• Commentary: Pancho Barnes: A Trailblazer in Aviation

    Florence Leontine Lowe, better known as Pancho Barnes, is best known for her pioneering spirit and larger-than-life persona. Born in 1901, she quickly overcame any challenges to become a legendary figure in American aviation.Married at a young age, Barnes soon discovered her passion for flight.


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The Air Force Test Center (AFTC) is headquartered at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), Calif, and constitutes an enterprise in excess of $31 billion in assets.  More than 18,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel are employed by the center.  The center executes its mission by conducting research, developmental test and evaluation of air, ground, space and cyber systems.  These tests provide timely, objective and accurate information to decision makers in order to improve 'forging our nation’s sword and shield."

The center claims its roots and heritage from the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC).  AFFTC officially activated on June 25, 1951 and originally reported to the Air Research and Development Center, which later became the Air Force Systems Command.  During its days as AFFTC, the center also pioneered aeronautic research, including such famous aircraft as the Bell X-1, which broke the sound barrier, and the North American X-15, which upped the speed record to Mach 6.72 on Oct. 3, 1967.  On July 1,1992, AFFTC transferred to Air Force Materiel Command.  AFFTC earned an Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, which covered the period of calendar years 1987-1988.  The organization also earned four Air Force Outstanding Unit awards.  These awards ranged from calendar years 1975-1976, 1979-1980, 1983-1984, and 1987-1988.

On July 6, 2012, the aforementioned AFFTC redesignated as the Air Force Test Center (AFTC).  This resulted from a major reorganization within AFMC.  Prior to July 6, 2012, AFTC consisted of two subordinate wings; the 95th Air Base Wing (ABW) which provided installation support for all units on Edwards AFB, and.on the operational side, the 412th Test Wing (TW) conducted aircraft testing and evaluation on the installation.

During the same month, the redesignated 96 TW, a combination of the former 96 ABW, the former 46 TW, the former Air Armament Center at Eglin AFB, Fla, and the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base, TN, also came under control of AFTC.

AFTC conducts developmental and follow-on testing and evaluation of manned and unmanned aircraft and related avionics, flight-control, munitions and weapon systems.  It has flight tested every aircraft in the Army Air Force's and the United States Air Force's inventory since World War II.   AFTC also operates the USAF Test Pilot School, which trains test pilots, flight-test engineers, and flight-test navigators.  The center employs nearly 13,000 military, civilian and contractors, and oversees the second largest base in the Air Force.

AFTC’s work force, civilian, military and contractor, work together to flight test and evaluate new aircraft and upgrades to aircraft already in the inventory for Air Force units, the Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other government agencies.  Upgrades to be tested, included improvements to radar, weapons-delivery, navigation systems, automated ground collision avoidance software (AGCS) and a system to give tactical pilots the ability to strike ground targets from low altitudes, both at night and in adverse weather conditions.

AFTC develops, operates and maintains the Edwards Flight Test Range and Utah Test and Training Range.  The center provides test infrastructure, overhead support for development, and operational test and evaluation support for aerospace research vehicles.

Some AFTC resources include:

  • Edwards AFB: the test and evaluation mission simulator, the Benefield Anechoic Facility, Ridley Mission Control, and the Integration Facility for Avionics Systems Testing. 
  • Eglin AFB:  McKinley Climatic Laboratory and 120,000 square miles of over-water test ranges. 
  • Arnold AFB:  More than 68 aerodynamic and propulsion wind tunnels, rocket and turbine engine test cells, environmental chambers, arc heaters, ballistic ranges, sled tracks, centrifuges and other specialized units.