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Pilots Grab Rare Chance to Land at US Air Force Base

One hundred join fly-in at historic Edwards AFB in California desert

Civilian pilots came from across the United States to take part in the fly-in event at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Civilian pilots came from across the United States to take part in the fly-in event at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Multimedia

Mike O'Sullivan

One hundred private pilots got a rare chance to land on the dry lakebed of Edwards Air Force Base, where aviation pioneers have set many speed and altitude records, and where the space shuttle sometimes lands.

The civilian flyers came from across the United States to take part in the first-of-its kind event. They arrived at the desert air base northeast of Los Angeles in refurbished military aircraft from World War II and other small private planes. Graham Mancur says he was excited.

"Gosh, it's not every day you get to land on space shuttle-like lake beds at Air Force bases," said Graham Mancur, who is from Orange County, California. "It's really cool, and to see the test pilot zone where they tested everything in the 1960s, and I guess the '70s."

The lucky pilots were chosen from more than 2,000 who applied. The former base commander, Maj. Gen. David Eichhorn, says the exercise gives private pilots a better understanding of the base and surrounding air space.

"It's actually shared use air space for a lot of it, so we want the civilians to know what we do here, so we can all share the air space safely," he says.

And that's an honor for these civilian pilots, operating cargo and non combat planes retired and sold by the military.

There was even time to socialize and pick up souvenirs at the event. And the warm and sunny California desert weather was ideal for flying.

"The air is great," says pilot Greg Scates. "The dust is non-existent. It's perfect right now."

Charlie Tipton spent 10 days flying from eastern Pennsylvania to California in a small surveillance plane built for the US Air Force in the 1940s.

"We talk about fly low, fly slow in these kinds of airplanes," says Tipton. "But in addition to being able to do that, because I have a radio and a transponder, I can actually go places, and I do - to wit, I'm here."

Flyers shared their experiences and got a look at other airplanes, including classic wartime aircraft known as war-birds. Carl Scholl made the landing in a restored World War II B-25.

"This particular airplane never saw service in World War II, but it was in the training command," he says. "After the war, it was a firefighter. It was used in a bunch of movies - "Catch-22" and "Pearl Harbor" and a few things like that."

An Air Force spokesman says there are no current plans to repeat the civilian fly-in. For the pilots who got the chance to land their private planes at the historic air base, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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