Castles in the clouds: Big bombers and fast fighters at the Castle Air Museum
There aren't many places in the world where you can see a B-36, a B-52, and a bunch of other famous bombers. The Castle Air Museum has those and more.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
I love big airplanes. Passenger planes, cargo planes, bombers, blimps, really anything huge that can somehow stay aloft. That's probably why I went out of my way to tour the Spruce Goose, and why I seek out air museums that feature big, beautiful beasts of the sky.
Unfortunately portly planes take up a lot of space, so many air museums go for smaller aircraft. Not Castle Air Museum, however. Set in the flat farmland of California's Central Valley, 2 hours from either San Francisco or Sacramento, Castle has the space to go big.
Not just big, but rare. This awesome museum has one of the only surviving B-36s, for example, and a B-52, both a B-29, and a B-50, and lots more. It's like the curator of the museum read my mind.
Castle Air Museum goes in heavy with huge bombers, cargo planes
The B-36 is absolutely bizarre. It's massive, with the longest wingspan of any military aircraft, and propellers are all facing the "wrong" way. There are also four jet engines hanging out at the end of the wings. What is this weird beast?
Being huge, weird and over 70 years old, there aren't many of these left. Four, to be precise. This is the only one on the west coast, unless you count the one at Arizona's incredible Pima Air and Space Museum, too. The one here at Castle seems bigger, somehow, probably because it's surrounded by smaller aircraft. Just in front of its left wing is an F-16 that looks like a toy next to the big bomber.
Dozens of other rare aircraft include a new-to-me B-45 Tornado, one of only three still in existence. This early Cold War bomber is a fascinating visual hodge-podge of WWII and Jet Age design ideas. Three of the most famous bombers of WWII are here, too: a B-17, a B-24 and a B-29. There are even two big mid-century jet bombers: the B-52 and one of the only Avro Vulcans outside of the UK.
It's not all bombers, though. There's a mix of Cold War-era jet fighters and some newer ones, too. For example, the museum's F-14 was first flown in 1992.
A handful of cargo planes round out the museum's collection, like what is probably the only surviving C-46 that performed a combat drop in WWII, and a big KC-135 tanker.
It's probably obvious, given how many air museums I tour, that I love airplanes. But there are some I like more, and those usually fall into three categories: bombers, cargo, and early Cold War weirdness. So not surprisingly, I had a great time at Castle Air Museum because those three categories are well represented here.
It is a bit out of the way, sadly, and that makes sense given the amount of space needed for these big planes. If it's too far out of the way for you, check out the gallery above.