Merced County Times Newspaper
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Castle Air Museum adds a Navy fighter to its collection

A U.S. Navy attack jet has been added to the collection of military airplanes at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, making it the museum’s eighth Navy plane.

Air Museum CEO Joe Pruzzo announced, “We have acquired a Desert Storm warrior which was in the Gulf War in 1991.  It’s a U.S. Navy A-7 Attack Jet which flew off the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kennedy.”

“It has nearly 30 missions flying into occupied Kuwait and Iraq,” he added.

On June 28, the main portion of the airplane, the fuselage, arrived from Tucson, Arizona.

Pruzzo explained, “The airplane was in a yard in Tucson, Arizona, and we had our volunteers go there and identify all the parts that go into the specific airplane.”

Since the design of the plane was created in the mid-1960s and kept being upgraded, this would seem a daunting task.

But Pruzzo proudly remarked, “We have people who are highly knowledgeable and do this out of a labor of love.”

When asked how the plane’s acquisition was accomplished, he said, “Through the support of some generous donors such as a Navy Lieutenant, we were able to acquire it.  His father flew the plane the day after he was born in 1989.  His uncle was a Navy pilot as well, and he flew a plane we have on display, so it’s kind of a family affair.”

Pruzzo said, gratefully, “We also thank Kirby Manufacturing of Merced.  They had a truck in the area that delivered cattle feeding equipment and offered to haul the airplane back for us as a donation.  Also, Jameson Harvesting of Turlock will be hauling the wings back from Tucson to Castle Air Museum in about two weeks. At that point, we will have the entire airplane here.”

Describing how the plane landed in its heyday, Pruzzo said, “The Navy airplanes typically have stronger landing gear to absorb the shock of landing on an aircraft carrier.  They also have arresting cables.  The cables are raised and they are on spools and they go across the landing area, and the airplane drops an arresting hook and it snares one of those cables and stops the airplane from going overboard into the sea.”

The plane’s more recent history since the Gulf War is interesting.

Pruzzo said, “The A-7’s have been out of service since 1994. The Navy retired them all, and the countries which flew them then were Greece and Portugal, until about two years ago.”

“In the late 1990s, United Aeronautical, an American company, purchased a small number of these for parts sources for both Greece and Portugal to maintain the specific aircraft.”

For the foreseeable future, the new addition will not be on the grounds of the museum.

Pruzzo said, “The restoration process will begin in Fall, and will take some time.

There will be a lot of work needed on reattaching the wings, and it might be as much as a couple years before the plane can be displayed on the grounds.   This adds a key element to our Naval Aviation collection and has helped to gather more interest and support from people who have an affiliation with the Navy.  We have been graced with a greater number of volunteers who will work on this.”

He concluded, “Our mission is geared toward the preservation of all military aviation services of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Marine Corp, Army, and Coast Guard.  It’s important for the public to be education as to all five branches of our military.”

Pruzzo said the air museum welcomes tax deductible donations dedicated to this project.

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