An hour north of Los Angeles is the Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe.
It’s here at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., home of the Air Force Test Center and the 412th Test Wing, where General Chuck Yeager piloted his Bell X-1 in 1947 to break the sound barrier and many other aviation firsts occurred.
It’s also here, through the COVID-19 pandemic, that the Air Force continues to test and refine cutting-edge technology to support the warfighter and train the pilots to assess that technology at the Test Pilot School.
For Reserve Citizen Airmen, Edwards AFB presents unparalleled opportunities for career growth due to its one-of-a-kind test mission. Many of the Airmen who travel to the High Desert to support the test mission have done so multiple times and look forward to returning soon. Their training supports the Air Force Reserve Command’s long-standing mission to provide combat-ready forces to fly, fight and win.
The consensus is the unique test mission, close-knit Team Edwards community, and the variety of off-duty opportunities make Edwards AFB an ideal location to sharpen your skills. The contributions of the Reserve Citizen Airman are acknowledged by senior leadership.
“We’ve always depended on Total Force test professionals to execute the mission of the Air Force Test Center,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher Azzano, Air Force Test Center commander. “It’s clear we could not train our testers and develop next-generation combat power without Total Force participation. Our Reserve Component Airmen are an integral and inseparable part of our Test family.”
Brig. Gen. Mathew Higer, 412th Test Wing commander, expressed similar sentiments, “Total Force Airmen provide vital support across the entirety of the Test and Evaluation mission including exceptional contributions to research, experimental efforts, developmental test, operational test, tactics maturation, and advanced training. Many bring unique capabilities or perspectives from their civilian occupations that augment our mission.”
It’s a normal day at Edwards to see a B-52 or B-2 in the air followed shortly by an F-35 or F-22. As one Airmen noted, “it’s an air show every day.”
“At my home station I only work on one airframe. At Edwards, I work on seven different airframes. Being TDY here is a hands-on view of coming attractions,” said Senior Airman Nathan Nauta, electrical and environmental technician assigned to the 926th Maintenance Support Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
On his second TDY at Edwards AFB, Senior Airman Nauta will soon put his total time on station at a year-and-a-half. “I’m seeing tomorrow’s toys today. For maintainers, Edwards is definitely a must-do TDY. The active duty and the civilians have been great mentors.”
Nauta added, “I keep coming back because I keep learning. Because it’s a test base there’s an opportunity to see and learn things I would never see back at my squadron. It’s accelerated obtaining my 5 level.”
Aircrew egress specialist Senior Airman Alberto Rory, 482nd Fighter Wing, Homestead AFB, Fla., is an Edwards AFB rookie, “This place is as advertised! My supervisor told me about Edwards. He spent two years TDY here. I value the ability to not only grow, but share how we do things at my home base. Everyone’s so friendly it made the transition seamless.”
Rory’s squadron mate, Senior Airman Bethenokelm Volcy appreciates the hands-on experience, “I’ve had the opportunity to work on seven different ejection seats. Though some aircraft share the ACES II (Advanced Concept Ejection Seat) ejection seat, it’s configured differently for each airframe. This variety has translated into professional growth.” Both are looking forward to returning to Edwards AFB.
For the uninitiated, there’s perception that Edwards AFB is in the middle of nowhere.
Tech. Sergeant Corey Nichols, 177th Fighter Wing, Atlantic City International Airport, N.J., on his second tour at Edwards AFB, disagrees.
“It’s not in the middle of nowhere, it’s in the middle of everything. COVID-19 challenges notwithstanding, Los Angeles is at your doorstep.
You can ski in the morning and have dinner on the beach that night. There’s also Las Vegas, wine country is nearby and Disneyland is only two hours away.”
A non-destructive inspection technician, Nichols echoes the sentiments of his fellow maintainers, “I’ve learned a lot about my career field that I otherwise wouldn’t have. There’s benchmark practices here that I’ve already shared with my home station.”
For Tech. Sgt. Ronald Morgan, a vehicle and vehicular equipment maintenance specialist, 944th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., his first Edwards’ experience was in 1989 when he arrived on a school field trip to view the landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Decades later his two TDYs totaling over a year have left him equally impressed. “Edwards is a total hands-on experience. The new refueling truck, the Large Capacity Refuel Vehicle is a beast. I feel fortunate to have been able to operate it.”
Morgan added, “I would like to bring the rest of my guys out to Edwards to get signed off on equipment and experience the mentorship from the seasoned pros that I experienced. The first TDY at Edwards, I was able to get signed off on all of my 7-level core tasks and test out of CDCs.”
Maj. Jeff Dillard, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee, 412th Operations Group, provides flight test engineering expertise as a qualified Test Director, is now on his 12th year supporting Edwards AFB.
“I’ve always considered it an honor to work at the flight test capital of the world where so much aviation history was made and is still being made.”
Like others who come to Edwards AFB to support the test mission, Dillard also finds much to do in the area, “I enjoy exploring the greater local area such as the Lancaster Poppy Reserve, Red Rock Canyon Park, or venturing up into the Sequoia National Forest.”
Maj. Walton Dabney, Headquarters Washington Air National Guard, is teleworking as an assistant staff judge advocate from the Pacific Northwest. “The work is always interesting and though I’m a long way from the High Desert, I still feel like I’m part of Team Edwards. Its test mission offers unique legal challenges including complex contracts and memorandums of agreement for high-vis no-fail missions.”
Dabney said, “Speaking from my experience in the private sector, the scholarly acumen and ambition for excellence rivals top law firms and the legal departments of Fortune 500 companies.”
“It is a joy and an honor to provide the legal support to get the mission done. Doing so in a Reserve capacity allows me to meaningfully contribute, bring in my diverse expertise, balance family priorities with two young children at home and a working spouse,” said Maj. Andrea Carroll, an assistant staff judge advocate assigned as an IMA to the 412th Legal Office.
“There’s truly an appreciation for Total Force Airmen by senior leaders. Col. Christopher Manning (IMA to the 412th Test Wing commander) and the Wing Reserve Coordinator, Sandra Deering, provide amazing support,” said Carroll. “Having come directly off active duty there’s much about being a Reservist I was unfamiliar with. They helped smooth my transition to Edwards, and I truly understand what it’s like to juggle family obligations as well as not residing in the local area. Their personal touch makes Edwards easy for Reservists.”
Across Edwards AFB there are opportunities for Reserve Component Airmen that can’t be found anywhere else in the Air Force.
“I am an ardent supporter of the ‘Integration’ in Total Force Integration, particularly for Reserve Component Airmen who have civilian lives interconnected to the missions at Edwards and Air Force Plant 42,” said Higer. “I encourage anyone in the Total Force to take a close look at the opportunities at Edwards particularly if you are interested in science and cutting-edge capabilities at The Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe.”
“The mission of testing air, space, and cyberspace systems is challenging, rewarding, and critical for our nation’s defense,” said Azzano.
“Test is where future combat capabilities make first contact with the physical world. In the Test community, there is something for everyone interested in science, particularly as we evolve new capabilities that employ hypersonics, directed energy, artificial intelligence, and data science to deliver joint all-domain solutions to the battlespace.”
“I am thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and dedication of our Reserve Citizen Airmen participating at Edwards,” said Manning. “Our MPA allocation is limited, but as we are allocated additional resources we will have additional opportunities. It is greatly appreciated when ARC commanders send us their very best to test tomorrow’s technology today for our warfighter.”
For opportunities at Edwards AFB, contact the 412th TW reserve coordinator at 661-275-9298.