Historic First: Edwards AFB Lakebed Fly-In

The Rosamond Dry Lake Bed surface is impermeable, so after it rains, it dries up and cracks, forming a “potato chip effect” that feels smooth but creates a unique crunching sound. Photo by Brady Lane View the gallery

October 6, 2010 — Last week saw the first-ever Flight Test Nation Lakebed Fly-In, allowing private aircraft to land on the cracked clay surface known as Rosamond Dry Lake Bed at historic Edwards Air Force Base, California. A total of 2,263 pilots applied to participate and 100 were chosen in a special lottery, along with 20 alternates.

Final count had 98 airplanes flying in on Friday, October 1, and according to Bill Koukourikos of the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) Flight Safety Office, the number of people on the ramp exceeded 800, including aircraft passengers and those who chose to drive in.

EAA staffer Brady Lane was a lucky participant, flying in with EAAer Tim Hu, EAA 660935, in his Cessna 182. Hu, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, called his participation in the first ever civilian fly-in “an honor.” “I’m really proud to be one of the chosen ones, the first 98,” he said. “On final approach, I realized I was having the same view at that moment as Scott Crossfield, Chuck Yeager…the significance hasn’t completely sunk in yet.”

Along with the wide variety of standard category and vintage airplanes participating were 15 civilian-owned warbirds, and several homebuilts. A glider on display was the only aircraft present that had landed on the lakebed before.

Koukourikos noted that light-sport aircraft, jets, and rotorcraft were not eligible to participate for safety reasons. Jets could land but would have issues with the dust and dirt in their intakes, rotorcraft would blow too much dirt around, and LSA were excluded due to frequent high winds.

Pilots selected to fly in received a 16-page booklet on flight requirements, Hu noted. Landings took place on the 22,000-foot long, 300-foot wide Runway 20; departures occurred on 5,000-foot Runway 05. An estimated 25 miles of oil was used to mark the runways, taxi lines, and parking areas.

The lakebed surface is impermeable, so when it rains there can be up to 6 feet of standing water, said Dave Harrell, the civil engineering fly-in coordinator. The surface doesn’t absorb the rainwater, so when it evaporates, the surface first becomes extremely slick then dries up and cracks - forming the “potato chip effect” on the top surface. The surface felt smooth to land on and taxi across, but also created a unique crunching sound. Pilots described it as being a cross between sand, grass, and pavement. Participants first enjoyed a pancake breakfast, then attended several seminars related to safely flying in and near the base’s airspace, collision avoidance, and Edwards rich history. Following lunch and a weather briefing, pilots began departing on Runway 05.

View Brady Lane's photo gallery