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#2458 2008-04-25 19:17 GMT-5 hours    
Former military base offers step back in time
Column by Anne Marie Fuller
Article Created: 04/25/2008 02:34:33 AM PDT originally published at insidebayarea.com

HAVE YOU EVER wanted to check out a B-52 bomber, see the planes that flew during World War II or just take a step back in time and see a part of history? Then a day trip to Castle Air Museum may be just the ticket.

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What once was a U.S. Air Force base, Castle is now a museum open to the public. It hosts an impressive 49 aircraft on 20 acres of land. You can see the planes and early technology that helped shape the airlines we use today.

The museum is named after Gen. Frederick W. Castle, who was shot down in a B-17 Flying Fortress on Dec. 24, 1944. I enjoyed being able to get up close and touch a part of history. Touring these old planes and seeing the bomb bays, the turrets and the crew passage tunnels inside them brought a piece of history to life.

Sitting in the cockpit, I imagined what it must have been like to soar high above the clouds. I heard stories of the bravery of young men who flew thousands of miles to complete their missions. I am also reminded of the toll of lives given to secure our homeland's freedom.

Joe Pruzzo, executive director of Castle Air Museum, enjoys being able to share this history with the families that visit.

"Our mission is to preserve military aviation heritage for future generations," Pruzzo said. "We started in June 1981 with just five airplanes, and today we have 49 aircraft on display.

"We will also be adding a restored A-4 Navy Attack Aircraft next month. This is the same type of plane that Senator John McCain was shot down in, (in Vietnam). This plane will be ready for our open cockpit day on May 25."

Some planes are so large, it's a wonder they could even get off the ground. The RB-36H Peacemaker, for example, was the largest bomber built (at the time) with 10 engines and a wing span of more than 230 feet. It also could carry up to 72,000 pounds of bombs. The crew passage tunnel alone was 80 feet long and went from the front of the plane, past the bomb bay to the rear of the plane. This plane was commonly referred to as a battleship. Its first flight was in 1945, and its last flight was in 1959.

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Another extremely large plane is the Fairchild C-123K Provider, which was used during the Vietnam era. This plane would carry large numbers of troops, live animals and even an army jeep from time to time. This cargo plane was originally designed as a glider, with a capability of carrying 15,000 pounds of cargo. I know, I wouldn't want to be the one to test the glider theory. Luckily, someone came along and changed the design before sending it into full production. This type of plane also was featured in the movie "Air America."

You can check out more modern planes, like a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird with speeds that reach over Mach 3. They also have a F-14 Tomcat, the one Tom Cruise's character flew in the movie "Top Gun."

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Before you end your tour, stop by the enclosed museum that has even more memorabilia to look through and a guest book of those who have visited over the years. You can read a story of a son who came to see the plane his father always talked about, and another about a couple who were married at the base. Being able to hear the stories and see the planes first-hand makes history come alive.

Castle Air Museum is a nonprofit and relies on admissions, fundraising, memberships and donations. It is located in Atwater at 5050 Santa Fe Drive., and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 209-723-2178.

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-Ray

This is the oldest I've ever been.

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#6138 2012-09-12 19:12 GMT-5 hours    
I spent a few hours there several years ago, nice! Got an inside look at the RB-36 on display. Worth a stop in my book!

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#6139 2012-09-12 21:29 GMT-5 hours    
I was there about 10 years ago, maybe longer, and it was pretty impressive even back then. It's gotta be an even better place now. Got to go some time soon...

-Ray

This is the oldest I've ever been.

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