Landing on a dry lakebed can be challenging but exciting, and 98 general aviation pilots got to have that experience this month, thanks to the first-ever GA fly-in at Edwards Air Force Base. "This is a uniquely Edwards event. Only Edwards has lakebed runways," said Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, Air Force Flight Test Center commander, as he welcomed the arrivals on Oct. 1. Most of the pilots lived in the area, but James Simmons flew in from Connecticut in his Mooney M20, and others arrived from Texas and Michigan. More than 2,000 pilots entered the lottery to win the 100 fly-in slots for the chance to land on the same kind of runway as aviation icons like Scott Crossfield, Chuck Yeager and the space shuttle crews. With passengers and drive-in visitors, the Air Force hosted about 800 people for the all-day event.
The lakebed has an unusual "potato-chip" surface that is dusty and crunchy to land on, and the wide flat area lacks visual cues to help pilots judge their height above the ground. Runways are marked with miles of oil. The GA pilots arrived via Runway 20, which is 22,000 feet long by 300 feet wide. About 15 warbirds were also invited. The day began with a pancake breakfast, followed by a movie about the X-15 program, and a discussion about the Edwards airspace and strategies for GA pilots to avoid unpleasant encounters with military jets. Departures were a little earlier than planned due to impending thunderstorms. The last GA airplane left by 2:30 p.m. The organizers said they may host another GA fly-in in 2012. For updates, visit FlightTestNation.com.