The Castle Air Museum… A Bike Trek Special

 

This Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is on display at the Castle Air Museum near Merced in California. It could fly over Mach 3.3 or 2,350 miles per hour

This Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is on display at the Castle Air Museum near Merced in California. It could fly over Mach 3.3 or 2,350 miles per hour

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.

A sideview of the Blackbird.

A side view of the Blackbird.

A back view of the Blackbird.

A back view of the Blackbird.

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.)

The Curtis C 46D that flew over the Hump during World War II.

The Curtis C 46D that flew over the Hump during World War II.

A close of the camels that represented the number of missions flown over the Hump.

A closeup of the camels that represented the number of missions flown over the Hump.

World War II telegram to Helen Dallen informing her that her husband, John Dallen, is missing in action while flying over the Hump (Himalaya Mountains).

“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband Lieutenant John A. Dallen has been reported missing…” This is the telegram that Peggy’s mom received when John went missing. By the time Helen got the telegram, John had already made it out of the jungle (on an elephant), but not in time to beat the telegram sent by the army.

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.

The Peacemaker.

The Peacemaker.

Peggy providing perspective with the Peacemaker.

Peggy providing perspective with the Peacemaker.

The casing for one of the nuclear bombs the Peacemaker would have carried. This nuclear weapon was mass produced and had the capacity of 15-20 million tons of TNT.

The casing for one of the nuclear bombs the Peacemaker would have carried. This nuclear weapon was mass-produced and had the capacity of 15-20 million tons of TNT.

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.

The Stratofortress.

The Stratofortress.

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.

Air Force 1

Air Force 1

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.

Map of Castle Air Museum from the visitors guide. I highly recommend that you visit this museum if you get a chance.

Map of Castle Air Museum from the visitors guide. I highly recommend that you visit this museum if you get a chance.

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.

Bombs away.

Bombs away.

A bit of Dogpatch...

A bit of Dogpatch…

It doesn't take much imagination to figure this one out.

A good example of um… It doesn’t take much imagination to figure this one out.

And yes, there was other art than "the girls they left behind." I can't help but wonder if today's women pilots will paint male images on the side of their planes.

And yes, there was art other than “the girls they left behind.” I can’t help but wonder if today’s women pilots will paint male images on the side of their planes.

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 comments on “The Castle Air Museum… A Bike Trek Special

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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?

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