North Base, Edwards Air Force Base (EDW)

The history of Edwards Air Force base is synonymous with advanced aviation projects. This is the home of legendary aviation feats like those recounted in the movie The Right Stuff. It is where Chuck Yeager first broke the “sound barrier” in 1947, where would-be Apollo astronauts cut their teeth, where Pete Knight pushed the X-15 rocket plane past Mach 6, and where the Space Shuttle often comes home to land. Today, Edwards Air Force Base is home to the Air Force Flight Test Center – the most important hub for flight testing in the world. But Edwards Air Force Base has always had a side that remained hidden from view. Major portions of the base were originally built in the early 1940s to house a project with the unusual name “Secret Project MX-397” – the United States’ first jet aircraft.

This juxtaposition between hyper-visible programs like the Space Shuttle or the X-15 and “black” programs like “Secret Project MX-397” has always characterized Edwards. The two faces of Edwards are even built into the base’s architecture. The base is broken into several sections – sub-bases within the larger complex. The main base is composed of two interconnected complexes on the western edge of Rogers Dry Lake. This is where “white world” aircraft testing occurs, and where testing for aircraft like the C-17 cargo plane, and the F-22 Raptor takes place. NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center is also connected to the main base.

The northern edge of the base, however, is home to another sub-base called simply North Base, sometimes also called Operable Unit 10. North Base is home to the Special Projects Branch of the Air Force Flight Test Center – the headquarters of “black” flight testing.
Each morning, Janet flights shuttle personnel in Beechcraft planes between North Base and the “black sites” at Tonopah and Groom Lake.

©2006 Trevor Paglen