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Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) (1943) | China Lake, California


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Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) | China Lake, California

Embroidered on twill.



In the midst of World War II, adequate facilities were needed by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for test and evaluation of rockets. At the same time, the Navy needed a new proving ground for aviation ordnance. Caltech's Charles C. Lauritsen and then U.S. Navy Commander Sherman E. Burroughs worked together to find a site that would meet both their needs.

In the early 1930s, an emergency landing field had been built by the Works Progress Administration in the Mojave Desert near the small town of Inyokern, California. Opened in 1935, the field was acquired by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in 1942. In November 1943 it was transferred to the Navy, which established China Lake as the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS).

The NOTS mission was defined in a letter by the Secretary of the Navy, ".... a station having for its primary function the research, development and testing of weapons, and having additional function of furnishing primary training in the use of such weapons." Testing began within a month of the Station's formal establishment. The vast and sparsely populated desert with near perfect flying weather and practically unlimited visibility, proved an ideal location not only for test and evaluation activities, but also for a complete research and development establishment.

During 1944, NOTS worked on the development and testing of the 3.5-inch, 5-inch, HVAR and 11.75-inch (Tiny Tim) rockets.

Manhattan Project funding was used to construct a new airfield at NOTS, with three runways, 10,000 feet (3,000 m), 7,700 feet (2,300 m) and 9,000 feet (2,700 m) long, each 200 feet (61 m) wide to accommodate the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Fuel storage was provided with a capacity of 200,000 US gallons (760,000 l) of gasoline and 20,000 US gallons (76,000 l) of oil. The airfield was opened on 1 June 1945, and named Armitage Field after Navy Lieutenant John Armitage, who was killed while testing a Tiny Tim rocket at NOTS in August 1944.[8][9][10]

Work done by Caltech at NOTS for the Manhattan Project - particularly the testing of bomb shapes dropped from B-29s - was included as part of codename Project Camel.

Today the Naval Air Weapons station (NAWS) China Lake has grown into a large military installation. China Lake is the United States Navy's largest single landholding, representing 85% of the Navy's land for weapons and armaments research, development, acquisition, testing and evaluation (RDAT&E) use and 38% of the Navy's land holdings worldwide. In total, its two ranges and main site cover more than 1,100,000 acres (4,500 km2), an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. As of 2010, at least 95% of that land has been left undeveloped. The roughly $3 billion infrastructure of the installation consists of 2,132 buildings and facilities, 329 miles (529 km) of paved roads, and 1,801 miles (2,898 km) of unpaved roads.

It controls 19,600 miles of restricted and controlled airspace, 12% of California's total airspace. Jointly controlled by NAWS China Lake, Edwards Air Force Base and Fort Irwin, this airspace is known as the R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex.

In July 2019, two large earthquakes struck Southern California; both had epicenters within the NAWS boundaries. The first, on July 4, a 6.4 magnitude quake, caused no injuries at NAWS, and the initial reports showed that all buildings were intact. The second, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake on July 5, resulted in the facility being evaluated as "not mission capable”. Officials assessed all buildings, utilities and facilities — 3,598 structures in all — for 13 days after the earthquakes and found damage totaled $5.2 billion. Replacing buildings alone would cost $2.2 billion, but officials also must replace or repair specialized equipment, furniture, machine tools, telecommunication assets and other facilities.



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  • 2 weeks later...

My Dad, CWO John Luko, was stationed in NOTS in the early 1950’s. He spent several years before NOTS at the Johns Hopkins, Applied Physics Lab in Maryland where they developed the Terrier Missile. This project was called Operation Bumble Bee.




Missile testing before NOTS was done on Top Sail Island off the coast of North Carolina. Missiles were fired into the Atlantic at that time


My Dad and family were living in China Lake, when on July 21, 1952, a 7.3 earthquake struck Tehachapi at 4:52 AM, a town near China Lake. I was almost 4 years old at that time sharing a bedroom with my 5-year-old sister.


When the earthquake struck, I awoke with the whole house shaking, my bed was rolling around the room, and the closet door was swinging open. My mom ran in and grabbed us both and stood in the doorway. My Dad picked my 2-month-old baby brother in the other room. I don't remember any damage to our place. Obviously, one of my earliest memories.



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  • 2 years later...

I just got this from my dad. He wore it while working security at NOTS. Apparently, this is the first version of the patch; it changed shortly after my dad left (1952?) to a different design. 



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