Glen Edwards: The Diary of a Bomber Pilot
Table of Contents
Ch 1 - "A-20 Is a Darn Good Plane" (July 1941 - November 1942)
Ch 3 - "I Was So Damned Nervous" (February - May 1943)
Ch 4 - "A Piece of Cake" (June - November 1943)
Ch 5 - "What More Could a Pilot Ask?" (December 1943 - December 1944)
Ch 6 - "Get 'Em in the Blue!" (January - August 1945)
Ch 7 - "Blast the Luck" (August-December 1945)
Ch 8 - "Boy, That Was Quite an Experience" (January - August 1946)
Ch 9 - "Beat the Books All Day" (September 1946 - July 1947)
Ch 10 - "The Little Beauty Will Really Mobile" (August - December 1947)
Ch 11 - "All Heck Broke Loose" (January - May 1948)
Ch 12 - "Damn Things Are Out of This World" (May - June 1948)
Epilog: Who Killed the Flying Wing?
Author's NoteEdwards Air Force Base--300,000 acres of sand, scrub, wind, and heat--may be the most famous military installation in the world. Virtually every warplane that has gone into service with the United States Air Force was flight-tested there, on California's Mojave Desert. There, too, a pilot first broke the sound barrier, followed by those who set successive world speed records up to Mach 6, and successive altitude records up to 300,000 feet. And it was there that the Shuttle Columbia touched down, the first piloted aircraft to return from space.
Edwards, in short, is an icon of the space age so familiar that neither state nor country is required to identify it.
But before his name was attached to the facility he knew as Muroc, Edwards was a warm and handsome man who loved women, flying, dancing, and skiing, and whose favorite song was "To Each His Own." From a hardscrabble farm in the Great Depression, he joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and served bravely and well at the controls of an A-20 light bomber in North Africa and Italy. When World War II ended, he was a test pilot at Wright Field--the best of the best. The assignment was at least as dangerous as flying against German fighters and flak guns, but Edwards relished the work. "Days are not wasted," he wrote in his diary, "if we can get 'em in the blue!"
Postwar, the United States saw itself as the free world's bastion against an inexorably expanding Soviet Union, with nuclear weapons--and the planes to deliver them--as freedom's shield. Aircraft designers were transforming their art into a science, as were the pilots who tested those designs, but the pace of change was too rapid for them. Every aircraft was a gamble for the company that built it, for the military service that paid for it, and for the crews who flew it.
In the end, Glen Edwards died in the crash of one of those fantastical, late-1940s aircraft, the Northrop Flying Wing bomber. This is his story.
I am, to be sure, merely a co-author. This book is based on the diaries he kept throughout his military career, but it didn't seem fair to attribute the book to him, since fate cheated him of the opportunity to approve it for publication.
For the same reason, I refrain from writing a dedication. I hope the book honors Glen Edwards, his family, and the men who served with him in North Africa, at Wright Field, and on the high desert at Muroc.
Because this is the story of a man whose flying career began in 1941 and ended in 1948, and because so much of the story is told in his words, I have followed the conventions of his time. Distances are reckoned in statute miles, altitude in thousands of feet, and machinegun bores in inches, and the language is not always politically correct.
In crafting this book, I incurred a great debt to his large and amiable family. His brother, Harry Edwards of Lincoln, California, gave me permission to edit his diaries and letters for publication. His niece, Myla Mathieson of Durham, New Hampshire, first brought the diaries to my attention and was an unfailing source of information and help thereafter. His niece by marriage, Patricia Edwards of Palm Desert, California, allowed me to use material from her manuscript biography, "Touched With Fire," especially welcome because she'd gathered much of it from Glen's colleagues in the 1960s, when their memories were fresh. I am grateful also to Rae and Darlene Edwards of Hemet, California, and to Harold and Leah Creer of Lincoln.
At Edwards Air Force Base, Frederick Johnsen of the Air Force Flight Test Center history office found documents and photographs relating to Glen Edwards and the Northrop Flying Wing bombers. At the National Air and Space Museum, I was aided by Don Lopez, Russell Lee, and Dan Hagedorn and his staff. At the University of New Hampshire, Claudia Morner annointed me a "resident scholar" so I could use inter-library loan facilities, and Karen Fagerberg found the books with unflagging zeal. Sally Ford and Ben Schapiro read the manuscript--repeatedly, in Sally's case--to catch errors and malapropisms.
This book began as a magazine article. Writing for George Larson and his colleagues at Air & Space / Smithsonian has been one of the joys of my life.
Many others helped me reconstruct Glen Edwards's life. I trust they are duly recognized in the text, the photo captions, or the bibliographical notes.