Air Force Test Center
The Air Force Test Center is a United States Military research and development apparatus. The center is located at Edwards Airforce Base in California (“Fact Sheet: AFTC”). Officially established on June 25th in 1951, many officials already knew about its position as the focal point of United States Air Force research even before its recognition and the granting of its title (AFTC History Office 1). The AFTC for the past 70 years has tested all of the most significant weapons systems the United States Air Force had to offer (“Fact Sheets: AFTC”). Some of the most historically significant events that occurred during AFTC testing include testing of equipment or systems for use by the military or proofs of concept such as when famous pilot Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to break the speed of sound in flight (“Fact Sheets: AFTC”).
Backstory and Context
The AFTC came into existence first as a separate component of the Edwards Airforce Base (History of the Air Force Flight Test Center 24). It would take some years until the after the end of the Second World War for the AFTC to be officially designated as the place of research for the US Air Force. When the AFTC was transferred from the US Air Material Command to the Air Research and Development Command it was then recognized by the US military as a separate organization from the Edwards Airbase (History of the Air Force Flight Test Center 28). Construction and renovation at the AFTC occurs often with a variety of different testing facilities for various projects erected, used, renovated, and torn down as design goals and strategy change (History of the Air Force Flight Test).
The first recorded major activity of the AFTC was the testing of numerous experimental jet engine aircraft (AFTC History Office 2). Nuclear weapons interception aircraft occupied a special category of USAF research at this time because it was thought that the primary delivery method of nuclear weapons would be using aircraft rather than very long range missiles (“Hughes Aircraft Company Interceptor”). The F-89 included in the image gallery represents the general arrangement of these specialized craft; high top speeds, a specialized armament for destroying large bombers, and all of which placed its performance in its one specific niche (“F-89H Scorpion”). Developments at the AFTC like the Scorpion among other technologies continued until the next phase of the Cold War arms race made it clear that interceptor aircraft were obsolete (AFTC History Office 4).
Following developments in electronics a new breed of aircraft was undergoing tests at the AFTC. Integrating new technologies as well as more powerful sensors and jet engines created the next generation of aircraft. The new technologies from this era of aircraft were remarkable because they blurred the lines between what were thought to be specialized aircraft (AFTC History Office 4). One of the most widespread aircraft of this era still around today is the F-16. The F-16 incorporated the advanced electronics and computer architecture that were cutting edge in its time as well as a light airframe with a powerful engine (“F-16 Fighting Falcon”). This configuration is the basis for a robust plane that is still built today despite its first flight being over 40 years ago (“F-16 Fighting Falcon”).
The end of the Cold War did not end cutting edge research at the AFTC. Examples of technology such as unmanned aircraft and sensor resistant materials came about from research the started just before the fall of the Soviet Union (“F-22 Raptor”; “RQ-4 Global Hawk”). Unmanned plane technology means not including the pilot on the plane itself (“RQ-4 Global Hawk”). The saved space from removing the pilot from the plane as well as the ability to change pilots in the middle of flight gives major advantages in plane endurance (“RQ-4 Global Hawk”). Materials research and development eventually allowed the advent of sensor resistant materials on aircraft (“F-22 Raptor”). These materials make it impossible or very difficult for most planes or missiles to detect a plane with them. This invisibility to most aircraft sensors means near invincibility for US Airforce pilots in this era where planes are so dependent on sensor technology to fight (“F-22 Raptor”). With such amazing things brought about even today one can only wonder what is being made in an Airforce laboratory at this moment.
Some notable records set at the AFTC:
· Charles Yeager became the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound in an X-1 at the AFTC (History of the Air Force Flight Test Center 26)
· Two B-58 crews teamed up with the AFTC in 1961 to win back five bomber speed records that the Soviet Union stole from them by the end of January (History of the Air Force Flight Test Center 58)
· Joe Walker became the first pilot to fly a plane into space when he flew an X-15 up to 354,200 feet (Dunbar)
AFTC History Office. “The U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center Forging Aerospace Power for America.” Edwards Air Force Base. https://web.archive.org/web/20121012075524/http://www.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-080117-028.pdf
Another AFTC published by their history department. This source provides a more general description of the AFTC's activities through different era's, which is useful for providing a general history. The text is short enough that a casual reader could probably read to the end, but at times the writing does not seem very pleasant to read, so they may not enjoy it. The text was published by the AFTC, so it is accurate.
Dunbar, Brian. “NASA Dryden Fact Sheets - X-15 Hypersonic Research Program.” NASA, NASA, 13 Aug. 2015, www.nasa.gov/centers/armstrong/news/FactSheets/FS-052-DFRC.html.
This page is published by a NASA historian on their website. The historian's page is almost certainly accurate. The primary use of this page in the entry is to detail the space flight of Joseph Walker. It is a secondary source. A casual reader would probably find this page interesting.
“Fact Sheets : AFTC”, United States Airforce, web.archive.org/web/20080602024549/www.edwards.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=6573
This page was once a part of the United States Edwards Airforce Base’s website. It includes a broad overview of the history of the AFTC. The page also includes some very specific information about the types of equipment and aircraft tested, as well as some capabilities of the base. The United States Airforce published this page, while it contains some information that would require further reading to make total sense of, a casual researcher would understand most of the page.
“F-16 Fighting Falcon.” U.S. Air Force Website, U.S. Air Force, 23 Sept. 2015, www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104505/f-16-fighting-falcon/
This page was published by the United States Airforce on their website. The page describes some of the general information about the F-16. The intended audience of the page is probably casual readers, but the information is still quite accurate even if it's not specific because it was published by the Air Force itself. This page allows me to talk about the sort of developments that occurred in the AFTC towards the end of the Cold War.
“F-22 Raptor.” U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force, 23 Sept. 2015, www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104506/f-22-raptor/.
Similarly to the previous link this article was published by the United States Airforce. The page outlines some of the details about this aircraft. This is one of the pages discussing major technology developments following the end of the Cold War. The page is a rather dry subject, but still something a casual reader could enjoy.
“F-89H Scorpion.” Hill Airforce Base, Hill Airforce Base, web.archive.org/web/20121007235104/www.hill.af.mil/library/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=5699
This page provides an deep description of the F-89H including a brief breakdown of its flight characteristics. Although this source would not be useful for comparing flight characteristics between other aircraft due to a lack of detailed statistics of performance depending on things such as altitude and fuel the history provided lets a reader understand what the F-89H was along with other USAF aircraft that served in the interceptor role. A casual reader could probably enjoy reading this page, and being published by the Hill Airforce base one should consider it is accurate.
HUGHES AIRCRAFT COMPANY INTERCEPTOR AIRPLANE & MISSILE FILM SEEK FIND AND KILL! 23324.” Youtube, Hughes Aircraft Company, www.youtube.com/watch?v=XotLODzbe0M This video resource clearly describes the purpose of interceptor style aircraft during the early parts of the Cold War. The film was produced by the Hughes Aircraft Company as part of its efforts to continue its sale of electrical aircraft systems such as radar, so the information provided within is accurate. The video format is so filled with information that a casual watcher may not enjoy it.
“RQ-4 Global Hawk.” U.S. Air Force, 27 Oct. 2014, www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104516/rq-4-global-hawk/.
This article like the last two is used in this entry as a citation for discussing some technologies developed at the AFTC following the end of the Cold War. It was published by the United States Air Force on their website. A casual reader would probably find this page informative even if not an exciting one.