July 04, 2013

Photo Essay: Blackbird Airpark, Before Open Hours

I'd gotten up in Lancaster way too early in the morning to watch falcons fly at dawn, and once that was over - once the sun was up - I realized I was facing an entire, empty day ahead of me. And it was only 9 a.m.

I was heading down to Vasquez Rocks to meet up with my fellow falconry spectators, but I decided to detour in nearby Palmdale to check out the Blackbird Airpark, an open air museum devoted to retired military aircraft - including a spy plane.

Little did I know it doesn't actually open until 11 a.m.

Little did I know the gate would be open for some kind of overnight fundraising event, and they would let me in anyway!

It always pays to try.

The woman who let me in asked, "Are you a student? you just like planes...?"

"I just like planes," I said.

"Good girl," she said.

Some of the aircraft on display fought in the Canadian Air Force, like the "experimental" N91FS (F-86F-30), whose first flight was in April 1954.

Others were used in the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command...

...and other missions (including as interceptors)...

...from the 1950s...

...through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962...

...and beyond.

Many of these planes were manufactured locally by Lockheed.

The Model 143-Triumph is a relatively recent acquisition, and never made it past its flight test program: an all-composite aircraft, it took its first test flight in 1988, and after 100 hours of flight tests, was tested to over 41,000 feet at speeds up to .69 Mach, and then the All Composite Aircraft program was cancelled, forcing the Triumph into retirement before ever assuming active duty.

The Lockheed-manufactured T-33, on the other hand, made its way to several USAF bases across the U.S. between 1952 and 1965...

...state-hopping from Burbank, CA to Texas, New York, Ohio, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Montana, and Minnesota before being "dropped from inventory" and transferred to "museum status."

Most of these planes are in amazing, restored condition. But it's interesting to see the wear and tear...

...despite often having been only in Air Reserve flying centers.

There are other planes from the U.S. Army, Marines, and NASA missions throughout the park, including the Blackbird itself - the SR-71 "the fastest plane on earth," a retired spy plane.

More (and some even more fascinating aircraft) can be seen at the Air Force Flight Test Museum on Edwards Air Force Base, but admission is extremely restricted and cameras (and camera phones) are not allowed. Blackbird Airpark is one of three off-base viewing opportunities for test flight planes, in addition to displays at the base's West and North gates.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Test Pilot Crash Sites in the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Santa Monica Airport

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