Edwards moves forward to restore historic street names

  • Published
  • By Dr. Stephanie Smith & Stephen K. Robinson
  • Air Force Flight Test Center History Office & 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office
Flight Test Nation's streets once again will bear the names of aerial pioneers who have contributed to Edward's unique history and heritage.

"Over the years, Edwards has named its streets for people, military and civilian alike, who have made significant contributions to the Army Air Corps, Air Force and Edwards," Ms. Michelle Perry, 95th Air Base Wing Civil Engineering community planner, said.

As the number of personnel stationed at Edwards continued to increase, the original and older housing tracts were replaced with newer ones. Through the process, and for many different reasons, street names were also changed and the memorialized names disappeared; names that tell of Army Air Corps/Air Force and Edwards history.

"It was recently suggested that we rename as many of the streets as possible that were lost when the Pacific Winds housing area was raised last year," Ms. Perry said. "Ten names that were lost will be reinstituted on Monday."

Names like Lindbergh, Doolittle, Rickenbacker and Mitchell, U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force test pilots, military and civilian, pilots, scientists and engineers, deceased and living, many whose careers brought them through Edwards, and whose flying not only changed Air Force history, but U.S. and world history as well.

"Many U.S. military installations name their roads, streets and courts for someone who has made significant contributions to that service, or some significant event in that service's history. It is really no different here. As a matter of fact, there are already a good number of travel ways here named for significant Air Force contributors; Yeager, for Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles "Chuck" Yeager, Air Force test pilot and first human to break the sound barrier; Fitz-Gerald, for Air Force Capt. James Fitz-Gerald, test pilot and second human to break the sound barrier; Wolfe, for Joseph Wolfe, test pilot; Forbes, Air Force Maj. Daniel Forbes, Air Force test pilot who died here in 1948 in a YB-49 Flying Wing accident; and Popson, for Air Force Maj. Raymond Popson, test pilot who died here at Edwards in 1953, to name a few," Dr. James Young, Air Force Flight Test Center chief historian said.

The namesake of this base, Edwards, is for Air Force Capt. Glen Edwards, Air Force test pilot who died here at Muroc Air Field in 1948, the original name of Edwards Air Force Base, when the Northrop YB-49, and all-jet version of the flying wing, when the airplane he was co-piloting departed from controlled flight and broke apart in the sky northwest of the base.

"Some of the current and future names of our streets are better known than others but all played important parts in the advancement of aviation in the U.S. and around the world. Take for example retired Air Force Gen. Jimmy Doolittle when as a Maj. he lead a B-25 squadron raid on Tokyo from the flight deck of the U.S.S. Hornet (CV-12)," Dr. Stephanie Smith, Air Force Flight Test Center historian said. "He attended the Aeronautical Engineering Course at McCook Field, Ohio. In July 1923, after serving as a test pilot and aeronautical engineer at McCook Field, Doolittle entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he received his S.M. in Aeronautics from MIT in June 1924 and his Sc.D. in Aeronautics, in June 1925. In 1929, he became the first pilot to take off, fly and land an airplane using instruments alone. "

In addition to the Medal of Honor for the Tokyo raid, Gen Doolittle also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, four Air Medals, and decorations from Great Britain, France, Belgium, Poland, China, and Ecuador.

"There are many who deserve memorialzation, and we feel the best are represented here at Edwards," Dr. Smith said.

Another Medal of Honor recipient is Army Air Corps Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, America's "Ace of Aces" and America's top ace of World War I.

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Rickenbacker decided to apply for flight school with the U.S. Army Air Service. He was rejected because he was too old and did not have a college education. Instead, he joined the Army and because of his fame as a driver, he was assigned to the post of personal driver to General John Pershing. This post offered him opportunities to meet many of the most important officers of the war, including Billy Mitchell, combat air commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. While driving Mitchell, Rickenbacker was able to convince Mitchell to transfer him to flight school.

Rickenbacker received his wings after 17 days of training and was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron based outside of Toule, France. After coaching by ace Raoul Lufbery, he had his first shared victory on April 29, 1918, and his first solo on May 7. Flying Nieuport 28 and Spad XIII aircraft, Rickenbacker scored 24 more victories before the war ended. His fighting technique was to fly close to the enemy aircraft, closer than others dared, and then fire his guns. Occasionally, his gun jammed and he escaped only due to good luck. He lost several planes and sometimes returned to base with a fuselage full of bullet holes and once with a mark on his helmet from a passing enemy bullet. But his luck always held up, even on September 25, when he single-handedly attacked a flight of 5 Fokker D.VIIs and 2 Halberstadt CL.IIs and downed one of each type of plane. For this action he received the Medal of Honor--the highest medal given by the U.S. military. When the Armistice was declared he was flying over the trenches, and down below in "No Man's Land" he saw soldiers of both sides celebrating as "friends never to shoot at each other again."

Rickenbacker returned to the United States a national hero, a position he knew was fleeting. He was promoted to the rank of major, but he felt that the captain's rank was the one he had earned and used that title for the rest of his life.

Rickenbacker was a popular speaker, traveling the country promoting aviation. Twenty-five different cities credited him with helping to persuade their local governments to develop airports.

"And yet another aviator is Charles Lindbergh, also a Medal of Honor recipient" Dr. Smith added.

Although just 22 years old, Lindbergh was already a skilled pilot when he enlisted in the Army Air Service in 1924. A year later, he graduated from flight training school in San Antonio at the top of his class. After completing his army service, he took a job as chief pilot with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis, inaugurating a commercial airmail route between that city and Chicago. By his mid-twenties, Lindbergh had logged hundreds of hours in the air and been forced to parachute to safety at least four times. Still, the fearless young flyer's greatest--and most dangerous--adventure was yet to come.

In 1919, Raymond Orteig, a New York hotel-owner, had offered $25,000 to the first aviator to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Eight years later, with the prize money still unclaimed, Lindbergh persuaded nine St. Louis businessmen to share the $10,580 cost of custom-building an airplane, expressly to go after it. He named the Ryan Aeronautical Company's M-2 strut-based monoplane the Spirit of St. Louis.

About two hours after sunrise on May 20, 1927, Lindbergh taxied his small, single-engine aircraft down the rainy runway at Long Island's Roosevelt Field. It was so loaded down with fuel that it almost touched the trees and telephone wires near the field during its 7:52 a.m. takeoff. Using a magnetic compass to navigate, the 25-year-old aviator--dubbed "the Flying Kid" or "the Flying Fool" by a skeptical press corps--charted a course north-northeast over the Atlantic.

Nearly a day later, with great relief, Lindbergh spotted the southwestern coast of Ireland. He flew over the British Commonwealth republic, then over England and the English Channel.

Thirty-three and one-half hours and 3,610 miles (5,810 kilometers) after leaving New York, Lindbergh made aviation history when he landed at Le Bourget field near Paris at 10:21 p.m. The exhausted young flyer was instantly mobbed by thousands of jubilant admirers from whom he literally had to be rescued by French police.

After being feted by British and European monarchs, Lindbergh returned to New York, where he received a hero's welcome from four million people. In Washington, President Calvin Coolidge awarded Lindbergh the first-ever Distinguished Flying Cross. The U.S. Congress presented him with the Medal of Honor. He was promoted from lieutenant to colonel in the Army Air Corps reserves.

For the next five years, "Lucky Lindy" or "the Lone Eagle," as Lindbergh now was known to an adoring public, continued to live a hero's life. He flew the Spirit of St. Louis to all 48 states to promote the neophyte commercial aviation industry, then took it on a goodwill tour of Latin America.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Lindbergh tried to rejoin the military. Roosevelt blocked the move. However, in 1944, in the guise of civilian test pilot, Lindbergh flew some 50 combat missions over the South Pacific before senior commanders learned of the ruse and grounded him.

In May 1945, following the Allied victory in Europe, the U.S. government asked Lindbergh once again assess Germany's air capabilities, this time focusing on its V-2 rocket program. Lindbergh gratefully obliged. Aware of Lindbergh's war service and his historic contributions to flight, President Dwight D. Eisenhower later restored Lindbergh's military commission, promoting him to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

"One does not have to be a Medal of Honor recipient to be memorialized," Dr. Smith.

Over the years, the Air Force memorialization program has provided lasting honor and tribute to those, living or deceased, who have given outstanding and honorable service to the military or the U.S. Air Force, including national military heroes, early aviation pioneers, and those who made significant contributions to the development of airpower or the U.S. Air Force.

"In order to minimize the impact on base residents, no inhabited residential streets were chosen for re-naming. By mid-June 2010, Civil Engineering will place some 50 new signs at intersections and corners. A ceremony celebrating the rededication of Doolittle Parkway is also planned for June," Ms. Perry said.