Down Under Report

Graham Byass

Originally published October 1997

(You may recall that Chapter 1000 was recently visited by a fellow EAAer from down under in Perth, Australia while on his way to Oshkosh '97. He wrote a report of his experiences while here for Western Flyer, his local magazine of the Sport Aviation Association of Australia (SAAA), which he was nice enough to share with us. He is currently building a Zodiac CH601, which we may get to hear about in the future.)


One of the more fascinating meccas of aviation must be Edwards Air Force Base in California as it was the place of so many historic aviation 'firsts'. The most famous of these was the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager on the 14th. October 1947. It is interesting that this year (to celebrate the 50th. anniversary) there will be a re-enactment of this by Chuck Yeager in an F-15. This will be timed to occur at the same time and date as his earlier achievement in 1947. As mentioned in a recent article in 'Air and Space' magazine Edwards was the place where Mach 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were broken as well as where altitudes of 100,000, 200,000 and 300,000 feet were exceeded. Almost all new military aircraft since WWII were tested there as well as the first Space Shuttle tests and, of course, the Voyager round the world flight took off and landed there.

As a keen follower of aviation history I had wanted to visit Edwards for quite a while so I decided that on this visit to Oshkosh I would try to get there. I was fortunate to be 'surfing the net' and came across the web site for the EAA Chapter 1000 which is based at Edwards and the website manager is Russ Erb. I contacted Russ by email - wonderful stuff this web - and he kindly offered to show me around. Russ, incidentally, is a Major in the USAF and he works in the Flight Test area so I had a good guide.

Anyway, after getting a rental car at LAX and getting lost trying to find my way out of the airport vicinity I braved the LA traffic and eventually got to the motel in Palmdale. By this time I had been travelling for something over 30 hours from Perth so was due for a bit of sleep. The following morning, Saturday, I drove to Edwards and Russ took me on a tour of the base and to their museum that is being established. Edwards is not the most beautiful place in the world but it is easy to see why it was set up as a flight test centre with it's 44 square mile lakebed and good flying weather. Certainly there are no near neighbors to complain about the noise.

In the afternoon we went to the nearby Mojave Airport where there was a big welcome home party for Mike Melvill and Dick Rutan after their round the world flight(s). The hangar was full of people who enjoyed a good meal and were entertained by Mike and Dick with tales of their exploits. Their talk went on for about an hour and was very interesting. They had some very kind words about their reception at Jandakot which was in direct contrast to some of their other stops where officialdom was at its worst.

One particularly interesting episode related to their flight from Cocos to Jandakot. At Cocos they could not get Avgas so they had to settle for Mogas instead. They were very particular about obtaining permission to use Mogas prior to their arrival at Cocos in case they got stranded there - this was forthcoming so they were relieved. Once on Cocos they filled up their empty tanks with Mogas and conducted test flights to prove that all was OK.

In the afternoon they took off using some of the Avgas remaining in one of the tanks and then switched to the Mogas. To their consternation they found that their CHT's were higher and the motors were running rougher - hardly the sort of thing you want leaving Cocos for Jandakot. Anyway they decided to push on as they did not like the idea of being stranded on Cocos and they did some experimenting with changing fuel tanks. The roughness smoothed out when they changed from the rear seat tanks to the wing tanks - why? Their only explanation was that they had taken off in the late afternoon and the fuel was quite warm, especially in the fuselage tank, while the fuel in the wing tanks had cooled down somewhat due to the smaller amount of insulation around those tanks. Maybe this is a point to consider in our climate!

There were a lot of other interesting tales told during the afternoon but unfortunately they had to call it a day because their throats were too sore to continue.

Later that afternoon Russ took me over to nearby Rosamond Airpark to visit another builder, Robert Waldmiller, who is building a modified Corby Starlet. Robert is an aircraft design engineer working for Scaled Composites at Mojave and he has extensively redesigned the Starlet to have double the design G loads to handle Unlimited aerobatics. He is planning to use an O-200. Howard Jones - eat your heart out!!! The weight will only be slightly increased and so far it really looks the goods.

The area he lives in is an aviators dream with each house backing onto a taxiway leading to the main airstrip. In Robert's hangar there was a Cherokee 140 that he was refurbishing, a LongEze (not his), a sailplane plus his Corby project. Outside was a Mooney and a Cessna. Most of the hangars seemed to have one or two planes parked outside but I don't know what was inside.

On the way home with Russ we passed another garage where a guy (Tony Ginn) was working on his aircraft - he was sharing with two other guys and between them they had about 5 aircraft in various stages of building or rebuilding - 2 T18's, RV-6, Cessna 150 etc.

I stayed on at Palmdale for another couple of days and on one day when returning to town I saw a pair of Lockheed U-2's flying in formation at low altitude. They continued this for about an hour and by this time I had reached the end of the Palmdale airstrip in time to see one of them shooting touch and go's. The approach path was right over my head at about 200 feet. When he had finally landed a F-117A came in overhead and landed - quite a bit of entertainment. One of the local plane watchers told me that he had never seen U-2's flying formation before so it was a unique experience.

Palmdale is, by the way, the location of the famous Lockheed Plant 42 where a lot of their secret development work was done. Nearby is the Blackbird Airpark where there is an A-12, an SR-71 and a D-21 drone on display.

If you get the chance it is worth a visit.

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Revised -- 22 April 1998