Aerospace history

Tourists scour the Mojave desert landscape on the lookout for debris from a 1967 X-15 crash site near Johannesburg March 2 2013. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times / March 2, 2013)

The skies above the Mojave Desert are legendary. The first American jet plane flew here. The sound barrier was broken here. Space shuttles returned to Earth here. But less heralded are the failures and crashes, tragic footnotes to these remarkable accomplishments.

Merlin and Moore refer to themselves as "The X-Hunters," a nod to the Air Force's use of "X" in naming experimental planes. Their findings have broadened the military's understanding of Southern California's aerospace history.

"Their value to the office is a great one," said Richard Hallion, a retired official who worked 20 years as an Air Force historian. "In many cases, there was only rough approximation of where the crashes took place."

The L.A. Times reports with this Column One feature >>

-- W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times