What Happens at Edwards… Pretty Much Stays at Edwards
Bud Evans lay down in the desert at California’s Edwards Air Force Base, amid bottles and tin cans still littering an area near what’s left of Pancho Barnes’ resort. “This is pretty much what I remember seeing,” he told the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum people. Then he took a picture.
Last April, Evans returned to the site where in 1959 he had been dragged by his parachute after activating the downward-ejection seat in a Lockheed F-104. He wrote about his wild ride in “The Unhappy Bottom Riding Club” in the February/March 2010 issue. Soon after publication, test center museum specialist Tony Moore e-mailed Air & Space. Moore is an X-Hunter, an aerospace archeologist who tracks down the crash sites of experimental aircraft. “I was reading ‘Unhappy Bottom’ and realized I’d just been to Captain Evans’ crash site on my birthday (I was looking for a site that was as old as I was),” he wrote. “I was using the old chimney at Pancho’s as a landmark to search for the wreck, and was within sight of it when I found a wing panel piece with part of the ‘stars and bars’ on a background of fluorescent orange high-viz paint.”
In short order, Evans, who spent some seven years at Edwards, arrived for a trek out to retrieve the wing panel, although Moore had stored it away “to make sure it doesn’t wander, so to speak,” and brought it back out to the site for photos. One of the trekkers was flight test engineer Johnny Armstrong, whom Evans knew from his years at Edwards, and who still works there. Another old friend was at the test center museum: the very same Piasecki H-21 helicopter that had retrieved him from the crash site 51 years ago. “The H-21 had been our test aircraft, and we kept it as our utility and rescue machine,” says Evans. (The Flying Banana awaits restoration.)
Before leaving the impact crater the F-104 had made, Evans asked Moore, “You know what the best thing about this is, Tony?”
“No, sir, what’s that?”
Evans pointed at the crater. “I’m not in there.”
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