EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
An hour north of Los Angeles is the center of the aerospace testing universe. It’s here at Edwards Air Force Base, California, home of the Air Force Test Center and the 412th Test Wing, that Chuck Yeager piloted his Bell X-1in 1947 to break the sound barrier. Many other aviation firsts have occurred here since.
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 pilots to assess that technology at the Test Pilot School.
For Reserve Citizen Airmen, Edwards 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 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 an ideal location to sharpen your skills.
The contributions of the Reserve Citizen Airmen 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 TW 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,” he said. “Many bring unique capabilities or perspectives from their civilian occupations that augment our mission.”
It's normal at Edwards to see a B-52 or B-2 in the air followed shortly by an F-35 or F-22. As one Airman noted, “It’s an air show every day.”
“At my home station I only work on one airframe,” said Senior Airman Nathan Nauta, an electrical and environmental technician assigned to the 926th Maintenance Support Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nevada. “At Edwards, I work on seven different airframes. Being TDY here is a hands-on view of coming attractions.”
On his second TDY at Edwards, Nauta has spent a total of about a year and a half there.
“I’m seeing tomorrow’s toys today,” he said. “For maintainers, Edwards is definitely a must-do TDY. The active duty and civilians have been great mentors. 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 five-level.”
Aircrew egress specialist Senior Airman Alberto Rory, 482nd Fighter Wing, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, is an Edwards rookie.
“This place is as advertised,” he said. “My supervisor told me about Edwards. He spent two years TDY here. I value the ability to not only grow, but to 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, said he appreciates the hands-on experience.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work on seven different ejection seats,” he said. “Though some aircraft share the ACES II (Advanced Concept Ejection Seat), it’s configured differently for each airframe. This variety has translated into professional growth.”
Both Rory and Volcy said they are looking forward to returning to Edwards.
Maj. Jeff Dillard, an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to the 412th Operations Group who provides flight test engineering expertise as a qualified test director, is on his twelfth year supporting Edwards.
“I’ve always considered it an honor to work at the flight test capitol of the world where so much aviation history was made and is still being made,” he said.
Like others who come to Edwards to support the test mission, Dillard said he finds much to do in the area.
“I enjoy exploring the greater local area, places like the Lancaster Poppy Reserve or Red Rock Canyon Park, or venturing up into the Sequoia National Forest,” he said.
“It’s a joy and an honor to provide the legal support to get the mission done,” said Maj. Andrea Carroll, an assistant staff judge advocate assigned as an IMA to the 412th legal office. “Doing so in a Reserve capacity allow me to meaningfully contribute, bring in my diverse expertise, and balance family priorities with two young children at home and a working spouse.
“There’s truly an appreciation for Total Force Airmen by senior leaders," she added. "Col. Christopher Manning (IMA to the 412th Test Wing commander) and the wing reserve coordinator, Sandra Deering, provide amazing support. 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 they truly understand what it’s like to juggle family obligations as well as not reside in the local area. Their personal touch makes Edwards easy for Reservists.”
Across Edwards 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,” Higer said. “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,” Azzano said. “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,” Manning said. “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, contact the 412th TW Reserve coordinator at 661-275-9298. #ReserveReady
(Underwood was assigned to the 412th Test Wing public affairs office when this story was written.)