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In Mojave, the world's most exciting planes take flight

From the Air Force to NASA, commercial airplane storage to the first private spacecraft, the Mojave is the center of aviation. CNET Road Trip 2012 braved the summer heat to check it out.

A look at NASA's X-48C, the prototype of the all-new genre of planes, the hybrid wing body aircraft. The plane is located at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, in California's Mojave Desert.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

MOJAVE DESERT, Calif.--It's hard to imagine a more complete -- and impressive -- collection of aviation facilities and aircraft anywhere on the planet than the one in this vast, arid, wide-open wasteland northeast of Los Angeles.

Thanks to its endless amounts of dry, flat terrain, useless to most people, and the fact that there are only a few ways in -- vital for security -- the Mojave is, and has long been, the beating heart of the aviation world. It's here that Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier. And where Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne ushered in the private space travel era. Space shuttles used to land here. Hundreds of unused commercial airliners are parked here. And the world's best test pilots train here.

Welcome to the Mojave Desert, an area that takes up nearly 48,000 square miles, mostly in California, but also in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It is the perfect place to experiment with, fly, and store airplanes.

This summer, as part of Road Trip 2012, I spent quite a bit of time checking out facilities in the Mojave -- Edwards Air Force Base, the Mojave Air and Space Port, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, and the Southern California Logistics Airport, in search of the heart of aviation. If you've ever been there, you know I found it.