Today was the last day of tours for our trip and we ended it with a BANG! Quite literally! Since our hotel was close to Edwards Air Force base the group was able to wake up a little later then normal. This week has been filled with early mornings and late nights. Due to LA traffic most of our journeys started at 7am and usually didn’t wind down until after 9pm.
Journey Through the Desert
Being stuck in a 12-person van for the entire week has most of the group on edge at this point. All I can say is image having 11 back-seat drivers critiquing your every move, music choice, and volume level. It really wears down on a person (but I’d still do it over again in a heart beat).
Once we got off the express way and towards the final few miles before the entrance of Edwards, all one can see is the brown and very dry scenery. We turn on the dramatic sounds of, “Flight of the Valkyries,” to set the mood. Large dry lakebeds and a few cacti are all one can see in the distance towards the mountains. Out of nowhere we spot some looping contrails in the clear blue sky. We weren’t sure if we were seeing top-secret technology or not. One moment there would be twirls and loops of contrails and then one moment later, the contrail would disappear. Now the mood was really set! With out theme music still blasting at full volume we passed the Edwards AFB sign and finally met our escort at the front gate.
We shared this tour with Cal Poly students and all in all I think it was a healthy group. We all boarded an eerie-looking beige bus and started heading to our first leg of the tour. Everyone was very excited and due to the poor weather the last few days, it was evident that flight time was trying to be made up today. Planes were out in full forth. We immediately started seeing T-38s (the air forces main trainer aircraft and the same trainer used in the awesome movie, Top Gun) as soon as we departed from the front gate. Unlike the passed days of our tour we were getting to see airplanes fly!!
Our first scheduled tour was in instrumentation. We got to see how the instrumentation folk built equipment and displays for testing purposes. The building was littered with orange painted metal boxes with cool displays and wires. We learned that this orange signified that the pieces were testing equipment. Good old-fashioned metal fabrication was used for these displays so that the equipment can handle the high-G environment of a fighter jet.
Electronics is great, but we had a large group of aerospace engineers and we wanted to see planes! We finally got our wish and entered a HUGE hangar. Inside we found a few KC-130 tankers, some T-38s, and a beautiful B-1 supersonic bomber. We’ve all seen these aircraft before, but what made this so cool was that many of the plane’s panels were taken off, displaying to us their complex insides. A frenzy of wires and orange boxes could be seen inside each of the planes.
We ended this segment of the tour by drooling over the exposed B-1 for a healthy amount of time. At this point we are loving the tour, but we keep hearing fighter jets roaring passed the hangar. Every time one flies by our suspicions increase that top jets like the F-35 and F-22 are flying around us and our strategically timed tours are keeping our eager eyes from seeing them.
JSF (F-35) Introduction
At this point we were introduced to the F-35 via PowerPoint presentation. We would like to thank Edwards for the great Subway sandwiches we were served for the JSF presentation. We thoroughly enjoyed the pictures and bullet points about the JSF, but we could tell some of the students were starting to get sleepy from the food (none of course were Michigan students, GO BLUE!) and then it happened. BOOM!!! The conference room we were in shook violently. We had experienced our first sonic boom!!! Everyone immediately pepped up. What a cool experience. If only we could have been outside for it, but I’ll take what I can get!
Most of us have seen a Global Hawk hanging above us in the National Air Force Museum, but to be able to touch and explore this baby up close was a million times better!! The tour guides gave us as much info as they were able, but the repeating hymn of, “That’s classified,” is what we heard most. I really don’t care though, it was great just to be in the large UAV’s presence. We took our group photo in front of the Global Hawk as well (waiting on Edwards to clear it and send it my way). After a little over an hour with the Block20 and Block30 Global Hawks, we were off to the flight line!!!
To learn more about the Global Hawk check out the military facts sheet here.
UM Students in front of the Global Hawk at Edwards AFB
As we made our way to the flight line from the Global Hawk hangar we were pleasantly surprised to see two F22 Raptors taxing extremely close to us on their way to take-off!!! It looked like we were finally going to get our wish of seeing some advanced planes in the air. After a few f16 escorts were in the air and the final clearances were given, we witnessed the two beautiful F22s take off into the distance. It was great to hear how much louder the Raptor was than the Falcon. So awesome!
One of our last stops was at the F16 armaments hangar. He we were able to explore quite a few F16s as we were given a tour of the different bombs that are used on the F16 as well as some future bombs that are currently being integrated for use into the F16.
One of the most interesting weapons we saw was the CBU-97 sensor fuzed cluster bomb. This weapon rains fury onto the battlefield as it spits out molten metel, which melts through tank armor. Check out the video for a demonstration.
This marked the final location of our tour. As we rode the bus back to our vehicles we took a leisurely route passed the F35 and F22 hangars to see if just maybe there were any out. With a little luck we witnessed two F35s out and although they were from a distance, it was still breathtaking! It’s feels great to be one of the few people who have every laid eyes on one of these beauties.
Before heading back to our hotel for the night, we made a quick excursion to the Blackhawk museum located in Palmdale. I got a great shot of the A-12 and SR-71 side-by-side. Lots more pictures to come on my flickr account: Aeroscholar
This was one of the most exciting and truly unique days of the tour. It was great being able to see the JSF and being present for a sonic boom. I don’t know how we made it through the day without a change in underwear.
The SR-71 (left) and A-12 (right) side-by-side at the Blackhawk museum.