2021 Aerial photos of Air Force Plant 42
The hi-res photos below show each of the ten sites within U.S. Air Force Plant 42, located in Palmdale, CA near Edwards AFB. The sites are occupied by different Air Force contractors. In the discussion we focus on recent developments and changes at each site over the last year, since our May 2020 photos were taken.
The great aerial photos below were taken on Sunday, 10/24/2021 by a photographer who wishes to remain anonymous. We like to thank the anonymous supporter for allowing us to share these great close-up photos.
The ten sites at Plant 42 include (click for site photo(s)):
SITE 1 - Boeing/NASA
Site 1 was originally used for the Space Shuttle. It is believed to still be used by Boeing. There are several changes here since our May 2020 photos: Two of the shelters were moved from the blast deflector opposite the taxiway to the deflector on the side of the ramp. Also, some concrete work in progress in 2020, possibly reinforcement or repair of the ramp, has been finished. A new low building was added at the far end of the ramp. The 2020 photo shows a very early stage of the construction. It looks like part of the parking lot was re-paved and new markings were applied. There are also new lane markings for ground vehicles driving on the ramp. It looks like this site is being prepared for a new project.
SITE 2 - Lockheed U-2, SR-71
Site 2 was originally used for the U-2 and SR-71 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. There are no apparent changes here. The building on the far side of the site near the taxiway is the Fire Station #2.
SITE 3 - Northrop Grumman
Site 3 is used by Northrop Grumman. It includes two engine test cells. The parking lot in front of the low building in the back was re-paved and another paved parking area was added on the left side of that building. The square hangar on the left received a new roof with lots of small vents. The X-47B is gone and the X-47A was moved from the smaller shelter that appears to have sustained some damage to the larger shelter that previously housed the X-47B.
SITE 4 - Northrop B-2 / B-21?
Site 4 was used for the B-2 Stealth bomber. Recent construction activity here could be in preparation for the still highly classified B-21 Raider, the successor of the B-2. The new ramp on the right with associated hangars appears to be fairly complete. There is still some construction equipment on site indicating that the hangars are not yet in use. It looks like the lot at the end of the new ramp can accommodate another hangar in the future. There are quite a few vehicles around the main hangar for a weekend, indicating increased activity there. And last but not least the Northrop Grumman logo on the hangar has been updated.
A closer look at the new ramp and hangars. It looks like the ramp is very close to completion.
A B-2 Stealth Bomber posing out in the open. It appears to be the same one as in our May 2020 photos with some additional patches, mostly around the engine covers. As we noted in 2020, this particular B-2 is used for maintenance training and possibly for testing modifications.
SITE 5 - Plant 42 HQ
Site 5 in the left foreground is the Plant 42 Headquarters. It also includes the old control tower.
SITE 6 - Janet Terminal
SITE 9 - NASA Neil Armstrong Flight Research Center
Site 6 (to the right of site 5) is the terminal used by Janet commuter aircraft when they stop at Plant 42 to drop off or pick up personnel for flights to Area 51 and TTR
Site 9 (behind site 5) is used by the NASA Neil Armstrong Flight Research Center
In the background just inside the southern perimeter of Plant 42 is the Blackbird Airpark and the FAA air traffic control facility (LA ARTCC)
On the far right is the old Palmdale Regional Airport
SITE 7 - Northrop / Lockheed UAV
Site 7 was originally used by Lockheed and the USAF. Today the northern ramp (on the right) is used for the Lockheed RQ-170 and possibly for other classified UAV. The southern ramp in the center of the panorama is used for the Northrop MQ-4C Triton UAV developed for the U.S. Navy. That project is currently undergoing operational evaluation. The large hangar on the left possibly also houses another still classified Northrop UAV project. Note that the two separate ramp areas each have their own gate closing them off to the taxiway and to each other.
The newly built control tower (see below) can be seen in the background.
The close-up photos show that the shelters on Lockheed's part of the ramp have closed ends. Shipping containers have been arranged around the ramp area in front of the shelters as a view screen. The relatively low door openings in the shelters indicate a small tail-less aircraft such as the RQ-170 Sentinel to be housed there. Only two of the three hangars appear to be used for the sight-sensitive project. The third hangar is not included in the shipping container enclosure. The four small radar domes on the side of the ramp are typically associated with UAV telemetry.
The only apparent change on the Northrop part of the ramp is a new open shelter and improvements to the ramp surface in front of it.
SITE 8 - Lockheed
Site 8, originally used by Lockheed, is currently said to be used by Northrop Grumman. The loading docks clearly indicate that this is a massive warehouse. There are plenty of vehicles around the building for a weekend. The gate to the Lockheed site (see below) is closed. The only other access road leads to site 7 (above). The warehouse could currently be used by both Lockheed and Northrop for their respective projects at site 7.
SITE 10 - Lockheed "Skunkworks"
Site 10 is home to the legendary Lockheed "Skunkworks" Black Projects division that developed highly classified aircraft such as the U-2 and A-12 spy planes and more recently the F-117 Stealth Fighter. The large hangar on the far side of the ramp was recently built. Our 2020 photos show the beginning construction. According to Lockheed the building is a high-tech AI development facility that allows new aircraft designs to be evaluated before a physical prototype is ever built.
Note: The panorama was assembled from six frames taken from slightly different angles. It does not line up perfectly in the back, by the solar panel bank. But most of it, especially the ramp area and the new building, is mapped correctly.
The front of the new hangar (left) is designed like a high-tech office building, but there are hangar doors and a new ramp in the back. This clearly is a hybrid building, not just office space. There appears to still be some finishing construction activity. A new short taxiway connects the new ramp with the main ramp. The purpose of the cage-like structure on the ramp is not immediately obvious. It looks like the structure may be mounted on tracks that would allow it to move into the hangar. But comparing it to the size of the truck in the background it would require some serious motors to move the structure. In its present location it is partially blocking one of the hangar doors, which seems odd.
A closer look at the main ramp. Some of the temporary shelters were moved. Other than that not a lot of change here. The CATBird is parked in the same spot as in our May 2020 photos.
Notice the outline of an aircraft carrier deck in front of the main hangar
Administrative building complex with an F-117 Stealth Fighter on display between the buildings. It is actually a composite of three separate airframes: Structural test articles 778 and 779 and article 785 that was damaged in an accident in 1982
NEW CONTROL TOWER
The new control tower, currently under construction. There was no sign of the construction in our May 2020 photos.