The Story Behind Ad Inexplorata

AFFTC: Into the Unknown

In the dining room and bar of the Officers Club at Edwards Air Force Base, the paper napkins are imprinted with a strange coat of arms. Over the steam table in the restaurant portion of the club is a huge plaque bearing the same heraldic design. On the right side of its shield, a pure aerodynamic shape, a yellow missile shape, seems to be speeding through a night-black background. Bright blue lines stream away from the “missile’s” nose, symbolizing the shock waves of hypersonic flight. On the left side of the shield, dark green three-pointed spears of saguaro cacti are set sharply against a silvery-tan background. Diagonally, the shield is divided by a pure white band with serrated edges, like knobby teeth. Beneath the entire design is a scroll with this legend: “Ad Inexplorata.”

There are several ways in which the Latin words may be translated, but always they mean the same basic thing: “Forward through the Unexplored” or “Into the Unknown.”

Much thought was given to the coat of arms at the Air Force Flight Test Center. Brigadier General Stanley Holtoner, commanding officer of the center at the time, first developed the idea behind the shield and then promoted a competition among the men and women of Edwards in order to find the best design. A sergeant, Carl Strobe – now a civilian, but still working at the AFFTC in a Civil Service capacity – won the contest. It is his design that graces the napkins and plaques and is embroidered into the official flag of the center.

The black background indicates the unknown midnight reaches of outer space. The yellow missile form is obvious: it signifies the penetration of space, and its electric-blue shock waves represent the problems involved in transcending the atmosphere of Earth. The silver-tan area behind the green cactus shapes denotes the Mojave Desert. While the white band with its round-toothed edges is a symbol of the continual cloud banks that float between man’s present state of aviation progress, his realization of the ultimate possibilities of powered flight and his knowledge of the vast sky depths beyond him.