November 25, 2008: Captain Edwards Diaries

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The Air Force Flight Test Center Museum received several diaries by Capt. Glen W. Edwards, a military test pilot who perished  June 5, 1948 while co-piloting a YB-49 “flying wing” bomber prototype. The diaries were donated by his surviving family. On December 8, 1949, Muroc Air Force Base was redesignated Edwards AFB in honor of Capt. Edwards

Captain Edwards was born March 5, 1916, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, where he lived until 1931. At age 13, his parents Claude Gustin Edwards, a real estate salesman, and Mary Elizabeth Edwards moved the family to California, settling in Lincoln, northeast of Sacramento. He attended Lincoln High School, where he was a member of the Spanish Club and worked on the school newspaper, "El Eco". After graduating from high school in 1936, he attended Placer Junior College in Auburn, California, eventually transferring to UC Berkeley.  World War II.  After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, Edwards enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces on July 15, 1941, five months before Pearl Harbor, as an aviation cadet. Upon completion of flight training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at Luke Field, Arizona, in February 1942. Assigned to the 86th Light Bombardment Squadron of the 47th Bombardment Group, he departed for the North African Theater of Operations as a flight commander in October 1942. There he led his flight of A-20s on extremely hazardous, low-level missions against German tanks, convoys, troop concentrations, bridges, airfields, and a variety of other tactical targets.

When the Germans broke through the Kasserine Pass in February 1943, his undermanned and undersupplied squadron flew eleven missions in a single day, repeatedly attacking advancing armored columns and blunting their thrust. On one of these missions, Edwards and his crew set a record by completing a combat mission—from takeoff to landing—in just 19 minutes. His squadron received a Distinguished Unit Citation for this action.

During his tours in the North African campaign and the invasion of Sicily, Edwards completed 50 combat missions and was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses and six Air Medals.  Returning to the United States in December 1943, he was assigned to the Pilot Standardization Board at Florence Army Air Field, South Carolina, and then, in late 1944, to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, Ohio. He graduated from the Air Materiel Command Flight Performance School (initial designation of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School)  there in May 1945 and was assigned to the Bomber Test Operations Section  Although assigned to Wright Field, he spent much of his time at Muroc Army Air Field, in California's high desert, testing a wide variety of experimental prototypes such as Douglas' highly unconventional pusher-prop light bomber, the XB-42 Mixmaster. In December 1945, he and Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Warden set a new transcontinental speed record when they flew this airplane from Long Beach, California, to Bolling Air Force Base, in Washington, D.C., in just five hours, 17 minutes.

In 1946, he was the principal project pilot for the jet-powered Convair XB-46 prototype bomber. It was also during this period that he acquired his first experience with a flying wing, as he familiarized himself with the flying qualities of the Northrop N-9M, a single-seat, one-third scale mock-up of the giant XB-35 prototype bomber.  His superb skills as a pilot, engineer and officer were held in such high esteem that his immediate superior, Major Robert Cardenas, recommended him as project pilot for an unprecedented program—the first attempt to exceed the speed of sound in the Bell X-1. That assignment, however, went to Capt. Chuck Yeager.  Edwards was, instead, selected to be among the first to be sent to Princeton University for graduate study in the aeronautical sciences. The recent war had spawned truly revolutionary advances in aviation technology and it had become apparent to men such as Col. Albert Boyd, the chief of the Flight Test Division, that a new breed of military test pilot—one who combined the talents of a highly skilled pilot with the technical expertise of an engineer—would be required to effectively evaluate increasingly complex aircraft and onboard systems. Thus, when Glen Edwards graduated from Princeton with a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1947, he represented one of the first of this new breed.

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