Joe Davies Heritage Airpark: NASA Aircraft

The Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale, California has a very unique National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) test and transport aircraft collection. Nearby is the NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre where the aircraft once flew and NASA continues to conduct flight research to this day.

There is a Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle that was linked to the early days of the Space Shuttle program. In the first 4 flights of Space Shuttle Columbia she was fitted with modified Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird ejection seats that were later removed as they was not deemed an effective or safe escape system (the first flight with just a two-man crew was on April 12th, 1981. Sadly 22 years later Columbia and all seven Astronauts onboard were lost upon return during its 28th mission on February 1st, 2003). The Escape System Test Vehicle was used to test such ejections on 9 occasions between December 1976 and May 1977 by attaching it to a rocket sled, firing it down a rail track and triggering the ejection seats with dummies onboard at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle with markings of the 9 ejection tests Joe Davies Heritage Air Park
Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle with markings of the 9 ejection tests conducted 1976 to 1977
The Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle was used to test modified Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird ejection seats fitted in Space Shuttle Columbia (a system later scrapped)
The Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle was used to test modified Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird ejection seats fitted in Space Shuttle Columbia (a system later scrapped)
NASA Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle ejection testing at Holloman Air Force Base circa 1976/1977
Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle ejection testing at Holloman Air Force Base circa 1976/1977 (Photo Source: NASA via collectSPACE)
The maiden launch of STS-1, Space Shuttle Columbia on April 12th, 1981 carrying Astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into an Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California
The maiden launch of STS-1, Space Shuttle Columbia on April 12th, 1981 carrying Astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into an Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California (Photo Source: NASA).

There is also a Lockheed C-140 JetStar flown at the nearby NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre from 1964 to 1989 on various flight research programs. It was fitted with special modifications over the years so that it could simulate the flight characteristics of many different types of aircraft. The obvious pylon on top of the fuselage was used to test advanced propfan propeller technology in the early 1980’s (a drive motor and propeller were attached to it). The  “swept back wing” propeller tips were designed to rotate faster than the speed of sound and were intended to develop a high-speed, fuel-efficient turboprop system for commercial use. Check out this list to find out more on the many different experimental and test aircraft types operated by NASA over the years.

NASA Lockheed C-140 Jet Star test aircraft Joe Davies Airpark Palmdale CA
NASA Lockheed C-140 JetStar test aircraft
NASA The Dryden JetStar during testing of advanced propfan designs in May 1981
The Dryden JetStar during testing of advanced propfan designs in May 1981 (Photo Source: NASA)
NASA aircraft at Dryden in 1988
You can see the C-140 in this amazing group of NASA aircraft at Dryden in 1988 (Photo Source: NASA)

Finally there is the Boeing 747 Space Shuttle Carrier 911. This modified and strengthened aircraft was operated by NASA from 1990 to 2012 to transport a Space Shuttle attached to its back from a NASA landing site to the Space Shuttle Facility at the Kennedy Space Centre (see my earlier blog for more info).

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
Space Shuttle Atlantis aboard shuttle carrier 911 in 2009 near Edwards AFB
Space Shuttle Atlantis aboard shuttle carrier 911 in 2009 near Edwards AFB (Photo Source: NASA)
Joe Davies in a T-33 (Photo Source: City of Palmdale)
Joe Davies in a T-33 (Photo Source: City of Palmdale)

Background of the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark

Established by the City of Palmdale and the USAF in the late 1990’s, 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!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Joe Davies Heritage Airpark: NASA Aircraft

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s