December 29, 1943: Col Signa A. Gilkey Recommended Main Base Muroc Training Mission Placed Under Materiel Command

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  • Army Air Forces

The chief of Wright Field’s Flight Section, Col Signa A. Gilkey, recommended that the main base at Muroc be divested of its training mission and placed under the jurisdiction of Materiel Command. The combined Army airfield and flight test site would then be used exclusively for the flight-testing and accelerated service testing of new aircraft types. This would be justified by Muroc’s inherent advantages of weather and runways, plus the large number of new aircraft types being produced on the West Coast. Besides the P-59, numerous other flight test projects were already being conducted at each of the two desert bases.

Colonel Signa A. Gilkey, Muroc Army Air Field commander, submitted to SBAMA the Land Purchase Requirements necessary to accommodate the Army Air Forces’ future flight-test needs. Approximately 190 square miles of additional private land adjoining the base on the north, west, and south would be required for a new main runway that could be extended to 18 miles. It also provided for safety air clearance zones, a new housing area located a secure distance from flying activities, and for moving the railroad crossing Rogers Dry Lake.

The first major aerial activity occurred at Muroc in 1937 when the entire Army Air Corps participated in a large-scale maneuver. From then on, the bombing range grew in size.  When Arnold became Chief of the Air Corps in 1938, the service was given a renewed focus on research and development. Muroc Field drew attention, because the nearby dry lake was so flat (Arnold described it as "level as a billiard table that it could serve as a giant runway, ideal for flight testing. Over $120 million was spent to develop the base in the 1940s and expand it to 301,000 acres. The base's main 15,000-foot runway was completed in a single pour of concrete.

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, 20 July 1942, takes pleasure in presenting the Legion of Merit to Colonel Signa A. Gilkey, United States Air Force, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States with the Far East Air Forces in Korea, from 14 April 1951 to 12 January 1952. The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Colonel Gilkey reflect the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.


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