Inside the US Air Force Flight Test Center
Museum at Edwards AFB, CA
Photo: Senior Airman Jason Hernandez
5/30/2007 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA. -- The
Edwards legacy of ground breaking flights and brave
pilots have their stories preserved and told at the
Air Force Flight Test Center Museum.
The AFFTC museum is one of the most recognizable
locations here with its display of aircraft parked on
The museum is a relatively recent project designed to
preserve the history of Edwards and present it to the
thousands of Airmen and visitors who come to Edwards
"The effort to establish a museum here began in
1983," said Doug Nelson, 95th Air Base Wing director
and curator of the AFFTC Museum. "A group of concerned
citizens and test pilots wanted to see the history and
heritage of Edwards retained. So much of it was being
lost particularly through airplanes being shipped off
to other locations when they were no longer needed."
There were only a few aircraft on pedestals at the
time, Mr. Nelson said. The first thing the group did
was establish a non-profit organization called the
Flight Test Historical Foundation. Their purpose was
to raise funds and awareness for the project.
"They pursued that avenue for many years," he said.
"In 1986, they sought the approval to establish the
museum. Finally, in 1997, they had sufficient funds to
construct this building. It was not yet a museum; it
was basically a large storage area."
In 1999, the group had the funds to finish the
museum, Mr. Nelson said.
"We did most of the work ourselves with the help of
contractors," he said. "The museum was opened in July
2000. During the first year we had 68,000 visitors.
When 9/11 happened, our attendance dropped drastically
to about 22,000."
The Flight Test Historical Foundation raises funds to
cover aircraft restoration and other museum needs,
said Ilah Nelson, a volunteer at her husband's museum.
"The foundation raised the funds for this building
and donated it to the Air Force," Mrs. Nelson said.
"More recently, they raised funds for Century Circle,
which will be at the West Gate. The 95th Air Base Wing
funds the operation of the museum."
The museum features a broad look at Edwards' history
and flight tests.
"We cover everything from pre-history with the
development of the lake beds more than a million years
ago to current operations," Mr. Nelson said. "We
mostly feature the flight test heritage more than the
local history heritage of Edwards. However, we have
displays on the homesteading here in the early 20th
century. Our primary focus is on the golden age of
flight test, which is from 1942 all the way up to
The museum uses a variety of examples and information
that combine to make their displays.
"We have everything from photo displays to hardware
and aircraft," Mr. Nelson said. "We have more than 73
airplanes here. We also have a number of missiles,
other weapons and engines. The museum also contains
quite a bit of personal memorabilia. A lot of our
historical properties are items we received from
individuals that acquired these items in their career
or through a relative."
A major exhibit is called "Breaking of the Sound
Barrier," which includes a full scale replica of a
Bell X-1, he said. The rocket powered X-1 was the
aircraft flown by retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager when
he flew faster than sound in level flight.
"Another exhibit is our First Flights wall," Mr.
Nelson said. "It has more than 80 same scale models of
aircraft on a timeline depicting their first flights.
The timeline spans from 1941 to as current as we can
get models for."
The museum also has many one-of-a-kind aircraft on
"Some of our more unique aircraft include, the only
two-seat A-10 Thunderbolt ever built, the first F-111
Aardvark built, the first production F-4 Phantom, the
first T-47, first YA-7F Corsair II, and the NB-52
Some of the aircraft on display required the
restoration skills of metals technology personnel and
painters, he said. Aircraft restoration takes anywhere
from hundreds to thousands of hours of work. Most of
these efforts are put forth by volunteers.
"One of the reasons I volunteered here was the SR-71
Blackbird," Mrs. Nelson said. "It is pretty much my
favorite aircraft. I also really enjoy seeing the
visitors that come through the museum. The little kids
come in and are really impressed with some of the
aircraft. Just seeing the expressions on their faces
makes it worthwhile. People love the public tours that
The museum is working on an exhibit called Katrina's
Hangar, which will be a children's play area with
children's books, artwork and toys.
Source: USAF Edwards AFB by Senior Airman Jason