Today, my lovely wife surprised me by booking us into the Castle Air Museum RV Park, in Atwater CA, just East off highway 99 between Merced and Livingstone. We had passed this museum many times traveling back and forth to visit her family in Modesto. She knows I’m nuts about planes, especially warbirds from the WWII. Every time we passed the Castle museum, I’d comment that I wanted to visit there some day. I guess she got tired of hearing about it.
More likely, she was researching RV parks along our way and discovered they had RV hook-ups there and were continuing to add to their facilities to attract RVers traveling the 99. It put us within walking distance of their museum and my Nikon!
Castle Air Force Base was named after Brigadier General Frederick Walker Castle, who was shot down on Christmas Eve 1944 over Belgium. He received the Medal of Honor for remaining at the controls of his burning B-17 to allow time for his crew members to safely bail out. The airfield was originally named Merced Army Airfield and opened in September 1941 as the Army Air Corps Basic Flying School, training over 30,000 pilots in the early war years.
Today, the air base’s runways are silent, but there are nearly 70 vintage WWII through Vietnam war era aircraft standing as somber sentinels, still guarding 20 acres of land just inside the entrance gate to the old airfield. It’s a little humbling to look over these rusting relics, which were former vibrant and flashing state-of-the-art weapons of war.
Just as we pulled in they were opening the gates to pull out an F-105 Thunderchief, one of their Vietnam era fighter jets for some restoration work. It’s a massive fighter bomber and was often affectionately known as the “Thud”.
Inside the museum building are a number of interesting exhibits, including memorabilia from the 1957 movie, Bombers B-52, which was filmed at Castle and starred Karl Malden and Natalie Wood.
The movie reflected the Cold War era history of Castle as a major B-52 base for the Strategic Air Command.
Co-incidentally, we met up with Ki Vacca and his wife Annette, whom Michele has known since high school. Ki had just been out to the base pharmacy the day before (he is a pharmacist for Rite-Aide) and noticed we were there through Michele’s Facebook. It was great to meet them and a nice reunion for them with Michele.
We had fun here and if you’re a plane buff, I recommend it! If not, it’s still a great RV stop for the night.