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. . . and in the Air : Chuck Yeager Will Launch Air Show Sunday With Re-enactment of the Famous 1947 Flight

November 07, 1987|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

The place was so unknown, its science so misunderstood and the pilot so obscure that the first newspaper report of his achievement misspelled his name. Twice.

"The dread barrier to supersonic speeds was conquered at Muroc Air Base," thundered the 1947 story in the Los Angeles Times, "when Capt. Charles Yaeger , Air Force flyer, hurtled the XS-1 rocket plane through the wall to shatter a legend of its invincibility."

In the 40 years since, everything has changed.

Supersonic flying has gone from super military secret to daily routine.

Unpaved Muroc Field has grown from a cluster of unkempt structures into Edwards Air Force Base, the world's most sophisticated flight test center.

Yeager became an Air Force brigadier general, celebrity author, a symbol of all daring and maybe the world's most famous pilot. At 64, and far from retired to Grass Valley, Calif., he continues to tweak the technology of experimental flight as a consulting test pilot.

And on Sunday, as a dramatic overture for Edwards Air Force Base's annual Open House and air show, Yeager will repeat his past.

He will be strapped into an F-4 Phantom II jet fighter at the 10:50 a.m. start of the event and climb once more above the Tehachapi Mountains and Rogers Dry Lake.

There, he'll accelerate to crack the sound barrier again--and this time, with about 500,000 people watching.

"We don't want to concern anyone on the ground," base spokesman Don Haley said. "No bleeding ears. We don't want to startle anyone or cause property damage. So, depending on the weather, we expect Gen. Yeager to make his sonic boom at about 20,000 feet."

It may be, Haley said, the first time that a military air show has been opened with the official bang of approved supersonic flight.

But then this is Edwards AFB.

"We feel that our show is special because this is where most of it first happened," Haley explained. "This is where the United States' first jet, the XP-59, the Bell Airacomet, first flew in 1942.

"It was brought out here by rail with a wooden propeller in its nose to disguise its role. Edwards has been the home of all the 'X' (Experimental) series airplanes from Gen. Yeager's X-1 to the X-15 that in 1967 flew higher (350,000 feet) and faster (4,534 m.p.h.) than any winged aircraft and still holds those records.

"Neil Armstrong was a NASA test pilot here. Bob Hoover flew as Gen. Yeager's backup pilot. This is where the space shuttles land. . . ."

Military open houses traditionally display the aircraft based at the facility and a few interesting visiting planes.

At Edwards, Haley continued, displaying base aircraft means exhibiting just about everything in the Air Force inventory "plus a number of aircraft you'll never find anywhere else . . . the fighter airplanes, the bombers, the experimental aircraft."

Much public interest will be with the ground display of singular aircraft that are the high-flying, over-flying mainstay of the nation's airborne surveillance mission--the Lockheed TR-1 (Tactical Reconnaissance) descendant of the U-2 spy plane and the SR-71 (Strategic Reconnaissance) Blackbird, a 2,100-m.p.h. bat built by Lockheed.

Bombers Featured

A range of bombers from all combat eras will be featured. A privately owned B-17 Flying Fortress, a four-engine relic of World War II and the 8th Air Force over Berlin, will lumber in for the show. There will be a B-52 of the Vietnam era on display, plus the Air Force's newest first-line middleweight, the swing-wing B-1B by Rockwell International.

For fighter fans, the 4 1/2-hour show will be stuffed with low-level and high-speed aerobatics by aircraft on the leading edge of America's aviation technology.

The F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Falcon will fly individual routines. So will the Air Force heavies, the B-52 Stratofortress and the KC-135 refueling tanker. A C-130 Hercules will perform an air drop and there will be a demonstration by a unique, much-modified F-111 fighter-bomber.

"It is testing what we call a 'mission adaptive wing,' " Haley explained. "The wing has no ailerons or flaps but warps and flexes in flight, either automatically or by manual command from the pilot.

"It bends like a bird's wing . . . going back to some original work by the Wright Brothers."

The Grumman X-29, probably the most radical fighter in the world, will be available for close inspection but no clambering.

The X-29 currently is exploring the realm of flight on composite, forward-swept wings in the belief that the configuration reduces drag while improving lift and maneuverability.

Such design makes the supersonic jet unstable to the point where a pilot's physical responses are just not fast enough. So six computers must be used to control flight attitudes. Without their microsecond reflexes, the airplane would tumble and break apart.

The show's 2:15 p.m. closer, almost by tradition, will be a pinpoint, split-second, inches-apart performance by the USAF Thunderbirds, the Air Force's formation aerobatic team flying F-16s.

"It promises to be quite a celebration," added Haley. "This year is the 40th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier . . . also the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force."

Gates Close at 1 p.m.

As with all important parties, this one promises to be overcrowded. Last year, spectators were waiting at the base gates at daylight. This year, advised Haley, early arrival is recommended for "if you're not inside and parked by 1 p.m. when we close the gates, you're not going to see the show."

Edwards AFB is in the Mojave Desert, 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, about 20 miles east of Rosamond on Highway 14.

The public may call (805) 277-NEWS for Open House information. Or follow the signs from Palmdale. Or drive to Rosamond, look skyward and listen.

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