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I overindulge my fascination with flying machines. I also love to tour the California desert. Something I like to do a lot is to go see airplanes flying around the desert. Airplanes that are working, conducting the business of testing and training. Away from the airports and airshows. Airplanes in the wild.
The Mojave desert is the site of nearly continuous military aircraft operations. The R-2508 Restricted Airspace Complex stretches from Bishop to Edwards Air Force Base and from Tehachapi to the Nevada State line. Approximately 18,000 low level test and training missions are conducted within the R-2508 Complex annually.
Under the R-2508 Complex, the Saline Valley, adjacent to Death Valley, is used by military aircraft to transit between China Lake NAWC, Edwards AFB, and test ranges in Nevada. Aircraft from Fresno ANG Station and Lemoore NAS aircraft use the area for training. They can all be observed while sitting in a naturally fed hot spring.
This is the X-15A-2, piloted by Pete Knight , shortly after launch on its fifty-third flight on October 3,1967. It had been launched from the NB-52B over Mud Lake in Nevada at an altitude of 45,000 feet. On this flight it achieved the highest speed of any aircraft except the space shuttle, 4,520 miles per hour. On that flight it flew directly over the Racetrack Playa at about 100,000 feet going mach 6. If you had been sitting in the source spring on that october morning, the rocket plume of the hypersonic spaceplane would have been clearly visible streaking across the sky, twice as fast as an SR-71A Blackbird. Shortly afterward, the sonic boom would have echoed back and forth within the valley walls. (Photo courtesy Edwards Air Force Base History Office)
Saline Valley, March 24, 1997
F/A-18B of VA-122 out of Lemoore NAS dives into the Saline Valley. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
F/A-18B maneuvering over the Saline Valley dunes. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
As they fly over the camp, the pilots of this F/A-18B may be taking a gander at the occupants of the hot spring. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
F/A-18B seen against the backdrop of McEvoy Canyon in the Inyo Mountains. There is a spring in the wall of the canyon that supports a lush growth of ferns and provides a cool, wet environment thats great for getting out of the wind and heat. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
F/A-18B cruises at low altitude up the Eureka-Saline corridor. The mountain building that is going on around the valley is so rapid that headward erosion hasn't reached the top of the recently (last several million years) exposed surface of the mountains. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
This E-8A J-STARS cruised over the valley in a racetrack pattern for several hours. The radar in this airplane could determine the position, direction of travel, and speed of every vehicle in Death Valley National Park simultaneously. It has something like eighteen computer stations, each with a half gigabyte of RAM. It has been reported in Aviation Week that the computing power of one J-STARS is greater than the entire E-3 Sentry fleet. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
F-15B of the 6512 Test Squadron based at Edwards AFB flies directly over my campsite. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
F-15B cruises toward the Inyo Mountains. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Early in the morning, a North American QF-86F Sabre from China Lake NWC cruises around the Saline Valley in March 1988. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Palm Spring is down on that white patch of clay, which is being buzzed by a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets are among the most common aircraft in the valley. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
I had climbed to the top of a ridge of the Saline Range near the spring with a friend when a Gruman F-14A spotted us and proceeded to make a series of passes over our position. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
The Edwards Air Force Base high speed corridor runs close to the town of Rosamond. A General Dynamics F-106 Delta Dart chase is tailing a Rockwell B-1B Lancer around the Antelope Valley in April of 1988, the afternoon before the airshow at the China Lake NWC. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
The Panamint Valley is also used for military aircraft operations. Signs warn of the possibility of sonic booms in the valley. Here a McDonnell Douglas RF-4B from China Lake NWC flies near the ghost town of Ballarat the morning after the Edwards AFB Airshow of 1988. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
A McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is seen against the Inyo Mountains early on an October morning in 1988. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Boeing B-52G from the 320th Bomb Wing out of Mather AFB flies by Palm Spring on a low level mission through the Saline Valley in October 1988. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
A moment after the B-52G above had flown past, B-52G, Serial 58-0183, also from the 320 BW at Mather AFB flew almost directly overhead. Rack adapters for conventional iron bombs can be seen on the weapons pylons. The small pylon between the engine pylons is for ALE-25 forward firing chaff rockets. It has a california black bear squadron insignia painted on the vertical stabilizer. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Grumman A-6E Intruder makes a late afternoon run through the Saline Valley in October 1988. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
Vought TA-7C training Corsair of the "Flying Eagles of VA-122 based at Lemoore NAS is seen here against the Inyo Mountains in September 1990. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
McDonnell Douglas TF-18A training Hornet races past the Saline Range in September 1990. Photographer: Brian Lockett.
A McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet Heading up to Steele Pass and the Eureka Valley in December 1990.
While you are in the Saline Valley, tune your scanner to 123.95, 256.80, or 322.30. In the Panamint Valley, 120.25 or 291.60. In the Owens Valley, 126.55 or 322.3.
Link to the In the Wild index page for more pictures of jets in the desert.
Go to home page of the Goleta Air and Space Museum.
Send a message to Brian.