Naval Weapons Center China Lake museum




In the middle of World War II, facilities were needed by the California Institute of Technology for test and evaluation of rockets. At the same time, the Navy needed a new proving ground for aviation ordnance.


The Navy established China Lake as the Naval Ordnance Test Station in November 1943. Its primary function the research, development and testing of weapons. The vast and unpopulated 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.


In 1950, Naval Ordnance Test Station scientists and engineers developed the AIM 9 Sidewinder, which has become the world’s most used and most copied air-to-air missile. A few of the other rockets and missiles developed or tested at China Lake have included the Shrike, Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW) and Joint Direct-Attack Munition (JDAM).


In July 1967, Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake and the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Corona, California, became the Naval Weapons Center.

U.S Naval museum of Armament and Technology:


This museum depicts the history of China Lake. The weapons developed and the aircraft they used. Getting in to the museum in 2005 proved to be challenging to say the least. Since it is housed on an operational test site, only US citizens were allowed on base.


It took me some time, but finally the curator of the museum agreed to vouch for me. So I could obtain a visitor pass to enter the base. Arriving at the base all checks took a while, but I received my clearance. Together with a layout of the base so I could drive with my car to the museum. The curator was thrilled to receive a visitor from Europe, and guided me around the museum.


All the weapons are inside a small building. The Sidewinder exposition was the largest one, being it was developed on China Lake. Outside a few aircraft are on display, most of them had an operational history on NWC China Lake. Some sadly in a terrible shape. The most interesting one was the converted two-seat Skyhawk.


After a few hours I said goodbye to the curator and wanted to drive to the gate. But somehow I was tempted to drive around the base to find some other preserved aircraft. If I was stopped I could always say I was lost. And to my astonishment this proved to be no problem. Even the MP’s who pulled me over, told me where to find these aircraft. The visitor pass opened a whole bag of opportunities. Recently the museum obtained the permission to move the museum outside the base. Making it more accessible for visitors. Maybe I have to drop in again sometime in the future.


Text & Photography: Ludo Kloek