For aviation enthusiasts and history buffs, Castle Air Museum near Merced, California is a jewel of a place to visit. It’s also great for a family outing. Kids love big airplanes.
Peggy and I stopped off a few weeks ago. We are taking advantage of our journey across America and Canada to visit interesting places I saw on my bike trek but was too busy cranking out miles to explore. When we find something we think you might enjoy, I’ll share it as a Bike Trek Special.
I am going to feature just a few of the 60 military planes the museum displays on its 20 acres. Before starting, however, I would like to pay homage to the men who flew these planes and the group of dedicated volunteers who spend thousands of hours restoring them. The planes often arrive in very ragged condition, and even in pieces. I also want to note that the facts I include here are derived from the museum’s visitor guide.
I’ll start with the Lockheed SR 71 Blackbird shown at the top of the post. I’ve already mentioned its speed. As an example, one flew from Los Angeles to Washington DC to LA in 64 minutes. They also fly up to 80,000 feet above the ground. Its ability to fly fast and high made it a hard target. Over 1000 shots were directed at the Blackbird. Not one was successful.
Next up is the C 46D I featured in my last blog. The camels on the side tell a special story. Camels have humps, right? Each camel represents a time this plane flew resupply missions over the Hump between India/Burma to China during World War II. The Hump just happens to be the Himalayan Mountains and represents one of the toughest flying missions during the war. This plane was of particular interest to us since Peggy’s dad was a Hump pilot with over 50 missions to his credit. He even had to bail out of once on a black, stormy night over a jungle allegedly filled with cannibals and tigers. As he dropped into the jungle, he saw his plane explode. (Go here for the story.)
This big fellow, the Convair RB-36 H, was called the Peacemaker in one of those strange twists of logic in this world that relate our capacity to make war with our capacity to promote peace. It was the largest bomber ever built and a mainstay of the Cold War serving as America’s flying nuclear deterrent. It could carry 72,000 pounds of conventional and/or nuclear bombs and fly up to 8,800 miles. Fortunately, it never dropped a bomb or fired a shot in anger. Apparently, it kept the peace.
For a time, the Boeing B-52D Stratofortress held the record for being large and heavy. Its primary era of service was during the Vietnam War. Later models participated in Desert Storm.
Recognize this Douglas VC-9C? It’s Air Force 1. It served the administrations of Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, GH Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush. On certain days it is open for tours.
Castle Air Museum is chock full of smaller plains as well. Most of these are jet fighters. This map from the visitor’s guide gives an idea of the size and diversity of the Museum.
I’ll close today’s post with an example of airplane art. There are books filled with these paintings. Most of the World War II art was designed to commemorate missions or remind crews of the girls back home, and um, what they were missing.
NEXT BLOG: Up and over Greenhorn Pass. A mountain to climb, a blinding snowstorm to pedal through, and a 13% downhill that warped my rims and forced another layover day.