Written by MOAH Collections intern Joshua Segura
Edwards Air Force Base is a United States Air Force Installation located in the Antelope Valley between Kern County, Los Angeles County, and San Bernardino County. It was established in 1933 as Muroc Field and has since remained an important flight-testing site and school. The name, Edwards Air Force Base, has become synonymous with the Antelope Valley and its nearby industries. The fascinating life of the man that prompted the name change in 1950 is a tale of American bravery and tragedy in the Antelope Valley.
Edwards Air Force Base in California, 2007|Image source: Glen W. Edwards | This Day in Aviation
Glen Edwards was born March 5th, 1918, in Alberta, Canada and was the son of Claude Gustin Edwards and Mary Elizabeth. His father, from Michigan, had decided to homestead in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. The investment didn’t pay off, as a drought quickly hit the area and forced Claude Edwards to sell the property. After selling the property, the family drove in their Model T Fords and migrated to California.
After a brief time of living in tents in present day Los Angeles, the family relocated to Northern California and established themselves in their new home of Lincoln, a small town north of Sacramento. In 1931, Claude bought 12 acres of land and there after a large ranch was carved up. Glen Edwards and his siblings would ultimately grow up here and help on the farm when not in school.
Young Glen Edwards attended Lincoln High School where he would be called “peewee” for his briefly short stature. He played on the tennis team and also proved to be proficient in the Spanish language, so much so, that he became a part of the Spanish Club and wrote for a Spanish paper named “El Eco” (The Echo).
Following his graduation in 1936 he attended Placer Junior College 11 miles away from Lincoln in Rocklin, California. Following the completion of his studies there, he was accepted into University of California, Berkeley, where he would grow into a lover of skiing and even took a year off to teach it at a local club. He graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in chemistry in June of 1941.
One month after receiving his degree, with much of Europe and Asia engulfed in war, Edwards enlisted in the United States as an aviation cadet. He officially began his training that same month at Cal Aero Academy near Ontario, California. On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States joined the war abroad. The war thrusted Edwards into the line of battle where he kept a diary, now since published, about his time in the military and career as a test pilot after the war that he continued until is death.
His training took him to various areas of the United States and gave him a wide range of aviation experience. He had stints at: Boeing’s Flying Fortress in Boise, Idaho; Will Rogers’ Field in Oklahoma City, Greensboro, North Carolina; Chicopee, Massachusetts; and more. Following these trainings, Edwards’ squadron, the 86th Light Bombardment Squadron, was sent overseas. Throughout his military service he flew with a Douglas A-20 Havoc Fighter.
The squadron had little knowledge of the military plans for them. Since they were being stationed in Britain, many believed they would be performing bombing runs over German occupied France. However, the military in reality had the intention of deploying them to take part in the Allied invasion of French North Africa following Operation Torch.
Tunisia was the focus for the Allies and so the squadron saw much terrifying combat there and suffered their first casualties, especially during the Battle of Kasserine Pass where German forces were attempting to break through gaps in the line on the ground. At one point his squadron ran 11 combat missions in a single day. They even set a record by finishing one of the missions in just 19 minutes. Edwards would call this battle as “humiliating” however the Germans and Italians failed to take advantage of the victory operationally and eventually lost the battle for control of Tunisia and eventually North Africa. The squadron would later receive a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for their service in the Tunisian campaign. Edwards would also be promoted to Captain in April of 1943, allowing for increased funds to be returned home to his family.
Two U.S. Army Air Force Douglas A-20B-DL Havoc light bombers in Tunisia, 1943, like those Edwards flew over North Africa in World War 2|Image Source: Glen W. Edwards | This Day in Aviation
Following the Tunisian campaign, the Allies looked toward an invasion of Sicily. Here Edwards and his squadron would see action one last time. They bombarded the enemy to soften the resistance to the landings and invasion of the islands. The operation was successful and after Italy declared war on Germany, Edwards was sent back home on leave. For his service in both campaigns, he was awarded four Flying Crosses and 6 Air Medals.
Lt. Glen W. Edwards|Image Source: Glen W. Edwards | This Day in Aviation
Later, Edwards was assigned to Florence Field in South Carolina to train new pilots. He was very soon after dispatched to write a manual for A-20 planes, as he now had extensive experience with them. He was assigned to the Pilot Standardization Board and sent to Princeton University where he received his Master’s in Aeronautical Engineering. Edwards continued his passion of piloting by becoming a test pilot at various locations including Wright Field and eventually Muroc Army Airfield, a career he would have until his death.
Capt. Glenn Edwards|Image Source: Namesakes: Glen Edwards | Air & Space Forces Magazine (airandspaceforces.com)
Muroc Army Airfield, located in the Antelope Valley, became an ideal spot for the military to test various fighters due the leveled low desert ground provided by the dry lakebed. When he arrived at Muroc he noticed the lack of funding present, especially after the war. He immediately began to scope out nearby land in Muroc and the town of Mojave stating it had “nothing but bars”. He also heard stories of other fighter pilots that had lost their lives in various accidents nearby.
During his test piloting career, he tested XB-42 Mixmaster, Convair XB-56, and the Northrup N-9M. He was as distinguished as a test pilot as he was in active military service with his country. He and Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden set a transcontinental speed record by flying from the west coast to the east coast in 5 hours and 17 minutes (flying at about 433 mph). He was also recommended by Major Robert Cardenas to fly the Bell X-1 to break the sound barrier.
Tragically, in May of 1948, Glen Edwards, at the age of 30, and a crew of test pilots were testing a Northup YB-49 at Muroc. Edwards had noted the instability and uncontrollability of the aircraft prior to a subsequent test flight. After takeoff, the plane broke apart in the sky and fell back into the desert terrain (near the town of Mojave), and all lives were lost.
Edwards’ remains are buried back in Lincoln, California. Muroc Airfield was renamed Edwards Air Force Base in 1950 and remains a highly important test flight location and military installation within the United States.