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UNEXPECTED ORIGINS, UNPREDICTED EXPANSION (courtesy
of, and copyright by, Leroy Doig).
- In the mid-1930s the CAA granted Trans-Sierra Airlines a route
between Fresno, CA and Phoenix, AZ provided that an emergency landing
field be built in the Mojave Desert. As a result Kern County purchased
land and the CAA/WPA built a paved runway one mile northwest of
the small town of Inyokern. The airport was inaugurated in 1935
with General Hap Arnold in attendance.
- In September 1942, the airfield was taken over by the Army's
Fourth Air Force and assigned to the Muroc Bombing Range Air Base
(Edwards AFB), 50 miles to the south. Army primary training Stearmans
from Lancaster regularly used the Inyokern airfield for cross country
flights, although the Army had intended to use the airfield for
dispersal and glider training.
- In April 1943 Headquarters Squadron FOURTEEN (HEDRON 14) Experimental
Unit is formed to test MAD equipment and ASW "retro-rockets."
The unit begins with a single TBF aircraft, one pilot, and one mechanic.
By May, the unit is assigned another aircraft, a PBY, and four more
personnel; it is also conducting limited testing in support of the
as-yet-unauthorized CalTech experimental work on forward-firing
- In October 1943 the Army released Inyokern to the Navy as the
Cal Tech rocket program needed a test facility near Pasadena. The
Navy built a hangar plus other support facilities at the Inyokern
airfield while the main base consisting of work shops, laboratories,
and barracks for 60 officers and 600 men was being constructed at
China Lake (ten miles east).
8 November 1943 NOTS is established to provide a badly
needed aviation-ordnance proving ground in the West and to support
the rapidly expanding Navy-CalTech rocket program. HEDRON 14 Experimental
Unit has grown to include 16 officers, 103 enlisted men, and a variety
of aircraft and is supporting broader-spectrum rocket testing. Testing
at NOTS begins within a month of its establishment.
- On 15 December 1943, CNO directs the creation of Aviation
Ordnance Development Unit ONE (AODU-1) to support the rocket-development
program; the unit is to be temporarily assigned to NAS San Diego
but permanently assigned to NOTS Inyokern "as soon as facilities
are available." AODU-1 is commissioned 21 December, and
12 days later the first contingent of 10 enlisted men departs for
Inyokern, beginning a gradual move that will take 6 months to complete.
- The original “rocket-ridin’ rabbit” squadron logo appears while
AODU-1 is still in San Diego; the familiar “?” replaces “AODU” as
the unit relocates to Inyokern, reflecting the secrecy of both mission
- By mid-January 1944, Fleet squadrons are arriving at Inyokern
at a frantic pace for weapons and tactics training with the new
3.5-Inch and 5.0-Inch Aircraft Rockets. Visiting units average
40 crew and 14 aircraft of various types, severely taxing the meager
resources of the fledgling Station.
- On 15 February 1944 Carrier Aircraft Service Unit FIFTY-THREE
(CASU-53) is ordered commissioned and stationed at NOTS to "take
care of the needs of the Training Squadrons." The new
unit is to include 31 officers and 617 enlisted men—the complement
required to support a 90-plane Carrier Air Group.
- CASU-53 is commissioned 24 February with 3 officers, 6 Aviation
Machinist Mates, and 100 recruits—and woefully short of maintenance
and support equipment. Complicating matters, NOTS Skipper Capt.
Burroughs “shanghais” some 70 of the marginally useful recruits
for other Station needs.
- On 10 May 1944 SECNAV establishes the aviation facilities at
NOTS (under an officer-in-charge) as U.S. Naval Air Facility Inyokern,
California, an activity under the Commanding Officer, NOTS, officially
affirming the concept of the fully integrated development, testing,
and training station.
- The Inyokern airfield is also officially designated Harvey Field
in May in honor of LCdr. Warren W. Harvey, USN, a Naval Academy
classmate of Capt. Burroughs (1924) and noted innovator of fighter
aircraft tactics. The Field is dedicated 28 June with Harvey’s
widow in attendance.
- The pace of Fleet training at NOTS increases to a level that
dictates parts and supplies be flown in daily from San Diego; fuel
is trucked from MCAS Mojave every day—often twice a day—to support
operations and training.
- By mid-summer, Harvey Field has a new “Kodiak” hangar, Ship’s
Service and recreation facilities, and a transportation pool; the
Field hosts 25 assigned aircraft of up to 20 carrier-combat and
transport types. AODU-1 has 250 personnel aboard, CASU-53
has a unit strength of 170, and the permanent NOTS force is about
- At the same time, construction accelerates on a new, modern
airfield complex at the China Lake site: three 2-mile runways, large
concrete hangars, modern control tower and field lighting, complete
support facilities, and huge fuel bunkers. The field also
has a number of unique properties no-one speaks of, including 1,000-foot
runway extensions and special project areas demanded by Burroughs
of General Groves and funded by the Manhattan Project.
- After a brief but highly successful run, CASU-53 is transferred
to NAS Holtville California in August. The unit’s presence
has been essential, supporting the peak of wartime rocket training
at NOTS: 28 Fleet units and one Army Air Force squadron trained
and deployed between January and July 1944 alone.
- On 15 May 1945 the planes, pilots, crews, and equipment of NAF
Inyokern are officially transferred from Harvey Field to the not-yet-completed
NOTS Experimental Air Center—Area “E”—near the China Lake main site.
- On 30 May, before its runways are cleared for use, the air facility
is named Armitage Field, by popular consensus, in honor of Lt. John
Murray Armitage, USN, a highly decorated and very popular young
aviator killed at NOTS in a 21 August 1944 accident while testing
the Tiny Tim bunker-busting rocket.
- The first project flight is flown from Armitage Field on 2 June
1945. Between NOTS and visiting squadrons, a wild variety
of tactical aircraft—various models of TBF, TBM, SBD, SB2C, F6F,
F4U, PBY, and even Army A-26s—are operating from China Lake and
- Super-secret operations begin using the “Exclusion Area” (now
known as “X Pad,” with its mysterious pits covered in steel), an
off-site control tower east of the Field, and the barbed-wire-surrounded
area of the fabled Building “X” complex. These operations,
part of Project Camel, are the special province of Cdr. John T.
“Chick” Hayward, USN, the NOTS Experimental Officer.
- In the spring and early summer of 1945, Army B-29s are some
of the first aircraft on the just-completed Armitage Field runways;
the Superforts are used to conduct drop tests of putative atomic
bomb shapes and to test support equipment and procedures as part
of Project Camel.
- FROM THE HOT WAR INTO THE COLD
- On 5 May 1947, Armitage Field is commissioned under the official
title U.S. Naval Air Facility, U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station,
Inyokern, California—ending any uncertainty over the organizational
placement of the air operations and facilities as an integral part
of the China Lake RDT&E mission.
- Even in the mid- to late-‘40s era of post-war drawdown, NAF
is operating and supporting nearly every carrier-based aircraft
and ramping up to support the emerging jets.
- NAF sailors begin the construction of the on-site recreation
area that will later be dedicated to the memory of Cdr. Alphonse
Minvielle, USN, who was lost in a 1948 aircraft accident; Minvielle
Park (a.k.a. “NAF pool” and “Miniville”) will be expanded over the
years—by SEABEE-supported “self-help” projects—to include a large
pool, lawns and trees, and other amenities.
- 10 November 1950, The Naval Guided Missile Training Unit No.
21, under training to operate Terrier missiles, was relocated from
the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern, China Lake, to Norton
Sound, and redesignated a fleet activity under Commander Air Force,
- On 16 July 1953, Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61) arrives
at China Lake to support Sidewinder and Terrier testing, training,
and Fleet introduction. A highly specialized organization, GMU-61
was commissioned on 05 August 1952 as a mobile Guided Missile Training
- In May 1954 a dedicated target-drone unit is officially established
as part of NAF; this is the genesis of the famous “China Lake Redbirds”:
remote-controlled full-scale aircraft to support RDT&E projects
and training operations.
- As the Cold War deepens during the 1950s, air operations evolve
to better support both high-technology projects, such as guided
missiles, and high-priority strategic projects: “special weapons”
- GMU-61 is split as of 24 June 1955, with the Terrier section
redesignated GMU-25. The all-Sidewinder GMU-61 boasts four combat-experienced
pilots and 24 senior enlisted Aviation Guided Missilemen and Aviation
Ordnancemen, with LCdr. Glenn A Tierney, USN, officer-in-charge.
- The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) requested that the Bureau
of Ordnance (BUORD) establish an Acceptance Program for Nuclear
Weapons and Associated Materials and in July 1955, the task was
assigned to the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS), China Lake.
- On 1 May 1956 the Marine Corps Guided Missile Test Unit (MCGMTU)
consisting of six officers and 45 men was established at NOTS. Previously,
Marine personnel had served at NOTS since1950 with the 1st Provisional
Marine Guided Missile Battalion.
- Air Development Squadron FIVE (VX-5) arrives at China Lake in
1956 to take advantage of the outstanding flying conditions and
proximity to ranges and laboratories. VX-5 was commissioned at NAS
Moffett Field in 1951 to provide the Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL)
testing essential to the Fleet introduction of weapon and aircraft
- The NOTS set up a separate group, the Special Weapons Evaluation
Branch that later evolved into the Nuclear Weapons Evaluation Division,
and at Albuquerque during 1957, Civilian Engineers conducted Acceptance
Tests and Vulnerability Studies.
- A new mission is added for NAF planes and crews in 1958 when
NOTS begins testing developmental air-launched satellite-delivery
systems (“NOTSNIK,” Pilot, Caleb) and space probes; by the early
‘60s, this work will include satellite-killers, as well.
- In 1958, the NOTS Branch/Division was re-designated as the Naval
Nuclear Ordnance Evaluation Unit (NNOEU) and placed under the command
- As NOTS places renewed emphasis during the late 1950s and early
‘60s on the development of conventional weapons (e.g., the “Eye”
series and TV-guided systems) and weapons for limited warfare, NAF’s
operational emphasis is shifted to accommodate a myriad of new programs
- On 18 May 1959, Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61) is decommissioned
and personnel and mission are integrated into NAF.
- Hangar 3—a large, modern, two-bay facility that includes a variety
of specialized and secure spaces—is completed and fully occupied
- In March 1961 NASWF and NNOEU were combined and the Naval Weapons
Evaluation Facility (NWEF) was born.
- Specialized NAF operations supporting NOTS weather-modification
projects increase dramatically—and world-wide—following Project
Stormfury successes in 1961. This work will lead to the first application
of active geophysical warfare: the super-secret Project Popeye.
- On 20 March 1962, Guided Missile Unit TWENTY-FIVE (GMU-25) is
- A NEW KIND OF WAR, A NEW URGENCY
- By mid-1966, NAF operations begin to mirror the accelerating
pace of Southeast Asia operations. The “weapon-a-week” atmosphere
of the late ‘60s at China Lake dictates the operation and support
of nearly a score of aircraft types for weapon, targeting, integration,
and component projects, as well as Fleet training and logistics.
- The Naval Ordnance Test Station is disestablished in June 1967;
NOTS China Lake is combined with the Naval Ordnance Laboratory,
Corona, to create the Naval Weapons Center (NWC).
- As the Vietnam War progresses, increasing numbers of Fleet aviation
units make pre-deployment visits to China Lake for orientation/training,
further straining the Field’s resources.
- Construction of the A-7 Weapons [Integration] Laboratory begins
in 1970, heralding the arrival of “digital airplanes.” This
is the first of what will be the Weapon System Support Activities,
which will grow to include the AH-1, A-4, A-6, AV-8, and F/A-18
aircraft and require dedicated facilities such as the WSSF (the
“Blue Whale”) and the Advanced Weapons Lab in Hangar 5.
- NAF dedicates its new gate displays on 22 June 1970, featuring
a torii and two record-setting and unique aircraft: the sole
surviving XF4D-1 and F11F-1F. Both aircraft will end up on
display at the China Lake Museum.
- REORGANIZATIONS, CONSOLIDATIONS
- The Naval Air Facility China Lake is disestablished 1 December
1976; the mission, functions, and organization of the NAF are incorporated
essentially unchanged into the new Aircraft Department of the NWC
Test and Evaluation Directorate.
- The 1979 consolidation of the National Parachute Test Range
(NPTR) with NWC adds the parachute-test and Navy Test Parachutist
missions and personnel to the Field.
- The “Canadian Building” officially opens in April 1985, housing
the first of an ever-evolving string of semi permanent allied aviation
detachments at Armitage Field, notably from the U.K. and Canada;
allied aviators began using China Lake facilities during WWII when
English RAF pilots and planes arrived for joint rocket training.
- Marine Aviation Detachment (MAD) China Lake is established in
1988, centralizing administration of USMC personnel at NWC; Marine
aviators and technicians have served in NAF/Aircraft Department
and VX-5 since their establishments.
- Hangar 4, the so-called “Black Hangar” that may or may not host
the developmental (later cancelled) A-12 WSSA, is completed during
1990; the building is officially nonexistent for many years, prompting
the long-standing canard, “What hangar?”
- As of 22 January 1992, the RDT&E functions of NWC China
Lake the T&E functions of three other activities are consolidated
to form the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWPNS);
facilities and support (“roads and commodes”) and military functions—including
air operations—are incorporated into the Naval Air Weapons Station
(NAWS) China Lake.
- The 1993 consolidation and subsequent closure of the Naval Weapons
Evaluation Facility (NWEF) brings the Navy Balloon Team to a new
home at Armitage Field—although not for long, as the Team will soon
be disbanded at the order of CNET.
- In April 1994, VX-5 is consolidated with its smaller sister,
VX-4, to create VX-9; VX-9 retains the “Vampire” logo and Armitage
Field location, with a detachment assigned to Point Mugu.
- The Aircraft Department is disestablished in May 1995 and its
personnel and functions incorporated into the newly created Naval
Weapons Test Squadron (NWTS) China Lake, part of Test Wing Pacific
of NAWCWPNS; the snake-wielding “dust devil” is adopted as mascot
(although never officially approved).
- Hangar 5, designed to support development and integration projects
for the Hornet/Super Hornet aircraft, is completed during 1995 and
dedicated F/A-18 Advanced Weapons Laboratory—the AWL—and contention
begins over the placement of the Museum’s “Hornet 1” airframe.
- Ancient Hangar 2 is officially “mothballed” in the spring of
1999; the space is set aside for supporting transient and visiting
units; the frequent presence of unusual allied-nation aircraft earns
it the nickname “Foreign Hangar.”
- In a move ostensibly aimed at making the DT squadrons “more
like Fleet squadrons,” NWTS China Lake is redesignated Air Test
and Evaluation Squadron THIRTY-ONE (VX-31) in May 2002.
- 12 May 2000 The U.S. Naval Museum of Armament and Technology
at China Lake was established when the Secretary of the Navy signed
out SECNAVNOTE 5755. The museum is a showcase for past and current
Center products and programs and provides an amenable environment
for briefings and presentations to off-Center visitors.
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|November 8, 1943:
||By the order of the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox,
Naval Station China Lake is established.
at C-range on air-to-ground firings.
||Opening of temporary G-1 and G-2 ranges.
begun on permanent Station facilities.
Opening of B-1
and B-2 ranges for air-to-ground firings.
begun at China Lake Pilot Plant.
||Opening of K-2 range used in rocket terminal-ballistics
Transfer of operations from California Institute
of. Technology to Station personnel.
Opening of LB range
for high-altitude bomb tests.
Work on explosives begun
at Salt Wells Pilot Plant.
||Dedication of Armitage Field at the Naval Air Facility.
||Opening of B-4 range for air-to-ground firings against
||Dedication of the Variable-Angle Launcher used for research
and development at NOTS.
Dedication of the Variable-Angle
Launcher used for testing underwater ordnance items at Morris
Activation of Station Advisory Board.
||First antitank aircraft rockets of project RAM shipped
||Opening of T-range for rocket proof firing.
of K-3 range for crosswind firing of rockets.
||Aircraft Fire-Control System Mk 16 released to the Fleet.
Opening of Randsburg Wash Test Activities for fuze testing.
The 2.75-inch FFAR (Mighty Mouse) declared operational.
||Opening of Supersonic Naval Ordnance Research Track
(SNORT) for captive testing of ordnance items.
||Opening of G-4 range for high-speed terminal-ballistics
||Opening of permanent G-1 range for guided-missile free-flight-testing.
Opening of permanent G-2 range for rocket free-flight testing.
||The Sidewinder guided-missile system declared operational.
Aug 21 -- An F8U-1 Crusader, piloted by Commander R. W.
Windsor, captured the Thompson Trophy with a new national
speed record of 1015.428 m.p.h. over the 15-kilometer course
at NOTS, China Lake, Calif. This production model carrier
fighter, equipped during its record performance with full
armament of 20 mm cannon and dummy ammunition, was the first
operationally equipped jet plane in history to fly faster
than 1,000 m.p.h.
||Development completed of the Zuni 5.0 inch rocket.
Dedication of the Station's new All Faith Chapel.
||The RAT antisubmarine weapon system declared operational.
Aug 19 -- In its first successful flight a Tartar surface-to-air
missile, fired at the NOTS, China Lake, intercepted an F6F
||Development completed of the variable-thrust rocket
The Skyline facility, for testing large solid-propellant
motors, completed at China Lake Propulsion Laboratory.
Zuni rocket put into mass production.
facility, Skytop, completed at China Lake Propulsion Laboratory.
RAPEC (rocket-assisted personnel-ejection catapult) released
to the fleet.
Aug 3 -- The first flight test of the antisubmarine
missile Subroc was successfully completed by a launch from
a shore installation at NOTS China Lake.
||Hangar No. 3 completed at the Naval Air Facility.
BuWeps and OpTEvFor evaluations of the ASROC antisubmarine
weapon system successfully completed.
Polaris firing after underwater launching.
||The Propulsion Applied Research Laboratory, first of
its type in the nation, established.
of San Clemente Island assumed.
Sixteen Cyclops silver
iodide generators dropped into Hurricane Esther, destroying
one-third of the cloud wall.
Dedication of Skytop II,
one of the Navy's largest vertical nozzle-down facilities.
Aug 28 -- NOTS, China Lake reported on tests of Snakeye
I mechanical retardation devices which were being developed
to permit low altitude bombing with the MK 80 family of
low drag bombs. Four designs of retarders (two made by Douglas
and two by NOTS) had been tested in flight, on the Station's
rocket powered test sled, or in the wind tunnel. One of
Douglas' designs had shown sufficient promise that a
contract had been issued for a number of experimental and
||Five hundred Capehart housing units completed.
successful flight test of a hybrid propulsion system in
||Jan 29 -- A Walleye television glide bomb, released
from a YA-4B, made a direct impact on its target in the
first demonstration of its automatic homing feature.
Balloon carries NOTS astronomer to 82,000 feet altitude
in Stargazer gondola.
President John F. Kennedy, first
President to visit Station, sees Naval aerial weaponry demonstration,
Gemini space capsule undergoes seat ejection
HIPEG-"fastest gun"-firing 12,000 rounds
per minute, in final checkout.
Marines leave after 18
years of sentry and range guard duty.
NOTS-developed silver iodide generators show effect on storm
clouds and Hurricane Beulah.
Ozonesonde in record balloon
ascent, 142,000 feet.
Shrike air-to-surface anti-radar
missile in final development stages.
||Sep 25 -- A Condor, television-guided air-to-surface
missile, was launched by an A-6A at a standoff distance
from its target. The aircraft was 56 miles from the target
when the missile made a direct impact.
||Feb 18 -- The night attack weapons system, a modified
air-to-surface Maverick missile designed to enhance the
performance of night tactical and strike aircraft, scored
a direct hit on a moving M-48 tank
||Aug 3 -- The Naval Air Systems Command reported a major
advance in the technology of escape systems. During the
summer, the NWC at China Lake successfully tested a vertical-seeking
ejection seat. While carrying a dummy crew member, the seat
was fired downward from a suspended test module. It traveled
downward less than 45 feet before reversing direction and
traveling upward; it then parachuted safely to the ground.
These tests demonstrated that the vertical-seeking seat
would make it possible to safely eject upside down, within
50 feet of the surface, thus greatly increasing the safety
envelope of ejection seats.
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