR-71 number two, this one in appropriately enough NASA markings.
From there, there was one stop left at Edwards. Balls 8.
For those that don’t know, Balls 8 (0008) is probably the most significant B-52 ever produced. This aircraft, made in 1955 was one of the three B-52s that were modified to serve as a mothership for the large number of NASA designed experimental aircraft. Originally put in service in 1955, this magnificent aircraft was retired in 2004 after nearly 50 years of service. To see this aircraft out in the pasture was both stunning and also sad. On one hand, I was grateful to see it up close and personal, but yet I was also sad to see it just sitting there, in the elements. This aircraft belongs protected somewhere safe.
Seeing this aircraft was amazing. Our group of 50 somethings was stunned, practically speechless. It was a special time indeed. Just before walking back to the car, I reached up and gave it a rub on the chin, sort of thanking it for all it did. If only that plane could speak…
It was all rather anticlimactic after that. By the time we finally got back to Palmdale and the Blackbird Park, it was kind of like ho-hum. Seeing the U-2, SR-71 and A-12 was special, but not nearly as special as I’d expected. Even knowing that the very A-12 on display here was the very first one built sort of paled in comparison to what I’d just witnessed.
But there was one surprise left. In an airpark next to Blackbird Park, were two rather large aircraft. One, up front was another early B-52, while back behind it was a 747. It was soon apparent that this was no normal 747, it was one of the NASA 747s that was used to transport the Space Shuttle.
Of all of the days I’ve had on a race trip, this ranks up as one of the best, whether at a track or not. There have been many comments lately that maybe the Long Beach sportscar experiment has run out of steam and maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. I’m not sure if I’d go quite that far at this moment, but based upon this day alone, I see no reason to bother returning as there will be no way to top this day.