Joe Davies Heritage Airpark: Boeing’s Finest

The Joe Davies Heritage Airpark at the historic Palmdale Plant 42 in California has an excellent collection of military (USAF, US Navy and USMC), NASA and civilian aircraft on display and it is all free to see! The pride of the displays are two variants of Boeing’s finest and most successful jet aircraft. One a legendary Cold War warrior and the other that helped changed the face of air travel around the world. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber and Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet airliner.

Boeing B-52 and NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Joe Davies Heritage Park Palmdale CA
Boeing B-52F Stratofortess and Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier (911)
Boeing B-52F and Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Joe Davies Heritage Air Park
Two of Boeing’s finest and most successful jet aircraft

Now this is no ordinary Boeing 747 as this one is on loan from NASA. It is one of two 747-100 aircraft that were heavily modified to be shuttle carriers. It were modified with the addition of struts, a strengthened airframe and the addition of tail stabilisers to carry the now retired NASA Space Shuttle on its back from landing sites back to the Space Shuttle facility at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

NASA's modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with the Space Shuttle Endeavour
NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with the Space Shuttle Endeavour (Photo Source: NASA)

Shuttle Carrier 911 a Boeing 747-100SR was acquired from Japanese Airlines by NASA in 1988 and put into service in 1990 following the necessary modifications. It was loaned to the airpark in September 2014 but it is actually intended as spares for the NASA SOFIA 747SP.

Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier (aircraft 911) was acquired by NASA in 1988 and went into service following modifications in 1990
Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier (aircraft 911) was acquired by NASA in 1988 and went into service following modifications in 1990
NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier
NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier on loan to Joe Davies Heritage Airpark
Space Shuttle Carrier 911 Joe Davies Heritage Airpark CA
An impressive looking aircraft
NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Joe Davies Heritage Park Palmdale CA
Note the struts added to the Shuttle Carrier
NASA Space Shuttle Carrier 911 Joe Davies Heritage Air Park Palmdale CA
The modifications to the 747 included the tail stabilisers and the struts to hold the Space Shuttle
Shuttle Carrier 911 was retired in 2012 and put on loan at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in 2014
Shuttle Carrier 911 was retired in 2012 and put on loan at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in 2014

The second shuttle carrier (the original), Shuttle Carrier 905 a Boeing 747-100 was acquired from American Airlines by NASA in 1974. It was readied for flight testing with the Space Shuttle Enterprise (used for test flights in the atmosphere) in 1977 in which the shuttle was released from the carrier in flight to glide to a landing.

Space Shuttle Carrier 905 with the atmospheric test flight Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1977
Space Shuttle Carrier 905 with the atmospheric test flight Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1977. The American Airlines livery was not changed until 1983 (Photo Source: NASA)
Space Shuttle Carrier 905 releases Enterprise on a self controlled glide landing experiment in 1977
Space Shuttle Carrier 905 releases Enterprise on a self controlled glide landing experiment in 1977 (Photo Source: NASA)

Shuttle Carrier 905 will be put on permanent display in 2015 at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas with a replica Space Shuttle Independence mounted on its back. Both aircraft were originally based nearby to the airpark at the Dryden Flight Research Centre at Edwards AFB and were both retired in 2012 following the completion of delivery of the retired shuttles to various museums around the United States.

NASA Space Shuttle Carrier 905 (front) and 911 (rear) over the Edwards AFB Test Range in August 2011
NASA Space Shuttle Carrier 905 (front) and 911 (rear) over the Edwards AFB Test Range in August 2011 (Photo Source: NASA)

The B-52 first entered USAF service in 1955. 744 B-52 B/C/D/E/F/G/H models were delivered to the USAF between 1955 and 1962 and today just 58 B-52H models remain in active service. The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress on display is a rare B-52F model (the only preserved one on public display). 89 were built in 1958 and they were fitted with Pratt & Whitney J57-P-43W engines that provided greater thrust than previous B-52 models. The B-52F was used as a conventional bomber in the Vietnam War (it could carry up to 60,000 lbs of bombs) but were withdrawn in 1966 to the United States to assume nuclear deterrent duty and continued in this role until retired in 1978.

Boeing B-52F Stratofortress Palmdale Plant 42
Boeing B-52F Stratofortress constructed in 1958 this is the only F model preserved on public display
Boeing B-52F Stratofortress
Only 89 B-52F models were constructed

The B-52F is presented with a North American Aviation AGM-28 Hound Dog cruise missile that once carried a nuclear warhead. The missile was in USAF service from 1959 to 1977 under the Strategic Air Command and was designed to be launched from under-wing pylons on the B-52 (two could be carried).

North American Aviation AGM-28 Blood Hound Nuclear Cruise Missile Joe Davies Heritage Airpark Palmdale Plant 42 California
North American Aviation AGM-28 Blood Hound Nuclear Cruise Missile
B-52F North American Aviation AGM-28 Blood Hound Nuclear Cruise Missile Joe Davies Heritage Airpark Palmdale Plant 42 California
The AGM-28 Blood Hound would be carried on underwing pylons on the B-52F
B-52F takeoff with AGM-28 Hound Dog missiles
B-52F takeoff with AGM-28 Hound Dog cruise missiles (Photo Source: USAF)
B-52F Joe Davies Heritage Airpark CA
The B-52F was fitted with more powerful P& W J57-P-43W engines
B-52F tail Joe Davies Heritage Airpark
B-52F tail
The B-52F was fitted with four .50-cal. M-3 machine guns in the tail barbette
For air defence the B-52F was fitted with four .50-cal. M-3 machine guns in the tail barbette

This is a great open air museum with plenty of aircraft on display. I will post more soon on the other aircraft you can see at Joe Davies Heritage Airpark.

Joe Davies in a T-33 (Photo Source: City of Palmdale)
Joe Davies in a T-33 (Photo Source: City of Palmdale)

The airpark was named to honour Joe Davies who served in the USAAF in World War Two and continued to serve following the war. He was Air Force Plant 42’s third commander from 1963 to 1967 and served in the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968. Joe retired from the USAF in 1973 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Joe Davies went on to assume many public roles and was elected to the Palmdale City Council in 1988, going on to serve three four-year terms. According to the airpark website, at 92 he still plays an active role in the community!

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4 thoughts on “Joe Davies Heritage Airpark: Boeing’s Finest

  1. your b-52 was retired around 1972 from Tinker AFB. Story was after eletrical system burned up, it wasn’t worth fixing. So they donated it to Okla state fair grounds.

    Liked by 1 person

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