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.
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.
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).
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!