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NOTS patch

NWC patch

NAWS patch

NAWC patch

01 Nov 1943 - 01 Jul 1967
Patch from G. Verver
01 Jul 1967 - 22 Jan 1992
Patch from G. Verver
22 Jan 1992 -
Patch from G. Verver
Patch from G. Verver



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UNEXPECTED ORIGINS, UNPREDICTED EXPANSION (courtesy of, and copyright by, Leroy Doig).

  • In the mid-1930s the CAA granted Trans-Sierra Airlines a route between Fresno, CA and Phoenix, AZ provided that an emergency landing field be built in the Mojave Desert. As a result Kern County purchased land and the CAA/WPA built a paved runway one mile northwest of the small town of Inyokern. The airport was inaugurated in 1935 with General Hap Arnold in attendance.
  • In September 1942, the airfield was taken over by the Army's Fourth Air Force and assigned to the Muroc Bombing Range Air Base (Edwards AFB), 50 miles to the south. Army primary training Stearmans from Lancaster regularly used the Inyokern airfield for cross country flights, although the Army had intended to use the airfield for dispersal and glider training.
  • In April 1943 Headquarters Squadron FOURTEEN (HEDRON 14) Experimental Unit is formed to test MAD equipment and ASW "retro-rockets."  The unit begins with a single TBF aircraft, one pilot, and one mechanic.  By May, the unit is assigned another aircraft, a PBY, and four more personnel; it is also conducting limited testing in support of the as-yet-unauthorized CalTech experimental work on forward-firing rockets.
  • In October 1943 the Army released Inyokern to the Navy as the Cal Tech rocket program needed a test facility near Pasadena. The Navy built a hangar plus other support facilities at the Inyokern airfield while the main base consisting of work shops, laboratories, and barracks for 60 officers and 600 men was being constructed at China Lake (ten miles east).
  •  8 November 1943 NOTS is established to provide a badly needed aviation-ordnance proving ground in the West and to support the rapidly expanding Navy-CalTech rocket program. HEDRON 14 Experimental Unit has grown to include 16 officers, 103 enlisted men, and a variety of aircraft and is supporting broader-spectrum rocket testing. Testing at NOTS begins within a month of its establishment.

  •  On 15 December 1943, CNO directs the creation of Aviation Ordnance Development Unit ONE (AODU-1) to support the rocket-development program; the unit is to be temporarily assigned to NAS San Diego but permanently assigned to NOTS Inyokern "as soon as facilities are available."  AODU-1 is commissioned 21 December, and 12 days later the first contingent of 10 enlisted men departs for Inyokern, beginning a gradual move that will take 6 months to complete.
  • The original “rocket-ridin’ rabbit” squadron logo appears while AODU-1 is still in San Diego; the familiar “?” replaces “AODU” as the unit relocates to Inyokern, reflecting the secrecy of both mission and location.
  • By mid-January 1944, Fleet squadrons are arriving at Inyokern at a frantic pace for weapons and tactics training with the new 3.5-Inch and 5.0-Inch Aircraft Rockets.  Visiting units average 40 crew and 14 aircraft of various types, severely taxing the meager resources of the fledgling Station.
  • On 15 February 1944 Carrier Aircraft Service Unit FIFTY-THREE (CASU-53) is ordered commissioned and stationed at NOTS to "take care of the needs of the Training Squadrons."  The new unit is to include 31 officers and 617 enlisted men—the complement required to support a 90-plane Carrier Air Group.
  • CASU-53 is commissioned 24 February with 3 officers, 6 Aviation Machinist Mates, and 100 recruits—and woefully short of maintenance and support equipment. Complicating matters, NOTS Skipper Capt. Burroughs “shanghais” some 70 of the marginally useful recruits for other Station needs.
  • On 10 May 1944 SECNAV establishes the aviation facilities at NOTS (under an officer-in-charge) as U.S. Naval Air Facility Inyokern, California, an activity under the Commanding Officer, NOTS, officially affirming the concept of the fully integrated development, testing, and training station.
  • The Inyokern airfield is also officially designated Harvey Field in May in honor of LCdr. Warren W. Harvey, USN, a Naval Academy classmate of Capt. Burroughs (1924) and noted innovator of fighter aircraft tactics.  The Field is dedicated 28 June with Harvey’s widow in attendance.
  • The pace of Fleet training at NOTS increases to a level that dictates parts and supplies be flown in daily from San Diego; fuel is trucked from MCAS Mojave every day—often twice a day—to support operations and training.
  • By mid-summer, Harvey Field has a new “Kodiak” hangar, Ship’s Service and recreation facilities, and a transportation pool; the Field hosts 25 assigned aircraft of up to 20 carrier-combat and transport types.  AODU-1 has 250 personnel aboard, CASU-53 has a unit strength of 170, and the permanent NOTS force is about 300.
  • At the same time, construction accelerates on a new, modern airfield complex at the China Lake site: three 2-mile runways, large concrete hangars, modern control tower and field lighting, complete support facilities, and huge fuel bunkers.  The field also has a number of unique properties no-one speaks of, including 1,000-foot runway extensions and special project areas demanded by Burroughs of General Groves and funded by the Manhattan Project.
  • After a brief but highly successful run, CASU-53 is transferred to NAS Holtville California in August.  The unit’s presence has been essential, supporting the peak of wartime rocket training at NOTS: 28 Fleet units and one Army Air Force squadron trained and deployed between January and July 1944 alone.
  • On 15 May 1945 the planes, pilots, crews, and equipment of NAF Inyokern are officially transferred from Harvey Field to the not-yet-completed NOTS Experimental Air Center—Area “E”—near the China Lake main site.
  • On 30 May, before its runways are cleared for use, the air facility is named Armitage Field, by popular consensus, in honor of Lt. John Murray Armitage, USN, a highly decorated and very popular young aviator killed at NOTS in a 21 August 1944 accident while testing the Tiny Tim bunker-busting rocket.
  • The first project flight is flown from Armitage Field on 2 June 1945.  Between NOTS and visiting squadrons, a wild variety of tactical aircraft—various models of TBF, TBM, SBD, SB2C, F6F, F4U, PBY, and even Army A-26s—are operating from China Lake and Inyokern fields.
  • Super-secret operations begin using the “Exclusion Area” (now known as “X Pad,” with its mysterious pits covered in steel), an off-site control tower east of the Field, and the barbed-wire-surrounded area of the fabled Building “X” complex.  These operations, part of Project Camel, are the special province of Cdr. John T. “Chick” Hayward, USN, the NOTS Experimental Officer.
  • In the spring and early summer of 1945, Army B-29s are some of the first aircraft on the just-completed Armitage Field runways; the Superforts are used to conduct drop tests of putative atomic bomb shapes and to test support equipment and procedures as part of Project Camel.
  • On 5 May 1947, Armitage Field is commissioned under the official title U.S. Naval Air Facility, U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern, California—ending any uncertainty over the organizational placement of the air operations and facilities as an integral part of the China Lake RDT&E mission.
  • Even in the mid- to late-‘40s era of post-war drawdown, NAF is operating and supporting nearly every carrier-based aircraft and ramping up to support the emerging jets.
  • NAF sailors begin the construction of the on-site recreation area that will later be dedicated to the memory of Cdr. Alphonse Minvielle, USN, who was lost in a 1948 aircraft accident; Minvielle Park (a.k.a. “NAF pool” and “Miniville”) will be expanded over the years—by SEABEE-supported “self-help” projects—to include a large pool, lawns and trees, and other amenities.
  • 10 November 1950, The Naval Guided Missile Training Unit No. 21, under training to operate Terrier missiles, was relocated from the Naval Ordnance Test Station, Inyokern, China Lake, to Norton Sound, and redesignated a fleet activity under Commander Air Force, Pacific Fleet.
  • On 16 July 1953, Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61) arrives at China Lake to support Sidewinder and Terrier testing, training, and Fleet introduction. A highly specialized organization, GMU-61 was commissioned on 05 August 1952 as a mobile Guided Missile Training Unit (GMTU).
  • In May 1954 a dedicated target-drone unit is officially established as part of NAF; this is the genesis of the famous “China Lake Redbirds”: remote-controlled full-scale aircraft to support RDT&E projects and training operations.
  • As the Cold War deepens during the 1950s, air operations evolve to better support both high-technology projects, such as guided missiles, and high-priority strategic projects: “special weapons” and tactics.
  • GMU-61 is split as of 24 June 1955, with the Terrier section redesignated GMU-25. The all-Sidewinder GMU-61 boasts four combat-experienced pilots and 24 senior enlisted Aviation Guided Missilemen and Aviation Ordnancemen, with LCdr. Glenn A Tierney, USN, officer-in-charge.
  • The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) requested that the Bureau of Ordnance (BUORD) establish an Acceptance Program for Nuclear Weapons and Associated Materials and in July 1955, the task was assigned to the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS), China Lake.
  • On 1 May 1956 the Marine Corps Guided Missile Test Unit (MCGMTU) consisting of six officers and 45 men was established at NOTS. Previously, Marine personnel had served at NOTS since1950 with the 1st Provisional Marine Guided Missile Battalion.
  • Air Development Squadron FIVE (VX-5) arrives at China Lake in 1956 to take advantage of the outstanding flying conditions and proximity to ranges and laboratories. VX-5 was commissioned at NAS Moffett Field in 1951 to provide the Operational Evaluation (OPEVAL) testing essential to the Fleet introduction of weapon and aircraft systems.
  • The NOTS set up a separate group, the Special Weapons Evaluation Branch that later evolved into the Nuclear Weapons Evaluation Division, and at Albuquerque during 1957, Civilian Engineers conducted Acceptance Tests and Vulnerability Studies.
  • A new mission is added for NAF planes and crews in 1958 when NOTS begins testing developmental air-launched satellite-delivery systems (“NOTSNIK,” Pilot, Caleb) and space probes; by the early ‘60s, this work will include satellite-killers, as well.
  • In 1958, the NOTS Branch/Division was re-designated as the Naval Nuclear Ordnance Evaluation Unit (NNOEU) and placed under the command of NASWF.
  • As NOTS places renewed emphasis during the late 1950s and early ‘60s on the development of conventional weapons (e.g., the “Eye” series and TV-guided systems) and weapons for limited warfare, NAF’s operational emphasis is shifted to accommodate a myriad of new programs and technologies.
  • On 18 May 1959, Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61) is decommissioned and personnel and mission are integrated into NAF.
  • Hangar 3—a large, modern, two-bay facility that includes a variety of specialized and secure spaces—is completed and fully occupied during 1960.
  • In March 1961 NASWF and NNOEU were combined and the Naval Weapons Evaluation Facility (NWEF) was born.
  • Specialized NAF operations supporting NOTS weather-modification projects increase dramatically—and world-wide—following Project Stormfury successes in 1961. This work will lead to the first application of active geophysical warfare: the super-secret Project Popeye.
  • On 20 March 1962, Guided Missile Unit TWENTY-FIVE (GMU-25) is decommissioned.
  • By mid-1966, NAF operations begin to mirror the accelerating pace of Southeast Asia operations.  The “weapon-a-week” atmosphere of the late ‘60s at China Lake dictates the operation and support of nearly a score of aircraft types for weapon, targeting, integration, and component projects, as well as Fleet training and logistics.
  • The Naval Ordnance Test Station is disestablished in June 1967; NOTS China Lake is combined with the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Corona, to create the Naval Weapons Center (NWC).
  • As the Vietnam War progresses, increasing numbers of Fleet aviation units make pre-deployment visits to China Lake for orientation/training, further straining the Field’s resources.
  • Construction of the A-7 Weapons [Integration] Laboratory begins in 1970, heralding the arrival of “digital airplanes.”  This is the first of what will be the Weapon System Support Activities, which will grow to include the AH-1, A-4, A-6, AV-8, and F/A-18 aircraft and require dedicated facilities such as the WSSF (the “Blue Whale”) and the Advanced Weapons Lab in Hangar 5.
  • NAF dedicates its new gate displays on 22 June 1970, featuring a torii and two record-setting and unique aircraft: the sole surviving XF4D-1 and F11F-1F.  Both aircraft will end up on display at the China Lake Museum.
  • The Naval Air Facility China Lake is disestablished 1 December 1976; the mission, functions, and organization of the NAF are incorporated essentially unchanged into the new Aircraft Department of the NWC Test and Evaluation Directorate.
  • The 1979 consolidation of the National Parachute Test Range (NPTR) with NWC adds the parachute-test and Navy Test Parachutist missions and personnel to the Field.
  • The “Canadian Building” officially opens in April 1985, housing the first of an ever-evolving string of semi permanent allied aviation detachments at Armitage Field, notably from the U.K. and Canada; allied aviators began using China Lake facilities during WWII when English RAF pilots and planes arrived for joint rocket training.
  • Marine Aviation Detachment (MAD) China Lake is established in 1988, centralizing administration of USMC personnel at NWC; Marine aviators and technicians have served in NAF/Aircraft Department and VX-5 since their establishments.
  • Hangar 4, the so-called “Black Hangar” that may or may not host the developmental (later cancelled) A-12 WSSA, is completed during 1990; the building is officially nonexistent for many years, prompting the long-standing canard, “What hangar?”
  • As of 22 January 1992, the RDT&E functions of NWC China Lake the T&E functions of three other activities are consolidated to form the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWPNS); facilities and support (“roads and commodes”) and military functions—including air operations—are incorporated into the Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake.
  • The 1993 consolidation and subsequent closure of the Naval Weapons Evaluation Facility (NWEF) brings the Navy Balloon Team to a new home at Armitage Field—although not for long, as the Team will soon be disbanded at the order of CNET.
  • In April 1994, VX-5 is consolidated with its smaller sister, VX-4, to create VX-9; VX-9 retains the “Vampire” logo and Armitage Field location, with a detachment assigned to Point Mugu.
  • The Aircraft Department is disestablished in May 1995 and its personnel and functions incorporated into the newly created Naval Weapons Test Squadron (NWTS) China Lake, part of Test Wing Pacific of NAWCWPNS; the snake-wielding “dust devil” is adopted as mascot (although never officially approved).
  • Hangar 5, designed to support development and integration projects for the Hornet/Super Hornet aircraft, is completed during 1995 and dedicated F/A-18 Advanced Weapons Laboratory—the AWL—and contention begins over the placement of the Museum’s “Hornet 1” airframe.
  • Ancient Hangar 2 is officially “mothballed” in the spring of 1999; the space is set aside for supporting transient and visiting units; the frequent presence of unusual allied-nation aircraft earns it the nickname “Foreign Hangar.”
  • In a move ostensibly aimed at making the DT squadrons “more like Fleet squadrons,” NWTS China Lake is redesignated Air Test and Evaluation Squadron THIRTY-ONE (VX-31) in May 2002.
  • 12 May 2000 The U.S. Naval Museum of Armament and Technology at China Lake was established when the Secretary of the Navy signed out SECNAVNOTE 5755. The museum is a showcase for past and current Center products and programs and provides an amenable environment for briefings and presentations to off-Center visitors.

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Commanding Officers:


12/20/43 — 08/18/45 Capt. Sherman E. Burroughs [RADM]


08/18/45 — 11/05/47 Capt. James B. Sykes [RADM]


11/05/47 — 09/23/49 RAdm. W. G. Switzer


09/23/49 — 10/31/52 Capt. Walter V. R. Vieweg


10/31/52 — 08/28/53 Capt. Paul D. Stroop [VADM]


08/28/53 — 09/20/53 Capt. R. H. Solier


09/20/53 — 06/30/55 Capt. David B. Young


07/01/55 — 08/12/55 Capt. Robert F. Sellars


08/12/55 — 09/06/57 Capt. Frederick L. Ashworth [VADM]


09/06/57 — 06/01/61 Capt. William W. Hollister


06/01/61 — 06/30/64 Capt. Charles Blenman, Jr.
Grabowsky 06/30/64 — 08/04/64 Capt. Leon Grabowsky


08/04/64 — 02/28/67 Capt. John I. Hardy
Lowe 02/28/67 — 09/15/67 Capt. Grady H. Lowe
Etheridge 09/15/67 — 10/22/70 Capt. Melvin R. Etheridge
Moran 10/22/70 — 10/18/72 RAdm. William J. Moran [VADM]
Suerstedt 10/18/72 - 05/30/73 RAdm. Henry Suerstedt, Jr.
Pugh 05/30/73 - 06/27/74 RAdm. Paul E. Pugh
Freeman 06/27/74 - 05/26/77 RAdm. Rowland G. Freeman III
Kinley 05/26/77 - 09/12/77 Capt. Frederick H.M. Kinley
Harris 09/12/77 - 06/29/79 RAdm. William L. Harris
Haff 06/29/79 - 06/30/81 Capt. William B. Haff
Lahr 06/30/81 - 06/21/83 Capt. John Jude Lahr
Dickerson 06/21/83 - 06/27/86 Capt. Kenneth A. Dickerson
Patterson 06/27/86 - 08/13/86 Capt. John W. Patterson
Burt 08/13/86 - 08/07/89 Capt. John A. Burt
Cook 08/07/89 - 01/22/92 Capt. Douglas W. Cook
Newman 01/22/92 - 12/14/93 RAdm. W.E. Newman
McKinney 12/14/93 - 70/25/96 RAdm. Dana B. McKinney
Chenevey 07/25/96 - 08/12/97 RAdm. John V. Chenevey
Fisher 08/12/97 - 01/27/99 RAdm. Rand H. Fisher
Johnston 01/27/99 - 09/13/01 RAdm. Charles H. Johnston
Bachmann 09/13/01 - 01/30/03 RAdm. Michael C. Bachmann
Venlet 01/03/03 - 09/06/04 RAdm. David Venlet
Skinner 09/06/04 - RAdm. Mark Skinner

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November 8, 1943: By the order of the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, Naval Station China Lake is established.
Operations begun at C-range on air-to-ground firings.
1944: Opening of temporary G-1 and G-2 ranges.
Construction begun on permanent Station facilities.
Opening of B-1 and B-2 ranges for air-to-ground firings.
Operations begun at China Lake Pilot Plant.
1945: Opening of K-2 range used in rocket terminal-ballistics studies.
Transfer of operations from California Institute of. Technology to Station personnel.
Opening of LB range for high-altitude bomb tests.
Work on explosives begun at Salt Wells Pilot Plant.
1946: Dedication of Armitage Field at the Naval Air Facility.
1947: Opening of B-4 range for air-to-ground firings against moving targets.
1948: Dedication of the Variable-Angle Launcher used for research and development at NOTS.
Dedication of the Variable-Angle Launcher used for testing underwater ordnance items at Morris Dam.
Activation of Station Advisory Board.
1950: First antitank aircraft rockets of project RAM shipped to Korea.
1951: Opening of T-range for rocket proof firing.
Opening of K-3 range for crosswind firing of rockets.
1952: Aircraft Fire-Control System Mk 16 released to the Fleet.
Opening of Randsburg Wash Test Activities for fuze testing.
The 2.75-inch FFAR (Mighty Mouse) declared operational.
1953: Opening of Supersonic Naval Ordnance Research Track (SNORT) for captive testing of ordnance items.
1954: Opening of G-4 range for high-speed terminal-ballistics studies.
1955: Opening of permanent G-1 range for guided-missile free-flight-testing.
Opening of permanent G-2 range for rocket free-flight testing.
1956: The Sidewinder guided-missile system declared operational.
Aug 21 -- An F8U-1 Crusader, piloted by Commander R. W. Windsor, captured the Thompson Trophy with a new national speed record of 1015.428 m.p.h. over the 15-kilometer course at NOTS, China Lake, Calif. This production model carrier fighter, equipped during its record performance with full armament of 20 mm cannon and dummy ammunition, was the first operationally equipped jet plane in history to fly faster than 1,000 m.p.h.
1957: Development completed of the Zuni 5.0 inch rocket.
Dedication of the Station's new All Faith Chapel.
1958: The RAT antisubmarine weapon system declared operational.
Aug 19 -- In its first successful flight a Tartar surface-to-air missile, fired at the NOTS, China Lake, intercepted an F6F drone.
1959: Development completed of the variable-thrust rocket engine.
The Skyline facility, for testing large solid-propellant motors, completed at China Lake Propulsion Laboratory.
Zuni rocket put into mass production.
Polaris static-test facility, Skytop, completed at China Lake Propulsion Laboratory.
RAPEC (rocket-assisted personnel-ejection catapult) released to the fleet.
Aug 3 -- The first flight test of the antisubmarine missile Subroc was successfully completed by a launch from a shore installation at NOTS China Lake.
1960: Hangar No. 3 completed at the Naval Air Facility.
BuWeps and OpTEvFor evaluations of the ASROC antisubmarine weapon system successfully completed.
First successful Polaris firing after underwater launching.
1961: The Propulsion Applied Research Laboratory, first of its type in the nation, established.
Administrative command of San Clemente Island assumed.
Sixteen Cyclops silver iodide generators dropped into Hurricane Esther, destroying one-third of the cloud wall.
Dedication of Skytop II, one of the Navy's largest vertical nozzle-down facilities.
Aug 28 -- NOTS, China Lake reported on tests of Snakeye I mechanical retardation devices which were being developed to permit low altitude bombing with the MK 80 family of low drag bombs. Four designs of retarders (two made by Douglas and two by NOTS) had been tested in flight, on the Station's rocket powered test sled, or in the wind tunnel. One of Douglas' designs had shown sufficient promise that a contract had been issued for a number of experimental and prototype units.
1962: Five hundred Capehart housing units completed.
First successful flight test of a hybrid propulsion system in this country.
1963: Jan 29 -- A Walleye television glide bomb, released from a YA-4B, made a direct impact on its target in the first demonstration of its automatic homing feature.
Balloon carries NOTS astronomer to 82,000 feet altitude in Stargazer gondola.
President John F. Kennedy, first President to visit Station, sees Naval aerial weaponry demonstration, June 7.
Gemini space capsule undergoes seat ejection tests.
HIPEG-"fastest gun"-firing 12,000 rounds per minute, in final checkout.
Marines leave after 18 years of sentry and range guard duty.
PROJECT "STORMFURY" NOTS-developed silver iodide generators show effect on storm clouds and Hurricane Beulah.
Ozonesonde in record balloon ascent, 142,000 feet.
Shrike air-to-surface anti-radar missile in final development stages.
1970: Sep 25 -- A Condor, television-guided air-to-surface missile, was launched by an A-6A at a standoff distance from its target. The aircraft was 56 miles from the target when the missile made a direct impact.
1976: Feb 18 -- The night attack weapons system, a modified air-to-surface Maverick missile designed to enhance the performance of night tactical and strike aircraft, scored a direct hit on a moving M-48 tank
1978: Aug 3 -- The Naval Air Systems Command reported a major advance in the technology of escape systems. During the summer, the NWC at China Lake successfully tested a vertical-seeking ejection seat. While carrying a dummy crew member, the seat was fired downward from a suspended test module. It traveled downward less than 45 feet before reversing direction and traveling upward; it then parachuted safely to the ground. These tests demonstrated that the vertical-seeking seat would make it possible to safely eject upside down, within 50 feet of the surface, thus greatly increasing the safety envelope of ejection seats.

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Award Inclusive Dates:
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