Keeping heritage, dreams alive for tomorrow’s heroes

The Chuck Yeager Mural at Date Avenue and Lancaster Boulevard in Lancaster, Calif. (Courtesy photograph)

by Larry Grooms, special to Aerotech News
Here in America’s Aerospace Valley, where sonic booms, flying bathtubs, lunar landers, space shuttles and stealthy bombers were born, we have events, exhibits, monuments, treasure troves, organizations, attic trunks and memories chock full of aerospace data, lore and legend.

We can be thankful and proud that so much hardware created and tested here now hangs prominently in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and that Palmdale’s Blackbird Airpark continues to expand, along with construction of the planned $11 million Flight Test Museum outside the Rosamond Boulevard Gate to Edwards AFB.

Possibly it’s just an aftershock from COVID-19 disruptions, but one of our uniquely local historical attractions seems to have dropped off the media radar screen.

The Aerospace Walk of Honor is easily one of the more visible, accessible, educational and entertaining science history resources in Los Angeles County. But it may also now be hidden nearly as well as secret missions flown by the test pilots it honors.

Anne Aldrich, who served as the City of Lancaster’s public communications officer and coordinator for several of the annual long weekend celebrations, said the campaign launched under Mayor Frank Roberts, then City Manager Jim Gilley and Assistant Manager Dennis Davenport, was envisioned to create a lasting attraction in the city’s visitor industry promotions and outreach. In the years since the final installation event, not much has been done with the concept.

But now, with renewed public interest with the passing of legendary test pilot Yeager, the push for new and innovative remote learning tools and physical activities for children, Aldrich believes those walkable and informational monuments along the Boulevard between 10th Street West and Boeing Plaza at Sierra Highway would provide the right stuff for growing minds and bodies with opportunity to bled learning and outdoor exercise with all the usual precautions.

After Yeager’s death, educator and longtime Antelope Valley journalist William P. Warford wrote a column linking the histories of three contemporary local American aviators whose deeds made them both heroes and legends.

Warford said no one in human history beat Neil Armstrong to the surface of the moon, nor beat Pete Knight in flying the X-15 to unimaginable speed at the edge of space, nor beat Chuck Yeager in breaking the sound barrier.

Warford also mentioned the 97 more pioneering heroes of the region’s aerospace exploration history whose deeds are individually memorialized along Lancaster’s Aerospace Walk of Honor.

Remembering an account of the time State Sen. Pete Knight invited his fellow honorees back to the house for a beer following the black tie awards dinner, Warford wondered what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall? He imagined it would have been like overhearing Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb talking baseball, or Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon discussing songwriting.

Warford, now teaching high school at The Palmdale Aerospace Academy, expressed the view he heard in conversations with young people that adults don’t do a good enough job teaching kids our aerospace history. He concluded, “Yes, these legends all lived and worked here.”

Right after Yeager’s death, Warford wanted to show his students a video summarizing Antelope Valley aviation history. He couldn’t find it online. Google didn’t help.

Pursuing content for this Aerotech News and Review special project encountered a similar obstacle. While there is a virtual forest of online information, much of it is duplicative or dubious, and much material about the time before web search engines was lost to public record.

As luck would have it, Lancaster’s Walk of Honor Records are safely under lock and key in the city’s Museum of Art and History, currently closed to visitors. The Society of Experimental Test Pilots was unable to produce its records for this article.

Warford thinks it would be nice if somebody would produce something in the 15- to 20-minute range that encapsulates the milestones and gave overviews of the accomplishments of the pilots like Armstrong, Knight and Yeager, and any others in that band of brothers in the sky.

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