When the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, 2020, most were convinced that the New Year would be better than the old.
After almost a year of COVID-19, lockdowns, teleworking, and remote school, two new vaccines had received emergency use authorization, and people were lining up to get vaccinated in the hope their lives could return to normality.
Vaccines became widely available on military installations around the world, stop movement orders were lifted, and life slowly got back to some semblance of normal.
Despite COVID, there was much going on in the Aerospace Valley, the nation and the world. A new commander for the Air Force Test Center at Edwards arrived in July; Lockheed Martin unveiled a new intelligent, flexible factory in Palmdale; Northrop Grumman in Palmdale continued to produce the MQ-4C Triton for Australia; Edwards AFB hosted a major virtual STEM event for schools in the area; a new administration brought new leadership to the Defense Department; and the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan after 19 years.
However, a feeling of déja vu hit us all in December as cases of COVID-19 again started to rise again, with the new omicron variant prevalent, and Edwards moved to Health Protection Condition Bravo+.
In this special issue of Aerotech News and Review, we take a look back at 2021.
Jan. 14 — STARBASE Edwards distributed STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) kits to the Palmdale Aerospace Academy in Palmdale, Calif. STARBASE Edwards partnered with NASA and the Museum of Arts and History (MOAH-Lancaster) to create a total of eight lessons while the Lockheed Martin Corporation donated the grant to purchase supplies for 1,500 STEM kits to community youths in Title 1 schools in Palmdale and Lancaster. The kits are designed to expose school-aged children to STEM and the various possible careers in the field and within the Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley is sometimes referred to as Aerospace Valley due to the role it has played in historic aviation firsts and technology breakthroughs.
Jan. 16 — The 412th Medical Group at Edwards Air Force Base received and started administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Initially restricted to health care providers, health care support, and emergency and safety personnel within the 412th Test Wing at Edwards and Air Force Plant 42. As more vaccine doses arrived, and DOD guidelines changed, the 412th MDG expanded eligibility to more personnel so that by year’s end, anyone who wanted a vaccine could get one.
Jan. 17 — Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket reached space during the company’s second launch demonstration, successfully deploying 10 payloads for NASA’s Launch Services Program. For the picture-perfect mission, Virgin Orbit’s carrier aircraft, a customized 747-400 dubbed Cosmic Girl, took off from Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 10:50 a.m. and flew out to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the two-stage rocket ignited and powered itself to orbit. At the conclusion of the flight, the LauncherOne rocket deployed 10 CubeSats into the team’s precise target orbit, marking a major step forward for Virgin Orbit in its quest to bust down the barriers preventing affordable and responsive access to space. The payloads onboard LauncherOne were selected by NASA LSP as part of the agency’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. Nearly all of the CubeSat missions were designed, built and tested by universities across the U.S., including Brigham Young University (PICS), the University of Michigan (MiTEE), and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (CAPE-3).
Feb. 11 — The 412th Test Wing hosted a ceremony for 17 Airmen who have transferred as Guardians in the Space Force at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The Airmen were assigned to the 412th TW as well as those assigned to different mission partners stationed at Edwards AFB. The ceremony took place in front of the historic Hangar 4305 where the first U.S. jet aircraft, the Bell P-59 Airacomet, was assembled and housed during developmental flight tests.
Feb. 16 — An F-16 assigned to the 416th Flight Test Squadron flew a successful drop test in support of the Korea F-16 Update Program. The ROKAF currently operates 133 KF-16C/D Block 50/52 fighter aircraft, all of which will undergo extensive modernization and upgrades as part of the comprehensive improvement program. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $1.2 billion contract to retrofit the 133 KF-16s and upgrade them to the advanced F-16V configuration, which is the latest technologically and most advanced version of the fourth generation fighter jet.
Feb. 17 — Two HH-60 “Jolly Green II” combat rescue helicopters arrived at Edwards Air Force Base from Eglin AFB, Fla., to conduct flight test operations. Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, the Jolly Green II completed testing on April 13. The first production Jolly Green II was delivered to the Air Force on May 18.
Feb. 18 — The Air Force Test Center broke ground on a 72,000 square foot. Joint Simulation Environment facility at Edwards during a ceremony organized by the 412th Electronic Warfare Group. The facility is projected to bring 50 jobs to the base in the fields of computer science, engineering, cyber security, electronic-engineering technologies, and logistics. The $34.4 million project will provide a state-of-the-art modeling and simulation environment to conduct fifth-generation and next-generation developmental test, operational test, and high-end advanced training and tactics development for the warfighter.
Feb. 23 — A recently retired B-1B Lancer flew its final sortie and landed at Edwards AFB. The aircraft, tail number 86-0099, was one of the 17 Lancers to be retired by the Air Force. However, this particular aircraft will continue to serve despite never flying again. 0099 is set to become the Edwards Aircraft Ground Integration Lab, or EAGIL. “EAGIL will be a non-flyable aircraft that will be used as an integration lab for future upgrades,” said Stephen Salas, B-1 Platform Lead, Global Power Bombers Combined Test Force. “We plan to do avionics software, weapon and hardware testing, new equipment fit checks, prototyping efforts and EAGIL will be used to support weapon load training, egress training, as well as aircraft familiarization for new personnel.”
March 1 — The AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) arrived at Edwards for its first booster test flight. After loading onto a B-52H Stratofortress, work began on pre-flight ground tests and checks to obtain certification for the flight to proceed as scheduled. The ARRW program is a rapid prototyping project that will leverage cutting edge technologies to deliver a conventional hypersonic weapons capability to the warfighter in the early 2020s. The weapon system provides combatant commanders the capability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets. ARRW expands precision-strike weapon systems’ capabilities by enabling survivable rapid response strikes against heavily defended targets.
March 2-3 — Orange Flag, the large force test event carried out three times annually by the 412th Test Wing, combined with the 53rd Wing’s Black Flag, bringing a first for the test community March 2-4. Both central to achieving Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the two test capabilities combined their mission planning processes and streamlined test objective synthesis. Test execution took place during two separate Orange Flag and one Black Flag events. The rationale of combining the planning process is simple: Orange Flag focuses on technical integration and innovation across a breadth of Technology Readiness Levels, Black Flag focuses on the tactical integration of more mature technologies. This iteration of Orange Flag focused on two primary objectives: kill web integration and advanced survivability. Kill web integration included Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force sensors and tactical networks, as well as legacy and emerging JADC2 nodes.
March 30-April 1 — Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., and his wife, Sharene Brown, visited Edwards AFB March 30-April 1. Brown met the Airmen, civilians and family members of Team Edwards and the 412th Test Wing. The wing oversees base day-to-day operations and provides support for over 10,000 military, federal civilian and contract personnel assigned to a 481-square mile installation. Brown explained that during his time in service, he has personally seen first-hand the technological advancements that were tested at Edwards.
April 6 — The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School graduated the first-ever Space Test Fundamentals class at Edwards. Fifteen enlisted, officer, civilian Airmen and Guardians represent the first class dedicated to testing within the newly contested domain of Space. The course enables the USSF to enhance its test and evaluation mission and multiply its ability to deliver combat-ready space forces. Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, the U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, was on-hand to give the graduation address.
“You were handpicked from a pool of over 160 applicants, not only to attend this inaugural Space Test course, but also to help us build this course and define its future as the initial Space Test cadre,” said Raymond. “You were the “Beta testers” of the course itself, simultaneously studying hard and developing the future of our space test education and training program.”
“For more than 75 years, Test Pilot School has trained and educated the Air Force’s test leaders— bold pilots, weapons systems officers, engineers, and astronauts,” said Raymond. “Today, we expand upon that legacy.”
April 8 — The Air Force released its new mission statement: To fly, fight, and win — Airpower anytime, anywhere. This change emphasizes the primary competitive advantage and capabilities that Airpower provides to the nation and joint operations.
The ability to fight and win with airpower is key to facing emerging competitors and near-peer adversaries, according to service leaders. “As we developed this new mission statement, we consulted Airmen from across the entire spectrum — enlisted, officers, reservists, guardsmen and civilians,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. said.
Since the domain of space falls under the Space Force, the Air Force can now focus solely on airpower and maintain a sustained focus on core air domain missions.
With a Total Force of more than 689,000, Airmen work to support all aspects of airpower, which includes five core missions: air superiority; global strike; rapid global mobility; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and command and control. Airpower also requires people and resources dedicated to unit readiness, base infrastructure and talent management.
April 8 — The Edwards Air Force Base Civilian/Military Support Group announced at their monthly board meeting on April 8 that the organization has made a donation of funds towards the first phase of upgrades at the Edwards AFB Airman Leadership School. The project, which is expected to take two months to complete, began in March and will consist of a student resource space in one of the buildings on the ALS campus and an instructor room, which, according to Staff Sgt. Nicholas Covello, an instructor at the ALS, is “something we haven’t had in at least 10 years.” The resource center will allow for a more comfortable learning environment where students can work on their studies both individually and as a team while the instructor room will serve as a much needed work space for the ALS instructors. Civ/Mil’s donation will support the cost of the project to include paint, fixtures, furniture and electronics.
April 14 — President Joe Biden announced his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, bringing to an end America’s longest war. Biden said he would withdraw troops ahead of Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
April 16 — Northrop Grumman successfully completed the first flight of Japan’s RQ-4B Global Hawk from Palmdale, Calif. With an unmatched combination of range, endurance, and payload capability, Global Hawk is the only platform that provides greater data collection flexibility than space or medium-altitude assets. “The unarmed RQ-4B Global Hawk will provide Japan with on-demand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information supporting the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s missions of protecting borders, monitoring threats and providing humanitarian assistance in times of need,” said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. “This successful first flight is a significant milestone in delivering Global Hawk to our Japanese allies.”
April 23 — SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission launched from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Falcon 9 launched the Dragon. The Dragon spacecraft was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable, two-stage rocket. On April 24, the Dragon docked with the International Space Station. This is the first human spaceflight mission to fly astronauts on a flight-proven Falcon 9 and Dragon. The Falcon 9 first stage supporting this mission previously launched the Crew-1 mission in November 2020, and the Dragon spacecraft previously flew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to and from the International Space Station during SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission in 2020. As part of the Commercial Crew Program, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet flew aboard the Dragon spacecraft on its second operational mission to the space station. This was the first time Dragon flew two international partners and also the first time two Crew Dragons are attached simultaneously to the orbiting laboratory.
April 28 — Test Pilot School students visited Barksdale ASB, La., to study the B-52H Stratofortress. By integrating with Team Barksdale, the USAF TPS connected the operations community with the test community, as well as gave its students an opportunity to prove their test skills through a capstone course designed around different airframes.
“This experience gives the students a perspective of what the pilots have to deal with when they’re flying this aircraft so that when they’re developing tests for the bomber community, they know what kind of things they are asking the pilots to do,” said Col. Sebrina L. Pabon, USAF TPS commandant.
The students are required to evaluate multiple aircraft as part of their capstone, or final project. They report on the different aspects of the aircraft from flying and handling qualities to overall performance.
April 29 — Stratolaunch LLC, whose mission is to advance high-speed technology through innovative design, manufacturing, and operation of world-class aerospace vehicles, successfully completed the second flight of the world’s largest aircraft by wingspan. The 385-feet wingspan aircraft flew for 3 hours, 14 minutes over the Mojave Desert and reached an altitude of 14,000 feet. As part of this latest flight, pilots further prepared the carrier aircraft to support launches of its upcoming hypersonic testbed vehicle, Talon-A. Initial results from the test points include:
* Confirmation of the aircraft’s performance and handling characteristics
* Continued demonstration of the aircraft’s capability, including its payload capacity
* Validation of the enhancements added to the Carrier Aircraft, including pressurization, gear doors, and robustness to the safety systems
May 3 — Af Named Project Hydra, the latest flight test leveraged an Open Systems Gateway payload aboard the U-2 to connect an F-22 to five F-35s via native Intra-Flight Data Link and Multifunction Advanced Data Link, successfully sharing data between all airborne aircraft and with nodes on the ground. The target tracks were also transmitted by and through the U-2 into the fighter avionics and pilot displays.
“Project Hydra marks the first time that bi-directional communications were established between 5th Generation aircraft in-flight while also sharing operational and sensor data down to ground operators for real-time capability,” said Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk WorksÆ. “This next-level connectivity reduces the data-to-decision timeline from minutes to seconds, which is critical in fighting today’s adversaries and advanced threats.”
May 5 — Gen. Timothy Ray, the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Forces Strategic-Air, U.S. Strategic Command, visited several organizations across the bomber test enterprise to receive first-hand updates on the progress of the B-21 program during a visit to Edwards Air Force Base and Plant 42, in California, May 5-6.
His first stop was at Edwards AFB, where he met with the 419th Flight Test Squadron, Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force. He was updated on the organization’s continued efforts to test upgrades to the B-2 Spirit in order to modernize the B-2 and integrate future weapons systems.
He then visited the 420th Flight Test Squadron, B-21 CTF. Ray was briefed on the construct for the Combined Test Force and the benefits it will bring to bear for the B-21 program. The B-21 CTF is an integrated team of test professionals from Northrop Grumman, 420th FLTS and Detachment 5, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center. The B-21 CTF provided a comprehensive update on the team’s readiness to support the B-21 program when it transitions into flight test.
On the following day, Ray visited the Northrop Grumman facilities at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, and saw the significant progress made on the build of the first flight test aircraft that will one day make its way to Edwards AFB for flight testing. Northrop Grumman personnel updated Ray on build progress and the value of building those test articles using the same production line, tooling and procedures that will manufacture the final production aircraft.
The workforce and managers of the production line are using these builds to learn and implement process improvements well before building the actual operational aircraft, decreasing cost and build schedule. The program’s stable requirements, and its strategy to incorporate mature technology, have played a large part in keeping the program schedule on track to deliver operational B-21 Raiders to the first main operating base in the mid-2020s.
May 20 — A B-1B Lancer was rolled into the Benefield Anechoic Facility at Edwards. The aircraft will undergo testing of a portion of the B-1B Defensive Software suite, Pre-processor Flight Software (PFS) 6.42. “We’re going to look at the AN/ALQ-161A and its response to various threat signals,” said Capt. Shawn Whitney, who serves as the B-1B PFS 6.42 project test lead for the Global Power Bomber Combined Test Force. The aircraft used for the test is a B-1B Lancer from the 337th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 53rd Wing, out of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. It will be in the BAF for approximately two weeks Whitney said.
May 31 — Memorial Day! Traditional solemnity and formal military precision were accompanied and enhanced by a new and expanded perspective on honoring and remembering America’s war dead this Memorial Day morning in ceremonies at the Palmdale’s Poncitl·n Square Gazebo.
Memorial Day 2021 at Lancaster Cemetery was a welcome return to a bit of normalcy, as the tradition of remembering the fallen in service to country was welcomed back by a large gathering of local citizens and military folks that spanned many generations.
This year the East Kern Cemetery District and the Mojave Transportation Museum Foundation joined together to organize the Memorial Day Ceremony.
At 11 a.m., May 31, everyone noticed an aircraft coming towards the cemetery from Mojave Air and Space Port. It was a World War II trainer aircraft, a North American T-6. Nothing sounds like a T-6 flying over and it was a perfect surprise to the beginning of our Mojave Memorial Day Ceremony.
June 3 — Students from the United States Air Force Test Pilot School Space Test Fundamentals Course Class 21-2 gathered at Mountain Valley Airport’s glider school in Tehachapi, Calif. to strengthen their understanding of time-compressed data collection practices in unfamiliar environments. To begin the three-month STF program, students from multiple branches and professions complete Introduction Test Fundamentals, which covers a completely domain and system agnostic approach to testing. The course enables the United States Space Force to enhance its Test and Evaluation mission and multiply its ability to deliver combat-ready space forces.
June 14 — The NF-16D Variable In-flight Simulator Aircraft (VISTA) has been redesignated as the X-62A, effective June 14. The VISTA, which is operated by the Air Force Test Pilot School with the support of Calspan and Lockheed Martin, first flew in 1992 and has been a staple of the TPS curriculum. It has provided TPS students the ability to experience various flying conditions including simulation of other aircrafts’ characteristics.
“For more than two decades VISTA has been a vital asset for the USAF TPS and the embodiment of our goal to be part of the cutting edge of flight test and aerospace technology,” said William Gray, VISTA and TPS chief test pilot. “It has given almost a thousand students and staff members the opportunity to practice testing aircraft with dangerously poor flying qualities, and to execute risk-reduction flight test programs for advanced technologies.”
The VISTA is currently in the midst of an upgrade program which will fully replace the VISTA Simulation System. The upgrade program will also add a new system called the System for Autonomous Control of Simulation (SACS) to support autonomy testing for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program.
June 28 — Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass arrived at Edwards for a two-day base tour and met with the Airmen, families and civilians who make up Team Edwards. “I came here to understand this mission set that you guys are doing here in test, but I also came here because I want to hear what’s on your mind, that’s what’s most important to me,” Bass said.
Her first stop during her visit was to the base theater where she addressed base leadership, squadron commanders and their superintendents, first sergeants and key spouses. There, she fielded questions about quality of life issues unique to the base. Following the theater, she received a brief on the Enlisted Test Fundamentals Course at the Test Pilot School. The new course will allow enlisted Airmen to attend the school and focus on coursework that will provide them with specific test skillsets. Bass utilized many forums to engage with Team Edwards members. The largest forum took place at Hangar 1600, where she began by thanking the Airmen for their hard work and sacrifice for the past year.
June 30 — Virgin Orbit confirmed it successfully deployed into orbit all seven customer satellites onboard its LauncherOne rocket during today’s Tubular Bells: Part One mission. Virgin Orbit’s 747 carrier aircraft Cosmic Girl took off from Mojave Air and Space Port at approximately 6:50 a.m., PDT, and flew out to a launch site over the Pacific Ocean, about 50 miles south of the Channel Islands. After a smooth release from the aircraft, the LauncherOne rocket ignited and propelled itself towards space, ultimately deploying its payload into a precise target orbit approximately 500km above the Earth’s surface. LauncherOne carried a total of 7 satellites to Low Earth Orbit for this rideshare mission: four R&D CubeSats for the U.S. Department of Defense, two optical satellites for SatRevolution, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s first military satellite.
June 30 — Air Force Plant 42 hosted local civic leaders, law enforcement and mission partners to address traffic safety around the facility in Palmdale, Calif., June 30. The meeting was organized by Dr. David Smith, Plant 42 director, who sees fatalities, motor vehicle accidents and traffic delays as problematic concern that impacts all of Plant 42 personnel to include active duty Airmen, mission partner personnel, civilians and their families.
“We’ve got to work together to build the best possible systems and here at Planet 42, I’m absolutely humbled to be the director,” Smith said. “My ultimate job is to set conditions for success for you all that are delivering combat capability to this great nation.”
Smith explained that besides the loss of human life, a possible outcome of the traffic issues around Plant 42 could be the loss of human capital. Those issues, if left unchecked, could lead to a reduction in attracting career candidates to the Antelope Valley, also referred to as the Aerospace Valley.
July 6 — The Air Force released a new B-21 Raider artist rendering graphic with an accompanying fact sheet. As with past renderings, this rendering is an artist’s interpretation of the B-21 design. The new rendering highlights the future stealth bomber with Edwards as the backdrop. The 420th Flight Test Squadron based at Edwards AFB will plan, test, analyze and report on all flight and ground testing of the B-21 Raider. The B-21 program continues to execute the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase and is focused on scaling the manufacturing infrastructure and capacity across the industrial supply base to prepare for low rate initial production. A critical design review conducted in 2018 concluded the aircraft has a mature and stable design.
Designed to perform long range conventional and nuclear missions and to operate in tomorrow’s high end threat environment, the B-21 will be a visible and flexible component of the nuclear triad.
July 11 — Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity successfully reached space, completing the company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight. This was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.
Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Today is a landmark achievement for the Company and a historic moment for the new commercial space industry. With each successful mission we are paving the way for the next generation of astronauts. I want to thank our talented team, including our pilots and crew, whose dedication and commitment made today possible. They are helping open the door for greater access to space — so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”
VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
The mission specialists in the cabin were Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Colin Bennett, Lead Flight Operations Engineer; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations; and the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The VSS Unity pilots were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while Kelly Latimer and CJ Sturckow piloted VMS Eve.
July 15 — Maj. Gen. Evan C. Dertien assumed command of the Air Force Test Center during a ceremony held July 15, 2021, in Hangar 1600 at Edwards AFB. Dertien takes the reins from Maj. Gen. Christopher P. Azzano who has commanded the AFTC for the past three years.
Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., Air Force Materiel Command commander, presided over the ceremony.
Dertien now directs a test enterprise of more than 18,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel across Arnold AFB, Tenn., Edwards AFB, and Eglin AFB, Fla. “It is an absolute honor to come back to AFTC,” said Dertien during the change of command ceremony. “This is a dream job.”
His area of responsibility will include the development, test, and evaluation of manned and unmanned aircraft systems in both experimental and proven aerospace vehicles. These include programs for military services, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, NASA, and international partners, in addition to operation of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.
July 15 — Medical personnel from the 412th Medical Group conducted vital life-saving training on “dustoff” procedures at Edwards. The MDG Airmen were trained on proper patient loading procedures and safe aircraft approach on two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.
“It’s an essential deployment skill, and the litter carry portion, could even be used stateside in case of emergency,” said Lt. Col. Yvonne Storey, 412th MDG. ”Knowing how to properly lift a patient, carry your patient is key.”
The training was facilitated by Soldiers of C Company, 2916th Aviation Battalion, 916th Support Brigade, from nearby Fort Irwin. Also Known as “Desert Dustoff,” C Company is tasked with providing air medevac support for the National Training Center, where Army brigades train for combat in the austere Mojave desert environment.
July 20 — Blue Origin successfully completed New Shepard’s first human flight today with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the K·rm·n Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space.
Upon landing, the astronauts were greeted by their families and Blue Origin’s ground operations team for a celebration in the West Texas desert.
* Wally Funk, 82, became the oldest person to fly in space.
* Oliver Daemen, 18, was the first ever commercial astronaut to purchase a ticket and fly to space on a privately-funded and licensed space vehicle from a private launch site. He also became the youngest person to fly in space.
* New Shepard became the first commercial vehicle under a suborbital reusable launch vehicle license to fly paying customers, both payloads and astronauts, to space and back.
* Jeff and Mark Bezos became the first siblings to ever fly in space together.
July 28 — The Air Force conducted its second AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon booster flight test July 28. While it did not meet all flight objectives, the test demonstrated several first-time events as the program continues to track toward fielding a hypersonic capability in the early 2020s. Objectives for the test included demonstrating the safe release of the booster test vehicle from the B 52H and assessing booster performance. An Edwards AFB B-52 released the ARRW test missile, dubbed Booster Test Vehicle 1b or BTV-1b, over Point Mugu Sea Range.
The missile cleanly separated from the aircraft and successfully demonstrated the full release sequence including GPS acquisition, umbilical disconnect and power transfer from the aircraft to the missile. The missile also demonstrated fin operation and de-confliction maneuvers which ensures a safe operation for the aircrew.
Following the safe separation maneuvers, the rocket motor did not ignite. The ARRW team continues to progress through the rapid prototyping effort with a steadfast commitment to the well-being of Airmen and equipment, striking a balance between prudent risk and rapid advancement of the program.
Aug. 10 — Lockheed Martin has completed construction of an advanced manufacturing facility at its Palmdale, Calif., campus and headquarters to the Skunk WorksÆ. The 215,000 square foot intelligent, flexible factory has digital foundations to incorporate smart manufacturing components, embrace the Internet of Things and deliver cutting edge solutions rapidly and affordably to support the United States and its allies. This is one of four transformational manufacturing facilities Lockheed Martin is opening in the U.S. this year.
This new building incorporates all three of Lockheed Martin’s advanced production priorities: an intelligent factory framework; a technology enabled advanced manufacturing environment; and a flexible factory construct to support customer priorities with speed and agility while bolstering manufacturing capability in the United States.
“For more than 100 years, Lockheed Martin has been proud to call California home,” said Jeff Babione, vice president and general manager, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. “Our partnership with the state has helped us remain competitive and has positioned us for long-term growth. The technology in our new Palmdale facility lets us go beyond manufacturing optimization to the next digital revolution, driving innovation and preserving California’s leadership in the aerospace industry.”
Aug. 20 — The Air Force Test Pilot School graduated the latest class of Space Test Fundamentals professionals during a ceremony at the base theater at Edwards AFB. STF Class 21-2 finished a three-month long course and dubbed themselves the first “production” class in reference to an aircraft’s development and procurement cycle with STF Class 21-1 as the “prototype.”
“We are excited to continue to develop and evolve the course to meet the United States Space Force’s needs to produce adaptive, critical-thinking test professionals to conduct full-spectrum test and evaluation of space weapons systems,” said Col. Sebrina Pabon, Test Pilot School commandant. The three-month program leverages world-class USAF TPS expertise and is designed to provide hands-on training in flight-test fundamentals, systems test, space science application, advanced space system test and evaluation, and broad exposure to the foremost centers of space operations and testing.
Aug. 24 — Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum directing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for service members. John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said only Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines will be mandatory. The secretary has determined — after careful consultation with medical experts and military leaders and with the support of the president — that mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for service members are necessary to protect the health and readiness of the force, Kirby said. On Aug. 23, the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals 16 years of age and older. Before Aug. 23, the vaccine was available for use through an FDA emergency use authorization.
Aug. 30 — The last U.S. service member departed Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boarded a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Donahue’s departure closes the U.S. mission to evacuate American citizens, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and vulnerable Afghans.
Aug. 31 — The commander of the 412th Test Wing, Brig. Gen. Matthew Higer, visited the weekly Coffee4VETS breakfast at a local diner in Lancaster. Speaking to the group of more than 50 veterans from different branches of service and encompassing conflicts from World War II to the war on terrorism, Brig. Gen. Matthew W. Higer thanked the veterans for their service to the country and encouraged all veterans to be proud of their service and commitment. “Less than .7 percent of Americans currently wear the uniform and only 6.5 percent of all adults have ever worn the uniform,” Higer said. “Many of us have bled and many of us have lost. Those are very important topics that many who are not associated with that 6.5 percent can learn from you.” Higer also thanked members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in attendance for their service as first responders saying “I’m on your team and I appreciate you having our back.”
Sept. 2 — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred Virgin Galactic from flying its SpaceShipTwo until the agency approves its final mishap investigation report from its July flight or determines the issues do not affect public safety.
The FAA confirmed on Wednesday it was investigating a deviation in the descent of the flight of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane that carried British billionaire Richard Branson to the edge of space on July 11.
The FAA, responsible for protecting the public during commercial space transportation launch and reentry, said “SpaceShipTwo deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America” in New Mexico.
“Virgin Galactic may not return the SpaceShipTwo vehicle to flight until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the agency said.
FAA cleared Virgin Galactic to return to flight on Sept. 29.
Sept. 11 — American’s across the world marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Locally, a multi-agency ceremony was held at the Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale.
Sept. 12 — T-38 Talons from the 416th Flight Test Squadron performed a flyover in Bishop, Calif. The flyover was to honor retired Air Force Col. Robert F. Waggoner at a memorial service. Waggoner passed away June 21. More than 100 family and friends gathered at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop to honor the memory of former Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war. The memorial service was organized by local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8988, of which Waggoner was a life member. On Sept. 12, 1966, while flying his 25th combat mission over North Vietnam, Waggoner’s aircraft was hit by hostile fire forcing him to eject over enemy territory. Due to a lack of communications over their target and no friendly eyewitnesses to his aircraft having been shot down, Waggoner was listed as missing in action for two years before his fate as a POW was confirmed. Waggoner was captured by the North Vietnamese and taken to the Hoa LÚ prison in Hanoi, North Vietnam which was given the nickname of “Hanoi Hilton” by the POW’s held there during the Vietnam War.
Oct. 2 — The Vanilla unmanned aircraft system completed a record-setting flight of 8 days, 50 minutes, and 47 seconds, and 12,200 miles of continuous flight, at Edwards AFB. The aircraft broke the world record for unrefueled, internal combustion endurance of an unmanned aircraft. Vanilla Unmanned is a prototype aircraft designed to meet a cost-effective, airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance demand. The aircraft was created by Platform Aerospace, a small business based out of Hollywood, Maryland. Platform Aerospace partnered with the 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (ET-CTF) to launch the aircraft from the Rogers Dry Lakebed, Sept. 24.
Oct. 13 — Blue Origin successfully completed its second human spaceflight on board New Shepard on Oct. 13, 2021. The flight included four astronauts, Dr. Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries, Audrey Powers, and William Shatner, as well as thousands of postcards from Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.
Oct. 18-22 — Students in the Antelope Valley studied with STEM professional when the 412th Test Wing hosted a series of virtual presentations designed to showcase the world of possibilities available to the youth through their study of science, technology, engineering, and math. The 2021 Virtual STEM event allowed students to connect directly online with engineers and others with STEM backgrounds, who have parlayed their schooling and knowledge into successful careers on the cutting edge of aerospace tests. Helida Vanhoy, 412th Test Wing STEM coordinator, enlisted the help of volunteers to talk about their unique experiences in the world of STEM.
“We are happy that we have such amazing volunteers at Edwards Air Force Base who were willing to give their own time. They helped to inspire our workforce of tomorrow; they did a great job,” Vanhoy said. Guest speakers included Col. Randel Gordon, 412th Test Wing vice commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Denisha Ward Swanigan, the 412th Test Wing command chief, who shared their story about how they got to where they are today.
Oct. 26 — The Skyborg team conducted a multi-hour flight test on October 26 of the Skyborg autonomy core system aboard two General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned vehicles during the Orange Flag 21-3 Large Force Test Event at Edwards. Skyborg is focused on demonstrating an open, modular, government-owned ACS that can autonomously aviate, navigate, and communicate, and eventually integrate other advanced capabilities. This experimentation event built upon the basic flight autonomy behaviors demonstrated at OF 21-2. The flight demonstrated matured capabilities of the ACS that enabled two MQ-20s to fly autonomously while communicating with each other to ensure coordinated flight. Additionally, the aircraft responded to navigational commands, stayed within specified geo-fences, and maintained flight envelopes. Both aircraft were monitored from a ground command and control station.
Nov. 11 — People from all over the area honored veterans during Veterans Day ceremonies in Mojave, Lancaster and Palmdale.
Nov. 8 — After 199 days in space, the longest-duration mission for a U.S. spacecraft, Dragon and the Crew-2 astronauts, Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet, returned to Earth, splashing down off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., at 10:33 p.m., EST, on Nov. 8. Dragon and the Crew-2 astronauts were quickly recovered by the SpaceX recovery team. SpaceX transported Dragon back to Cape Canaveral, Florida for inspections and refurbishment ahead of future human spaceflight missions. This mission marked multiple firsts for SpaceX and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, including being the first to fly two international partners, the first crew mission to use a flight-proven Dragon and Falcon 9, and the first U.S. spacecraft to spend 199 consecutive days in orbit.
Dec. 3 — In a sign of how different the holidays are this year, Edwards personnel gathered for Winterfest. Alongside the annual tree lighting ceremony, Santa Claus made an appearance. There was also hot cocoa, cookies, live music, and vendors. Troops for Trees was also on hand with Christmas trees.
Dec. 11 — Blue Origin successfully completed the third human spaceflight — the first with six astronauts on board. The astronaut manifest included, Laura Shepard Churchley (daughter of Alan Shepard), Michael Strahan, Evan Dick, Dylan Taylor, Cameron Bess, and Lane Bess.
“We had a great flight today. This was our sixth flight in what has been a great year for the New Shepard program. We flew 14 astronauts to space, flew a NASA payload flight that tested lunar landing sensors and completed our certification test flights,” said Bob Smith, CEO Blue Origin. “I want to thank our payload customers, our astronauts and, of course, Team Blue for these many important accomplishments. I am so proud to be part of this dedicated and hard-working team that ensures that each and every flight of New Shepard is safe and reliable. And, it’s fun to say that this is just the beginning.”
Dec. 16 — Northrop Grumman recently completed a significant milestone in the production of Australia’s first MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft when the aircraft fuselage was mounted onto Triton’s unique one-piece wing. Once completed and delivered, Triton’s powerful payload and endurance will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with the ability to detect and analyze threats that were previously undetectable. Northrop Grumman is building the Triton at its facility in Palmdale, Calif.
Dec. 17 — Northrop Grumman recognized 24 small businesses with World Class Team awards for their outstanding performance in support of the company’s cost, performance and supplier diversity objectives. “We are pleased to recognize some of our small business suppliers who performed superbly and demonstrated resiliency in spite of the challenges we faced,” said Patricia McMahon, vice president, corporate supply chain, Northrop Grumman. “These dedicated companies helped to strengthen our supply chain and contributed to our collective success.” One of the 24, Aero Bending Company, is based in Palmdale, Calif.
Dec. 18 — The holidays are a time of remembrance, and on a frosty Saturday morning, more than 150 volunteers paid tribute to the area’s veterans interred at Lancaster Cemetery. Fresh wreaths with red velvet ribbons were placed on the graves for the 12th year, as part of Wreaths Across America. Wreaths Across America is a national organization dedicated to “Remember, Honor and Teach,” by laying holiday wreaths on veterans’ graves the third Saturday each December, at Arlington National Cemetery and “at more than 2,500 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad,” according to their website.
After the flag salute, and a moment of silence, Dayle DeBry, Antelope Valley Cemetery district manager told the 100 or so volunteers: “We are all proud to be Americans who live in a free society made up of many people, from many walks of life. The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout the nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom without fear.”