Diversions on the Great American Road Trip

Diversions on the Great American Road Trip

by John Thow

So it’s that time of year again and millions of Americans are hitting the road all over the country in an effort to get away and relax, or at least take in a change of scenery for a few days. In our case, as much anything, it is all about trying to build lasting memories with our kids. If you frequent slickpixels.com at all, you may have guessed that our family trips always include airplanes. Some way, some how, there is always an opportunity to get up close with some rare or unusual aircraft.

Interestingly enough, this year’s first aviation stop was purely by accident, all-be-it a happy one. You see on my way up California’s Interstate 5, I managed to miss a fork in the road that would have kept me on the 5 North, I instead missed the offramp and ran straight up the 99. Only realizing my error once driving through Bakersfield. With some help from my previously sleeping navigator/wife, we decided to simply press on and catch the 5 further on. In any case, the great part of all this is that thanks to my creative driving, and their billboard, we ended up making a very quick diversion to Castle Air Museum.

Pusher Props of the B-36 Peacemaker

Under the wing of the massive B-36 Peacemaker. J.Thow ©

Convair RB-36 Peacemaker

Convair RB-36 Peacemaker (R is for Reconnaissance) Notice the people in the image for a sense of scale. Photo: John Thow ©

Avro Vulcan

British Royal Air Force Avro Vulcan on static display at Castle Air Museum. Photo: John Thow ©

F-104 Starfighter

Streaming red, white and blue smoke, the RAF Red Arrows fly over the shoreline at HB. J.Thow

I have been wanting to make it up to Castle for years and had just never worked it into our busy schedule. You see, Castle does in fact have quite a collection of the aforementioned rare aircraft. For example, this was the first time any of us had ever been up close to a British Vulcan Bomber, and it’s just one of the many Cold War relics that line the field at Castle.

The Avro Vulcan went into active service with Britain’s Royal Air Force in 1952 and continued to serve with the RAF into the 1980s. It was the first bomber to utilize a delta wing. The unique aircraft had a maximum speed of 640 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 65,000 feet, and a 4,600-mile range all while being capable of carrying a 21,000-pound bomb load.

Other highlights of our visit have to include aviation icons of the Strategic Air Command, the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, and the gargantuan Convair B-36 Peacemaker, complete with an example of an MK-17 Thermonuclear Bomb. Some of you may remember the late, great, Jimmy Stewart flying these two bombers in the movie “Strategic Air Command”. By the way, the movie was before my time too, but it’s great and if you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend finding a copy; it’s an amazing time capsule of the United States Air Force of the 1950s.

The B-36 is the largest bomber ever built and served throughout the 1950s as America’s airborne nuclear deterrent to Soviet aggression. Armed with 16 remotely controlled cannons in the nose, tail, and retractable fuselage turrets, it could carry 72,000 lbs of conventional and/or nuclear bombs.

“Six turnin’ and four burnin’ ” It sports 3 rear-facing turboprop engines on each of its massive wings, along with a pair of General Electric J47-19 jet engines suspended near the end of each wing, adding up to an incredible 10 engines total. The B-36 is a massive 162 feet, 1 inch long, has a wingspan of 230 feet, and is 46 feet 9 inches tall.

Boeing B-47 Stratojet

USAF B-47 Stratojet
Photo: John Thow ©

Convair RB-36 Peacemaker

A look from the front end of the massive B-36 Peacemaker.  J.Thow ©

Avro Vulcan

Avro Vulcan
Photo: © John Thow

Castle’s Peacemaker is an RB-36H, reconnaissance bomber and in addition to its weapons capabilities, is equipped with multiple cameras. Camera ports can be seen in the forward fuselage. There are only 4 surviving Peacemakers and this is the only surviving RB-36. The other 3 can be seen at Pima Air Museum, near Tucson, Arizona, the Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and the Strategic Air Command Museum in Ashland, Nebraska.

Boeing’s B-47 Stratojet was the first bomber to ever utilize a swept-wing and was the iconic workhorse of the Strategic Air Command. It was also the first to sport an in-line “bicycle” landing gear arrangement, made necessary by the Stratojet’s narrowly designed wings. Castle’s B-47 was retired from Air Force service in 1964 and was transferred to the Navy as a photo-training target at China Lake Naval Weapons Center. Museum volunteers spent more than 36,000 hours restoring the aircraft to flying condition. In 1986, it was flown from China Lake to Castle, marking the final flight of a B-47.

These are just a few of the many amazing aircraft that can be found at Castle, others in no particular order include a broad selection of WW2 aircraft and beyond, there are both the B-29 and B-50 variants of the Superfortress, an in-progress B-58 Hustler, an F-86 Sabre, T-33 Shooting Star, an F-14 Tomcat, Mig-21, a USAF Thunderbirds F-4 Phantom II, an SR-71 Blackbird and a whole lot more. Bottom line if you’re ever traveling on the 99 near Atwater, California, a stop at Castle Air Museum is well worth your time.

A very special thanks to the volunteers at Castle who were kind enough to allow us a quick walk-through of the exhibits, and the opportunity to share a bit about the museum with you. I look forward to coming again when we have more time and a better chance to take in all that Castle has to share.


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