Located in central California, the Castle Air Museum has an excellent mix of classic fighters and rarely seen big bombers.
One of the stars of Castle's collection is right as you enter, a B-17. This one, built in 1944, was used as a training aircraft. It wears the livery of a B-17 shot down over the North Sea.
One of the bigger aircraft at the museum, the Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter, the tanker version of the C-97. Note the outboard pods under the wing. This is one of the few aircraft that has both propellers (4) and jets (2). The jets were only used for short periods to make refueling easier with faster aircraft.
Ten times as many KC-97s were built compared to the cargo-only C-97.
I got to check out the cockpit and interior of one of these during my tour of the North East Land Sea and Air Museum.
Douglas redesigned and improved their B-18 (there's one of those here, too), to become the far superior B-23 like what you see here. Only 38 were built, however, as it was still outclassed by the B-25 and B-26.
Rare for an aircraft of this era at a museum, this B-29 example flew over 50 combat missions in Korea.
Used for target practice after retirement, the restoration process used many parts from other B-29s to complete this one.
This B-25, "Lazy Daisy Mae," has had an interesting life. It was used as an air tanker for a while, and even was used by Texas Instruments to test IR and radar gear.
Developed from the B-29, the B-50 had more powerful engines, a bigger tail and a stronger overall structure. There are only five examples left, of 370 produced. This example was the last flown.
The B-18 Bolo was a pre- and early-WWII bomber, and was quickly outclassed by newer designs. This example was used as a firebomber after the war.
Here's a rare one, a Canadian-built Cold War-era interceptor, the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck. Few of these are on display outside of Canada.
I love the look of these delta-winged Saab J35s. Designed in the '50s, they look far more modern than that.
Built in the '50s and early '60s, the US Air Force still flies the H variant. This is the earlier D variant.
Under the wing of the B-52 is a AGM-28 Hound Dog, an early turbo-jet-powered cruise missile.
You can't go inside the B-52 that's on display. However, in one of the museum's buildings is a separate B-52 cockpit.
The D variant was the most common model used in the Vietnam War.
Wisely, there's a bench under the huge wing. This part of California is hot for most of the year.
B-52s flown in Vietnam were often painted these colors, black belly and all.
Another early SAC aircraft, the B-47. It never saw combat as a bomber, but many were converted for testing and reconnaissance. It was replaced in its bomber role by the much larger B-52.
This example was the last B-47 to fly.
Speaking of straight-winged jet fighters, here's the F-89 Scorpion and its huge wing pods, which served throughout the '50s and '60s.
The KC-135 Stratotanker was developed from the same basic design that produced the Boeing 707.
The KC-135 was the Air Force's first jet-powered tanker, and replaced the KC-97 you saw earlier in this tour. The newest was built in the '60s, and are only now just starting to be replaced.
The MiG-21 first flew in the '50s, was produced into the '80s, and is still flown by many air forces around the world.
The F-111 Aardvark was the first production aircraft with variable-sweep wings. Today the roles filled by the F-111 are split between the F-15E and the B-1.
License-built by Martin in the US, the B-57 Canberra was originally designed by English Electric.
Probably the most iconic fighter aircraft of the late 20th century, the F-14 Tomcat. This one is fairly young, having been delivered to the Navy in 1992.
One word of advice if you visit the Castle Air Museum, bring a hat or an umbrella. The sun is relentless.
The C-119 Flying Boxcar and its rare twin-boom design first flew after WWII, and some were still flying into the '90s. This example spent time as a water bomber.
Though it looks newer, the A-5 Vigilante dates from the late '50s. This example, the RA-5C reconnaissance variant (that seems to be a trend here), flew off the USS Forrestal, Enterprise and Ranger.
A Grumman S-2 Tracker. Introduced in the mid-'50s, some are still in active service in Argentina and Brazil.
The iconic duo of an F-15 and F-16.
And this is, in my opinion, the star of the Castle Air Museum's collection, a B-36, looking as absolutely massive as it is, especially compared to the tiny F-16.
This example was a RB-36, aka the reconnaissance variant, which had additional fuel capacity.
Despite this museum having two aircraft powered by both propellers and jets, that's a rarity. Also rare, how the B-36's propellers faced backward, in a pusher configuration.
The B-36 could carry a payload of up to 86,000 pounds, or 39,000 kg.
The cabin was pressurized, and to get from the front of the plane to the back, where there were bunks and the rear turret, you had to go through this narrow tunnel, which had a wheeled cart inside.
The B-36 came from an era where intercepting aircraft were still a threat, and as such had six remote-controlled turrets plus one in the nose and this one in the tail.
The B-36 has the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft.
Only four complete B-36s remain, of which this is the only RB variant.
Most weekends the museum's Air Force One VC-9 is open for tours. It carried multiple presidents and vice presidents.
And what a way to end, with the incredible (still, 50+ years since its first flight), SR-71 Blackbird.
This example flew more missions than any other SR-71, including over Vietnam and Libya.
If you're like me and you like big bombers and early SAC-era aircraft, Castle Air Museum is excellent. It's a bit of a hike to get to, about 2 hours from San Francisco or Sacramento, but as one of the few places in the world to see some of these aircraft, it's a fun diversion if you're on your way to or from Los Angeles. Especially if you time it during one of their open cockpit days.
For more info about these planes and the museum, check out Castles in the clouds: Big bombers and fast fighters at the Castle Air Museum.