Down to Earth

CLUI photo

A 2013 aerial image, taken by a kite-mounted camera, of the charred remains of an experimental, unmanned, remote-control, mach-2 jet aircraft known as an X-10. It crashed and burned in 1955, on private land near El Mirage Dry Lake, California. CLUI photo

DOWN TO EARTH: Experimental Aircraft Crash Sites

Since the dawn of the jet and space ages, Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles, has been the principal place for testing experimental aircraft. As a result, the landscape around it is peppered with crash sites. These crash sites represent the meeting of the apogee of American technological sophistication, with the perigee of failure—the intersection of lofted ambition and terrestrial tragedy.

The eleven crashes described in this exhibit were selected from among the hundreds that have occurred in the Mojave Desert, and cover the range of experimentation and advancement of aircraft over the past 70 years of jet-propelled flight. With one exception, all of these flights originated at Edwards, where they were expected to return. Instead they crashed outside, in the public realm, where they remain as accidental monuments to one of the most advanced forms of technology and human endeavor.

This CLUI exhibit was based on the work of Peter W. Merlin who, with Tony Moore, founded the X-Hunters Aerospace Archeology Team, the nation’s experts on locating crash sites of experimental aircraft. Merlin and Moore have studied and documented aerospace accidents and incidents for more than 25 years, and have located and visited more than 100 crash sites of historic aircraft from Edwards Air Force Base and Area 51.

2013 CLUI Research Project


A Selection of Experimental Aircraft Crash Sites in the Mojave:

YB-49 (JUNE 5, 1948)

X-10 (FEBRUARY 22, 1955)

X-2 (SEPTEMBER 27, 1956)

F-100D ZEL (APRIL 11, 1958)

NF-104A (DECEMBER 10, 1963)

XB-70 (JUNE 8, 1966)

X-15 (NOVEMBER 15, 1967)

B-1A (AUGUST 24, 1984)


X-31 (JANUARY 19, 1995)

F-22A (MARCH 24, 2009)