The Naval Museum of Armament & Technology (NMAT) museum is located on the grounds of the Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake in Ridgecrest, California. To gain access to this highly classified US Navy base you need to stop by the Visitor Center and present a photo ID and proof of car insurance. These measures will no longer be necessary in the future as the museum is currently in the process of moving to a new location in Ridgecrest, outside of the base.
The museum’s primary mission is to preserve and display many unique achievements relating to naval aviation that occurred at the base and technology that was created at the China Lake facility since it was established in 1943. The majority of weapons in NMAT’s collection were developed at NAWS China Lake, including but not limited to the AIM-9 Sidewinder, BGM-109 Tomahawk, and the AGM-62 Walleye.
However, for aviation enthusiasts the fun begins when driving from the main gate to the museum’s main building. First you will pass a roundabout with a Douglas A4D-1 Skyhawk as the centerpiece, then a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet surrounded by different missile types, a McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II, a Bell AH-1J Sea Cobra and a Bell HH-1K Iroquois. Finally, at the museum, you are greeted by a towering Lockheed Polaris A-1 missle, a test model of the UGM-27 two-stage submarine-launched ballistic missile. On one side of the missile stands a Grumman A-6A Intruder and on the other, the first prototype of the Hornet, the McDonnell Douglas YF-18A.
The rest of the museum’s planes are displayed nearby and include a Douglas TA-4F Skyhawk trainer, the only remaining Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger prototype, a LTV A-7 Corsair II, a North American QF-86F Sabre target drone, and a Douglas XF4D-1 Skyray prototype.
While exploring the museum’s vicinity on Google Earth you can spot a small boneyard with a Boeing B-29, Douglas DC-3 and several other vintage planes. Maybe after a restoration they could be included in the NMAT’s collection? Several other planes that were stored and sometimes used for weapons testing at China Lake found their new home in other air museums in California and beyond. For example, Castle Air Museum acquired a North American B-45A Tornado, Northrop F-89J Scorpion and Boeing B-47E Stratojet from China Lake. Another NAWS Stratojet is now at March Field Air Museum. Former NAWS Boeing B-29 Superfortresses are also on display in Travis AFB Heritage Center and Pueblo Weisbrod Aircraft Museum in Colorado.