Article by Steve Bond
Elsie H, Terry S, and Steve B jumped into Steve S’s 172 (thank you Steve!) and cruised over the coastal mountains and across the central valley to the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, CA, now known as Castle Airport. It was a sunny day, perfect weather for the trip. Around 80 other private planes with pilots and passengers made the trip as well. There was plenty of room, the air base has a 11,802 foot runway and the facilities for former air wings of USAF bombers and tankers of the cold war era.
What a treat it is for us who adore flying machines to be able to wander among scores of airplanes representing 80 years of aviation history. Castle AIr Museum has more than 50 warbirds and this day was “Open Cockpit Day” Each aircraft has a group or organization of volunteers to restore and maintain the old birds and they were on hand to provide background informations and conduct tours of the planes. There was more to see and explore than anyone could do in a single day. From the pre WW-II warbirds, bombers trainers and transport, to the modern cold war fighters, tankers, and bombers including a B-52, an SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ spy-plane. Some aircraft are historically obscure, such as the North American B-45 Tornado from the 1950’s period of early jet aircraft.
We rode the shuttle van from the airport to the museum. It was operated, like everything at the museum by volunteers. Once inside the gates, we split up and wandered throughout the museum exploring various pieces of history and technology. For example, we visited the behemoth warplane, the Convair B-36 “Peacemaker”. I stood in line for 20 minutes waiting for my turn in the flight deck under the expansive wingspan of the B-36. It is the largest piston powered aircraft in the world. It carried up to 22 crew and could stay aloft for more than two days (51 hours record) without refueling. This thing weighed 410,000 pounds and had ten engines. Elsie and I agreed that George Lucas must have seen its retractable gun turrets and used them as the prototypes for the Star Wars turbo-lasers on the Imperial Starships.
In the giant delta wing British Avro ‘Vulcan’ B-2 Bomber. I channeled an experience from the 007 film adventure “Thunderball” by climbing the passageways and exploring the cockpit and navigation stations of the 60-year-old nuclear bomber.
This place is haunted. For years, museum staff have reported apparitions, voices, and other paranormal events around some of the warbirds. The museum was featured on an episode of UPN’s Real Ghosts (1995). We brought our lunches, but there were vendors and with food and drink for the thousands of visitors that day.
We stayed until the museum closed the gates at 5 pm and sent us on our way. No doubt they were concerned about visitors encountering the poltergeist that wander the museum. It was a clear flight back. Elsie piloting, delivered Terry and I to KWVI before departing for KSNS.
For more information on the Castle Air Museum visit castleairmuseum.org.