Located within the vast confines of remote Edwards Air Force Base in California is a little jewel, the Air Force Flight Test Museum. Erected with donated funds in 1999 to celebrate the area’s rich aerospace history, the AFFT Museum displays unique X-plane rocket engines, wind tunnel models, test-pilot memorabilia and a collection of rare prototype aircraft.
Named in honor of USAF Captain Glenn Edwards, killed while flight-testing the radical Northrop XB-49 flying wing jet bomber in 1948, the base since WWII has been the primary test center for most American military aircraft along with generations of pioneering X-planes. Consequently, one of the AFFT Museum’s principal missions is to preserve and display the flight-test legacy at Edwards. The museum specializes in collecting and restoring aircraft that made first flights at Edwards—making it a popular destination for aviation buffs, despite its out-of-the-way location. “We’re not just a museum, we’re the Flight Test Museum and have the actual planes first test-flown here,” explains museum director George Welsh. On hand are prototypes of the F-100, SR-71, A-12, F-111 and one of the original F-117s. Also recently restored and now on display is a bat-like Northrop X-4 Bantam.
But access is a big problem. Because entry to the base is restricted, visits by the general public are limited to supervised tours, “which average a two- to three-month-long waiting list,” says Welsh. To remedy that situation, the non-profit Flight Test Historical Foundation has undertaken a fundraising campaign to move the AFFT Museum outside the base gates, permitting unrestricted access. The proposed $6.5 million expansion, funded by private donations, will also promote aerospace education opportunities. More information is available at afftcmuseum.org.