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.
18 thoughts on “The Castle Air Museum… A Bike Trek Special”
I love this air museum. One of my favorites. Went there last for one of their “Open Cockpit Days.” Wonderful collection of aircraft.
I will definitely make it to one of their open cockpit days when I make it back to California, Andrew. –Curt
Great images Curt. 🙂
Thanks, Sylvia. –Curt
Curt, I bet it was difficult to wittle down the photographs to just a few! A great selection for us to peruse; yes, the irony of the name ‘peacemaker’ but it worked in that strange cold war way! Also I suppose the art work isn’t pc these days, but aren’t they colourful! Look forward to reading about more of your stop off visits along the way.
Thanks, Annika. Right on PC… but definitely a part of history. And there will be several fun visits, like the Roswell UFO Museum, for example. –Curt
The airplane art … made me smile. Lovely photos!
Thanks, Timi. I am sure it gave the guys many a happy thought during WW II. –Curt
I enjoy a good air museum, and your photos say it all that this is indeed a place to visit. I do not believe that women pilots painting men on their planes will be popular. I’m laughing at the possibilities, though.
Receiving the telegram of a active duty missing husband must be one of the worst moments imaginable, and what good news that all would turn out to be an alright elephant ride out of the jungle.
An excellent post, Curt. Thank you for sharing and this goes on my Things To See on next California trip. 📮
Helen and John were still reliving the World War II experience 60 years later. Peggy laughed about the women pilots as well. Turn about fair play but I suspect you are right. The Castle Air Museum is definitely worth a visit. – Curt
Love the photo tour of Castle Air Museum. Seems like those creative folks at Burning Man might get some inspiration from a few of these!
Wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the planes rolling around on the Playa. There was supposed to be a 747
Thanks! Much appreciated. –Curt
I’ve always said the SR-71 Blackbird is the sexiest aircraft there is. I labored over a gorgeous charcoal sketch of one as a gift for the recruiting office that talked me into joining the Air Force. Love the artwork, and I imagine the lovely ladies offered some kind of delight to the boys in the planes. I wonder how many women have served on a plane with a woman painted on it? Do you think there are any?
The SR 71 is definitely an example of beautiful engineering. I suspect that when the majority of paintings took place, not many women, if any, were serving. 🙂 –Curt