I love big airplanes. Passenger planes, cargo planes, bombers,, really anything huge that can somehow stay aloft. That’s probably why I , 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.
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, 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.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram, Twitter, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.